Sunday, October 2


You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier: I expected to find myself sympathetic to the aims of this one, and to a extent I did, but somewhere around halfway through I decided that I had reached my personal quota for exclaiming "bullshit!". I do not expect to finish it.

Lanier is clearly a smart guy, and obviously has been around the culture he sets out to criticize for a long time. The problem is that it's not quite possible to reconcile his understanding of that culture with lived experience. He seems to be generalizing from his corner of elite media-darling nerdery to the whole thing, and the generalizations break: Again and again, some facet of the model will be subtly but substantially wrong, bogged down in mysticism, or just determined to obscure meaningful distinctions.

All of this is too bad, because a lot of his targets – Facebook, the present narrative around "the cloud", transhumanism, Chris Anderson's extensive bullshittery – are ripe for a serious conceptual monkeywrenching.

Maybe I'll come back to this in a month or three and give it another go. I can't say it didn't make me think.

REAMDE, Neal Stephenson: This is a less "serious" book than Lanier's. In fact, it's pretty ridiculous. Not the kind of intellectual effort that made Anathem (Stephenson's last) so good. It also has some of that fuzzed-out / flattened effect you'll get when a writer has been off in distant timeframes for a pile of massive novels and then returns to some more contemporary genre. These things said, it's so far pretty absorbing, and there are ideas. With Stephenson, there are pretty much always ideas, and you can usually tell that some of them are going to be useful.

The Management Myth: why the "experts" keep getting it wrong, Matthew Stewart: If you're looking to reinforce a gut-level suspicion that "scientific management" is one giant, hilariously ramified con job, this may be right up your alley.

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges: 30 or 40 pages in and I'm pretty depressed, so I'm pretty sure it's working, but so far it's more in the way of a meandering personal meditation than a coherent argument.

The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, David V. Erdman (ed.), Harold Bloom (commentary): Realistically, I am never going to read more than a fraction of this. It's massive, and besides being a visionary genius, Blake was clearly a raving lunatic. Still, I'm glad it's on my shelf.