Ackerman, Carr, Darnton, Fukuyama, Kissinger | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Sept. 2014, Pt. 3

Ackerman, Diane. The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us. Norton. Sept. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780393240740. $27.95. SCIENCE
Humans now dominate 75 percent of the landmass, and our technological prowess allows us to gift orangutans with iPads and collect DNA samples even as species are killed off. As ackermandistinguished naturalist and poet Ackerman notes, “Our relationship with nature has changed … radically, irreversibly, but by no means all for the bad. … Our mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable.” Here, then, is a hopeful look at how humans interact with the environment and what we can do to make it survive and thrive. With a five-city tour to New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Carr, Nicholas. The Glass Cage: Automation and Us. Norton. Sept. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780393240764. $26.95. SCIENCE
Having explored the impact of technology on our thought processes in The Shallows, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Carr takes on factory robots, self-driving cars, and computerized medicine to show how our lives are diminished when they are ruled by technology. In fact, he assays the entire history of our involvement with machines, from hunter-gatherers to textile mills to Google, then explains how technology could expand rather than contract our possibilities. Excerpted in the Atlantic; with a five-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver.

Darnton, Robert. Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. Norton. Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780393242294. $27.95. SOCIAL HISTORY
Trust Darnton, the author of rigorous and exciting literary history and Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the University Library at Harvard, to offer an insightful work on how in three distinctive eras censorship shaped and even promoted the creation of literature. In 18th-century France, censors gingerly negotiated the strictures of royal absolutism with authors and booksellers, thus managing to protect some great works of the Enlightenment. The efforts of the British Raj to control local literature in 19th-century India actually encouraged opposition as it put the lie to Britain’s presumed liberal principles. And the Communist Party’s desire to engineer social literature led to something more complex in 20th-century East Germany. Catnip for smarties.

Fukuyama, Francis. Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. Farrar. Sept. 2014. 752p. ISBN 9780374227357. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781429944328. POLITICAL SCIENCE
The Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for fukuyamaInternational Studies, Fukuyama is perhaps best known for shaking us up with The End of History and the Last Man. Here he offers the second in a two-volume study of the creation of the modern state, moving from the French Revolution to the Arab Spring while assessing why some countries thrive and others don’t and pondering the fate of democracy given globalization and political floundering in the West. The first volume was called “a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time” by the New York Times Book Review.

Kissinger, Henry. World Order. Penguin Pr. Sept. 2014. 752p. ISBN 9781594206146. $36. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Here, there, and everywhere during the latter half of the 20th century as he managed U.S. diplomacy, Kissinger has been accumulating the knowledge he needs to address an expansive subject like world order. In fact, he argues, a world order has never existed; instead, there have been a range of orders as nations and empires rose and clashed and fell. Now, even with nations knit together by globalization, we still don’t have a world order; violence, differing perspectives, and ideological extremism threaten to pull us apart. Kissinger suggests ways we can solve that problem.


Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.