An often riveting, disturbing examination of the social media labyrinth and the companies that created it.

THE CHAOS MACHINE

THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW SOCIAL MEDIA REWIRED OUR MINDS AND OUR WORLD

A veteran journalist examines the rise of the social media giants and the dangers they have created for our society.

Fisher, a columnist and international reporter for the New York Times, dives into the chaotic social media landscape, synthesizing dozens of interviews from a wide range of sources. Focusing primarily on Facebook, the author walks through the key steps in the progress of the technology, seeing the advent of algorithms as a turning point. By tracking the sites that consumers visit, algorithms allowed for precise targeting for future contact. The best-performing sites gave users a sense of belonging, usually by denigrating “outsiders.” Over time, the result was increasing social and political polarization, with debate and discourse replaced by attacks that could easily spill into the offline world. Fisher is spot-on when he describes how the promotion and manufacture of moral outrage were not glitches in the system but inherent features. Senior leaders at Facebook received countless warnings about potential problem areas; claiming that they would address them, they never did. The company had rules to exclude certain posts, but they were inconsistent, vague, and overly complex (more than 1,400 pages). The author capably explains the many complex elements involved, but his liberal perspective is occasionally too evident. The mere mention of Donald Trump often makes him splutter with indignation. He has much to say about right-wing groups but little about those on the left. Nonetheless, Fisher is a diligent reporter, and when he maintains his focus on the mechanics of social media, he makes numerous important points. He even suggests that social media has become so counterproductive that we should consider shutting down the big firms—he aptly cites the murderous computer HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—or at least forcing a thorough restructuring process. It’s a sensible idea worth discussing, but given the power of big tech, it’s unlikely to happen.

An often riveting, disturbing examination of the social media labyrinth and the companies that created it.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-70332-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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