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Book Review of:
Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, by Bill McKibben
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, IEEE Senior Member, 2003 IEEE Region 5 Outstanding Member, and author of over 3500 articles.
The May 14, 2003 issue of the Wall Street Journal had an article by John J. Miller, in which Miller quoted none other than Ray Bradbury on the topic of cloning. One might think Bradbury would be all for it. Instead, he says, "It's better to go to be and make a baby, isn't it?"
The issues behind such a statement go far beyond the pleasure aspect, as McKibben—who is no enemy of science or scientists - so aptly and persuasively points out. In Enough, McKibben takes us on a thought-provoking journey of logic, where we examine the issues behind such things as germline engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics. He persuasively explaines the folly of technology for technology's sake, and helps us draw the line between that which is beneficial and that which is not. In other words, that which is enough and that which is over the line.
I very much like the way McKibben explodes the myth that folks who develop technology are experts in how it should be used. Many people who provide us with assurances on the value of a given technology is - no matter how far it's taken - aren't qualified. A case in point is television. Heralded in its early days as something that would bring to every citizen a vast knowledge and appreciation of history, the arts, and higher learning - it is, instead, an electronic lobotomizer.
McKibben does more than provide several compelling arguments as to why assurances by technologists are unreliable - despite the best of intentions. He goes on to explain the consequences to technology developers, end-users, and society at large, when we don't look at technology from a wider perspective than the assumption our role is to continually develop and employ it.
If you like to scratch the surface of important questions, this book is more than enough - without being too much. If you are at the other end of the spectrum and like to deeply ponder complex questions of what makes us human and what our technological limits are in light of that, this book is enough to fuel the flames. The one flaw in Enough is it simply is not enough. While it was satisfying on many levels, it left me wanting to read McKibben's other books. I'll read his "Then End of Nature," but I will impatiently wait for his next book. If all of McKibben's books are of this caliber, I'm not sure we'll ever have enough of them.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.