Books to Watch | February 18, 2020
February 18, 2020
Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights the five books being released that we are most excited about.
This week, our choices are:
The Autonomous Revolution: Reclaiming the Future We've Sold to Machines by William H. Davidow & Michael S. Malone, Berrett-Koehler
William Davidow and Michael Malone’s previous collaboration, The Virtual Corporation, published in 1992, predicted a paradigm shift taking place in the workplace as information technology and networked personal computers changed the way work was organized. That has certainly come to pass, and much more quickly than even they imagined. I remember a time in our company’s history, back in the early aughts, when we used to wonder aloud to each other how we ever sold books without the aid of the internet and digital technology. Today, while that technology is still vital to our business, I find myself wondering more often how I get anything done with the complications that arise from such technology. What once felt freeing now feels confining. I know it’s not just me that feels this way, and it is not just at work that this is happening. Indeed, it is what led Davidow and Malone to write a new book, The Autonomous Revolution, in which they write:
Having been present at the birth of social networking, massive multiplayer games, autonomous vehicles, modern artificial intelligence, and all of the defining new technologies of the twenty-first century, we have watched with growing dismay, even horror, at how many of these developments have morphed into increasingly malevolent threats to human privacy and liberty.
It seems as if all the institutions (and the social contracts around them) we built up over the course of the Industrial Revolution, especially in the aftermath of The Great Depression and Second World War, are no longer working properly—that they are now facing an existential crisis. In fact, Davidow and Malone actually pondered a different subtitle for the book: “Why nothing seems to work anymore.” They suggest part of the reason is that we tend to view the Autonomous Revolution as a continuation of the Industrial Age, when it is actually a phase change that breaks with previous precedent. But it isn’t all doom and gloom, and we can make things work again if we design new rules and new norms to adapt to it. The Autonomous Revolution, they believe, is a third societal phase change in human history on par with the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, and can be as beneficial to our species—and all life on Earth—if we face that reality without despair of division, and in unity around “our sacred values, such as democracy, equality, and liberty and freedom for all.” (DJJS)
Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who's Been There by Tara Schuster, Dial Press
Tara Schuster’s book begins with a candid, piece-by-piece recombobulation of her 25th birthday night out. Amidst a messy aftermath of a half-eaten grilled cheese and three missed calls from her therapist, she shares her shame and self-hatred and exhaustion from “just living from one crisis to the next crisis” and quickly comes to the realization that many people with bad habits or addictions must come to: “This is a life I can no longer live. This is a life that will kill me.”
Even if your own life hasn't taken this dark of a turn (and I'm 24, so who knows what might happen before my own birthday next year...), Schuster's Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies is an engaging part-memoir, part-self-help book that makes self-care much less of a buzz-word and makes improving habits much less intimidating.
The gist of the book: that your emotions are valid no matter how good or bad of a background you have come from. Schuster is the cool big sister I wish I had, especially since she's the vice president of talent and development at Comedy Central. She shares the difficulties she's encountered in the business world (and not just any business world: Hollywood), and how she learned to overcome those even when those difficulties were part of the most menial of tasks. Her page-long anecdote of cleaning the capsule coffee machine at The Daily Show office is a good example of the quirky yet remarkably helpful advice she shares in Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies. (GMC)
Dark Data: Why What You Don’t Know Matters by David J. Hand, Princeton University Press
David Hand introduces the idea of dark data by discussing measles. Because most of us have never experienced the disease and its terrible consequences (death in one of every 500 cases, and permanent hearing loss or brain damage for many survivors), it has become more commonplace for parents not to vaccinate their children against it. But measles is still a very real threat, as outbreaks around the world have demonstrated in recent years. The vaccine was so successful that it hid the risks, but as Hand writes:
[T]he risks are still there, just as real as ever. It’s merely that the information and data these parents need to make decisions are missing, so the risks have become invisible.
