TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov is a critique of both The Internet is Perfect thinking (so that anything that goes against the way the Internet is assumed to operate is assumed to be automatically wrong) and the assumption there’s an app for everything, whether it’s using games to train us to recycle (Morozov points out the similarity to Skinnerite conditioning in a lot of that thinking) or that politics would generate more enthusiasm if the parties patterned themselves on Facebook. Morozov considers this both a limited approach and frequently a harmful one, as it’s easier to change politics and laws than to re-engineer the tech that applies them automatically. A running theme in the book is that the Internet didn’t change everything as much as claimed, as many things—crowdsourcing, using awards to reinforce behavior, obsessive chronicling of the details of life—happened well before Arpanet even existed. Very good.
Dorothy Sayers’ THE NINE TAILORS (all rights to cover with current holder) is a better Peter Wimsey mystery than I expected, but that just makes it the more frustrating it falls short. The core idea is good (a funeral for a beloved village squire turns up a disfigured corpse already in his grave) but Sayers was a big fan of the English tradition of “change ringing” (a distinctive method of pealing church bells) and devotes quite a lot of space to the topic, which ain’t that fascinating. A bigger problem is that Sayers seems to want this to be both a murder mystery and a story of rural village life—the climax is a flood threatening to destroy the community, with the last piece of the mystery puzzle tossed off almost in passing. The two don’t mesh effectively, and so ultimately the book fails.
A FEATHERED RIVER ACROSS THE SKY: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction by Joel Greenberg is one of those More Than I Wanted to Know books, going into exhaustive detail about passenger pigeon ecology, eating, breeding, the shipping routes for dead birds sold at the market, hunting methods, and the details of the last known major flocks and killed birds. While I skimmed quite a bit, it’s still interesting for most of the length and completely fascinating when showing the size of the flocks (some horsemen said they were rocked in the saddle by the force of the winds), the impact on the ecology (wrecking forests with their weight but also creating prime soil fertilized with pigeon poop) and the sad life of the Last Pigeon (“Martha became so mopey, zoo visitors would throw sand in her cage to make her move.”). Greenberg also tackles the revisionist arguments that human predation alone couldn’t possibly have wiped out the birds and shows there’s no evidence of any other cause. If not quite right for this reader, still a very good book in its own right.