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Wednesday Book Reviews!


The Cartoon History of the Universe (volume 1) (Gonick)

I vaguely remember reading this as a kid, but I picked it up again on a friend’s suggestion and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s really not so much a history of the world as a bit of illustrated info on a bunch of really interesting points in time. The one strike against it is that it’s often, well, a bit wrong. Some of this is because it’s simply out of date, but (for example) at one point he mentions the infamous Aquatic Ape hypothesis, and it wasn’t (I don’t think!) as a joke.

Born on the Fourth of July (Kovick)

One of the great Vietnam memoirs, which I hadn’t yet read. This book is a bit more dreamlike than some of the others, dealing not just with war stories, but with his attempt to adjust back to society afterward despite an injury that leaves him paraplegic. In a sense, that makes this book a bit more unique (and perhaps timely) than a lot of other Vietnam memoirs, in that it’s really more about what war does to you *after* you get home.

The Attention Merchants (Wu)

This is A+ non-fiction. This book is a history of the idea that you can sell attention for money, using content as merely the attractor of the attention. Wu traces the whole history of this concept from early newspaper sales tactics, through war propaganda techniques, on through Google, Facebook, and so forth. One thing I really appreciate is that Wu isn’t explicitly arguing that the paradigm of attention sales is a bad one - he’s asking us to deal with what it means. I wish everyone in tech would take a peek at this book.