Technology, Literature, & Dan Rather | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Nov. 2017

Berlin, Leslie. Troublemakers: The Story of Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age. S. & S. Nov. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9781451651508. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781451651522. TECHNOLOGY
Five of the world’s six most valuable companies are high-tech firms, and they were helped to the top by the six innovators profiled here, who broke ground in 1970s and early 1980s Silicon Valley. These individuals include Mike Markkula, Apple Computer’s first chair; Bob Taylor, the force behind the personal computer; Sandra Kurtzig, the first woman to take a technology company public; Al Alcorn, who engineered the first really big video game; Fawn Alvarez, who leapt from assembly line to executive power; and Niels Reimers, who streamlined the pass-along of academic breakthroughs to the public. Together, their efforts tell the story Silicon Valley, and who better to clue us in than Berlin, Project Historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University?

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. Holt. Nov. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781627794091. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781627794107. CD: Macmillan Audio. MEMOIR/TECHNOLOGY
Trust tech genius Lanier to use an innovative format to deliver an innovative idea. Integrating memoir, science writing, philosophical reflection, and down-to-earth advice, he reveals that virtual reality can clarify how the brain and the body connect to the world, giving us a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. Lanier moves from his New Mexico childhood and the loss of his mother to his first start-up and his ascent to the height of his profession, with two international best sellers to his name (Who Owns the Future? and You Are Not a Gadget). Personally, I want to discuss the mind-body problem with him, but anyone interested in culture today will want to read.

Puchner, Martin. The Written World: How Literature Shaped Civilization. Random. Nov. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9780812998931. $32; ebk. ISBN 9780812998948. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERATURE
Byron and Anita Wein Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, Puchner doesn’t just tell us about the important works of literature that have shaped civilization over 4,000 years, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Don Quixote to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. He tells us about the people whose personal persuasions led them to create those works. It’s literature not as mirror, then, but as potent force. What could be more important?

Rather, Dan. What Unites Us. Algonquin. Nov. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781616207823. $22.95. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Long a distinguished reporter and anchor for CBS News, Rather is now a glowing social media star using the experience he’s accumulated over decades to examine our ideals and identity as Americans. In a collection of original essays delivered during divisive times, he explains what unites us by considering our key institutions (e.g., schools, libraries, and parks) and our will both to transformation (as exemplified by the civil rights struggle) and innovation (note our accomplishments in science and technology). Rather has a huge fan base (e.g., 1.9 million Facebook followers), and you’ll be hearing about this book on morning shows, news shows, and late-night television.

Scutts, Joanna. The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women To Live Alone and Like It. Liveright: Norton. Nov. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781631492730. $27.95. HISTORY
The inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society (and an LJ reviewer), Scutts offers a cultural history of 1930s women discovering the joy of being single with the help of Marjorie Hillis, author of the convention-busting self-help book Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman. At a time when unmarried women and divorcees were pitied or scorned, Hillis gave women reason to see the single life as fulfilling and even glamorous. The glow didn’t last—how many times since then have women had to reassert the right to live their own lives?—but Hillis’s contribution was an important part of women’s ongoing struggle.

Thomas, Richard F. Why Bob Dylan Matters. Dey Street: HarperCollins. Nov. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780062685735. $23.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062685759. MUSIC
George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at Harvard University, Thomas is famed around campus for his ragingly popular freshman seminar on Bob Dylan and his status in the larger world as a prime academic defender of Dylan’s genius. This new work doesn’t simply examine Dylan’s appeal or the deep meaning of his lyrics but tracks his cultural importance and ongoing relevance in today’s tumbled-around world. Is Dylan an enduringly great poet on the level of T.S. Eliot or Virgil, as Thomas argues? Not everyone would agree, but it’s a conversation worth having.

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.

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