In the age of “big data,” dark data is the proverbial, Rumsfeldian arena of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Sure, it might help to have a lot of data, but the “bigger” your data is, the more it is probably missing—and dark data exists even in small data sets. “And what you don’t know,” Hand warns, “may be even more important in understanding what’s going on than the data you do have.” Hand explains, in very clear terms, that how we design our data gathering creates such missing data, and how it can aggravate the very problems we’re trying to solve if we’re not careful to correct for it. He also describes different kinds of dark data, and how hiding data can be beneficial in some cases (and not just to those perpetrating fraud by such obfuscation). Hand examines all of this in the service of showing us how we can make better decisions.
The Genius of Women: From Overlooked to Changing the World by Janice Kaplan, Dutton
"90 percent of Americans said that geniuses tend to be men" is a real statistic from a real poll from only 5 years ago that author Janice Kaplan references, subsequently asking: "In our current era of assumedly aroused consciousness to gender issues, why do both men and women still believe that men's contributions to society are the ones that really count?" I know I could make excuses for myself about my small-town schooling or art school education, both of which didn't establish any deep understanding of science or history, but it doesn't require any dark web searching or library book hunting to remember Mary Shelley's literary genius or Aretha Franklin's musical genius. Or, what about women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Rosalind Franklin, Virginia Woolf? Genius is often seen as a males-only club, while genius women are instead considered "one of the best" (but not quite?).
The Genius of Women is entertaining and informative, and Kaplan smartly includes pieces of her own experiences (ie. the family doctor warning her mother that Kaplan should be engaging in "girlier activities" rather than reading or else she would "get too smart for her own good") that, for me, function as reminders that despite past encounters with toxic sexism or discrimination, and despite past ignorance, we can start recognizing the various shades of genius in other women and ourselves. Right now!
We appraise value–whether in intellectual ideas, pocketbooks, or real estate–within a socially accepted context.
So now the trouble is to change what is socially acceptable. And reading and learning from this book could very well be the first step.
For quicker/additional reads on a similar topic: I just re-fell-in-love-with Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, which is a great organization that, in a variety of ways, is making intelligent and successful women the centerpieces of history. Their website hosts plenty of articles that celebrate these accomplishments, and an article I really enjoyed in my internet quest for genius women was "The Lost Female Geniuses of History." (GMC)
Start Simple: Eleven Everyday Ingredients for Countless Weeknight Meals by Lukas Volger, Harper Wave
In my cookbook roundup last week, I admitted to being in a culinary rut with my weeknight cooking routine (leisurely weekends in my kitchen are a whole different story). Jarry cofounder and editorial director Lukas Volger arrives like a superhero, sweeping me to delicious new vegetarian heights for my Tuesday night. “I want to give you the tools to make more—and better—meals without having to dramatically uproot shopping habits or monopolize your free time.” Perfect. His fourth cookbook, Start Simple, aims to set you on a path to being the kind of cook that can shop for maximum flexibility and cook from minimal availability. His approach rests on eleven primary ingredients that are probably sitting in your fridge right now (winter squash, tofu, hearty greens, mushrooms, tortillas, etc.), which serve as the building blocks for your new repertoire of vegetarian weeknight staples. And as a person who lives in a less-than-packed household, I love that his recipes highlight meals that serve one or two. I am most excited to try: Pineapple-Sriracha Tofu, Croque Courge (roasted squash subbing for the traditional ham!), and Honey-Baked Zucchini with Marinara and Goat Cheese. The eight pages devoted to “egg on toast” just might serve as my lunch plan for the rest of this cold Wisconsin winter. (BRM)
What we're reading away from work:
“I recently read ZZ Packer's short story collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. It was incredible. She walks the line between squalor and humor very well. It is the kind of book that makes me want to forget about novels and just read short fiction all the time. Her characters seem so real it almost doesn't matter what drama she assigns them, but the storytelling also happens to be clever and unpredictable." —Michael Jantz, Project Development Director