Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Books I've Read Lately

The English: A Portrait of a People

I had been meaning to read The English: A Portrait of a People before one of my trips to the UK. I finally got around to reading it during our trip there last month. I don't know that I learned anything particularly profound out of the book, but it was an entertaining companion with some interesting trivia facts.

The book centers on the question of English (as oppposed to British) national identity. The author traces a strain of anti-intellectualism and tries to tie it, along with other traits, to a concept of Englishness. I'm not sure I buy that, but some of the insights are worth thinking about, especially for a foreigner like me.

The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

This is another book I'd been meaning to read for a while. It has a fairly provocative thesis -- that rather than trying to protect our privacy, we should demand openness from others. So if a company gets our address, we should have the right to know exactly what they are doing with it. And the home address of anyone on their board of directors.

There's a lot interesting there -- like the contrast between American fear of Big Brother and European fears of corporate privacy invasions. Brin admits that he is not an absolutist -- he wrote the book in part to counter-act what he saw as people too concerned with "how do I keep my personal information secret" and less willing to consider regulation about how the information is used.

The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future

This book might as well have been subtitled "Ice Cores, Ice Cores and More Ice Cores". The author spends the first part of the book explaining how ice cores (specifically, drilling two miles deep in Greenland) can tell us about climate history. It's fairly dry stuff, but I followed along on the promise that he would use this set-up to help explain possible future climate changes.

Unfortunately, when he gets to that stuff, he doesn't go into much detail, and instead returns to the details of the ice core experiments. It's always amusing to see how someone's obessions creep in despite their best efforts, but in this case, it makes for an unsatisfying book.

No comments: