Recently I’ve read a couple of books that I wasn’t particularly impressed with, but they weren’t stinkers enough to merit one of those rare-but-fun-to-write negative reviews. They’re in that “I can manage a paragraph of mixed interest and disappointment” grey zone.
This had some interesting topics, from growing kidneys to developing Geordi’s VISOR from Star Trek, but I was not impressed at all with the author’s grounding as a science journalist. Trust and regard sailed out the window when he hailed the average increase of height and bodymass following industrialism as proof that humans can evolve much more quickly than previously expected. Um…no, that’s proof that our present geneset can do more when it has better materials to work with, i.e more access to different kinds of food, and less work to do fighting off vicious diseases. Have the South Koreans evolved past their primitive ancestors in the north, or are their shorter northern cousins just malnourished? Kotler also referred to a cure for cancer as a vaccine. Cancer isn’t a microbe you fight off with antibodies! Sure, maybe he was dumbing things down to increase potential leadership, but forgive me if I don’t take the chapter on medicinal ecstasy too seriously after that.. (In the last part of the book, he explores ecstasy and LSD’s potential in helping people deal with end-life terror, as well as PSTD. Steroids are also billed as an anti-aging superweapon, but by that point I wasn’t really taking the author too seriously.
This is not on the level of Michio Kaku. It’s more like Newsweek fluff pieces.
Next up, Smart Cities! Ooh, cities meets the digital world, two of my favorite topics. This should be outstanding! …well….not quite. The cover is lively, sure, but the book is more conceptual than practical in that the author spends most of his time talking about the city as a living machine in abstract, or weighing top-down city government approaches against apps created by ordinary people. I wanted to read about different ways smart cities were happening, but they’re only mentioned from time to time as examples of the more elevated debate. I think I learned more about a smart transit system from Straphangers, in its chapters on Paris’ metro card, then I did here. Sure. there are mentions of apps for citizens to report problems, and mentions of how other apps can bring the city more to life by leading users to bars and places they’ve never heard of, but these are only teases. I bought this book last year, started reading it, quickly lost interested, and mounted another assault this week only to find it wasn’t really a hill worth that much worry.
Ah, well. They can’t all be life-changing books.