Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I grew up in southern Ohio. During my late teens I worked with dozens of hillbillies, people who had migrated north to find jobs. I was never one of them, and I was too clueless to understand their culture. It was a couple of decades before I began to understand the critical importance of culture.

I recently moved to Western North Carolina. There are hillbillies around every turn in the road. And, if you have visited or lived in this area, you know that there are a lot of turns. Mountains, valleys, and turns in the road.

Vance writes about hillbillies. What is like to be a hillbilly. What is is like to grow up in a hillbilly culture. It is important to understand this culture. It is largely disaffected from the American Dream. For them, the game is rigged against them. Thus, there is no point in fighting; one can only lose.

But Vance is also a wonderful writer. Every once in a while he will quote some statistics and argue slightly abstract details of policy. The rest of the time he writes about a life that teeters on the edge. That alone makes it worth the time to read.

Highly recommended.

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How to Fix the FutureHow to Fix the Future by Andrew Keen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an important book for those who are concerned with the impacts of technology upon society. Andrew Keen covers a lot of those actual and potential impacts. He also tries to propose some solutions for softening the negative impacts. Ultimately, it comes down to having citizens act for the good of the community.

The problem that I have with the book is that Keen has very decided views upon what is good for the community. No one paying attention to what’s going on in the public sphere would perceive that there is anything close to unanimity in deciding what that public good is. There is a loud, noisy, and irrationally exuberant debate about almost every point that one could bring up in that public forum. But Keen seems to ignore all of that confusion. He has an answer and never seems to have any doubt that the outcomes that he finds desirable are the right ones for everyone.

For example, he decries the disruptions brought about by the activities of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, requiring that the tech titans think through what the impacts might be before taking any actions. But, on the other hand, he applauds the disruptions brought about by Ralph Nader when he challenged the safety of American-made automobiles in the last half of the 20th century, even though those changes were just as profound. Understand, I don’t think that Nader was wrong and that the tech billionaires are right. I just think that the authors viewpoint could be a little more nuanced.

Still, it’s a good book to read as long as one reads with some skepticism.

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A Review of Technopoly

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to TechnologyTechnopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Postman has some good ideas about the impact of technology on culture. He is somewhat of a Cassandra, bemoaning the crassness of the modern age. Toward the end of the book, he becomes quite grumpy. Grumpy to the extent that he does not seem to be able to grasp the benefits of the technology. I am not sorry that I read it but it is not a book that I will ever re-read.

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