BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, reviewed by Jerry A. Coyne (New York Times)
Kevin Kelly is a former editor of Wired and a “tech-watcher”; his latest book argues that “technology is like a living organism, animated by the same evolutionary forces that shaped the human brain.” It’s a pretty interesting idea, and the Times‘s choice of reviewer is interesting, too. Coyne, a professor of evolution, takes Kelly’s argument very literally and rips it apart, calling it “an airtight theory of such mind-blowing generality that it can’t be disproved.” The extent to which Kelly meant his argument literally is not clear (technology is not, after all, literally an organism), but the review still makes for an entertaining read.
Hail, Hail, Euphoria: Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made, by Roy Blount Jr., reviewed by Larry Miller (Wall Street Journal)
This review came out a few weeks ago, but I just can’t pass it over. I’m a big fan of the Marx Brothers (they were, by the way, much better than the Three Stooges), I love Duck Soup, their masterpiece, and Roy Blount Jr. is my favorite panelist on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” I even like Larry Miller, one of those “Oh, he’s that guy”-type character actors. Miller says, “Here’s something … that’s not so easy to do: Write about [The Marx Brothers’] comedy in a way that’s fresh and funny and important on its own. Well, that’s what Roy Blount Jr. has done with his new book.” Sold.
The Masque of Africa, by V.S. Naipaul, reviewed by Eliza Griswold (New York Times)
I find Naipaul a fascinating character in the world of literature, but I’ve never actually read him. Some combination of his standing as a revered Nobel winner and his standing as a notorious asshole, perhaps. In this book, a travelogue of sorts, Naipaul “proves willing to turn his brutally accurate lens back on himself.” So, I might well start here.
Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King, reviewed by Neil Gaiman (Guardian)
Gaiman provides a thumbnail sketch of King’s career, and then discusses each of the four novellas in Full Dark, No Stars. He’s very enthusiastic, as writers reviewing writers usually are, but despite his adoration, I’m not entirely convinced. For instance, one story is a deal-with-the-devil, but “there is no twist ending, no clever way out. It becomes an act of extended sadism in which the reader is initially complicit and then increasingly horrified.” Hmm. Not so sure about the book, but this high-level conversation between genre writers is quite interesting.
Harmony, by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles), Tony Juniper, and Ian Skelly , reviewed by Terry Eagleton (Guardian)
There’s something funny on a base level about a monarch, in 2010, writing a book about change. I’m guessing Prince Charles (excuse me, His Royal Highness) needed one of his co-authors just to navigate that opening logical fallacy. The other one presumably transcribed Trivial Pursuit cards at random: Eagleton says, “The book ranges from the mating habits of the albatross to the Sufi brotherhood, from carpet-weaving in Afghanistan to the mysterious five-pointed star you get when you superimpose the Earth’s orbit on Mercury’s.” Safe to say there’s little of value in the book itself, but the review is hilarious and not to be missed. Eagleton also says, “one of the volume’s most alluring aspects is its smell.” So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice.
Non sequitur: Here’s an infographic about the return of the McRib, which is inexplicably in the Wall Street Journal’s new books section. Guess they haven’t ironed out all the kinks yet.