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Category: Technology

Book Review: The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Tonio Andrade)

The Gunpowder Age succeeds in its lesser goal, which is convincing the reader that the common belief the Chinese only used gunpowder for fireworks is wrong.  But it fails in its greater goal, which is convincing the reader that except for a brief period in recent history, China has been the equal of the West in the technology of warfare.  And, in the wreckage of its failure, it confirms and reinforces the accurate perception that China has, for a thousand years, been lacking in scientific and cultural innovation.  Since a lack of innovation has negative implications for the Chinese future, and by modern Western standards is a negative judgment on Chinese society, this is probably not the effect that the Sinophile author of this book, Tonio Andrade, intended to achieve.

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Book Review: The Idea Factory
(Jon Gertner)

Jon Gertner’s The Idea Factory is a mild corrective to the commonly found anguished certainty that America’s days of innovative scientific greatness are behind us.  In its exploration of the might and works of Bell Labs, this book reminds us that genius requires the right cultural environment to flourish, and it addresses whether collective or individual genius is the mainspring of scientific advancement.  Ultimately, Gertner’s account gives the obvious answer—scientific advancement stands on a three-legged stool, dependent on all of the broader culture, muscular group effort, and heroic individuals.   Ayn Rand would not agree, but then, what did she ever actually accomplish?

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Book Review: World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech
(Franklin Foer)

Franklin Foer’s World Without Mind is an excellent book.  It identifies important problems, ties the problems to their historical precedents, and suggests some reasonable solutions.  The book is not complete, or perfect, but in the emerging literature of why and how to curb the power of giant technology companies, this book is a useful introduction, although there is a long way to go from here to there.

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Book Review: The Attention Merchants (Tim Wu)

Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants is part history and part social analysis. The history related in The Attention Merchants tells us something we all basically know—that economic forces simultaneously drive businesses to offer us “free” entertainment, while at the same time making our attention to that entertainment a product to be sold to advertisers. Hence the title. And, since everybody likes free stuff, and in a free market, new markets will always be sought and exploited, there is a natural tendency for advertising to intrude into previously private spaces, making the sphere of the truly private ever smaller.

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