11.0591 book reviews on Humanist

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 19 Feb 1998 21:28:06 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 591.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty"kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: book reviews

[2] From: Peter Liddell <pgl@uvic.ca> (46)
Subject: Re: 11.0589 book reviews?

[3] From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu> (12)
Subject: Book Reviews on Humanist

[4] From: "F. Levy" <flevy@u.washington.edu> (8)
Subject: reviews

[5] From: Toby Burrows <tburrows@library.uwa.edu.au> (20)
Subject: Re: 11.0589 book reviews?

[6] From: Orth_Michael_P/cpslo_employee1@polymail.cpunix.calp (3)
Subject: 11.0589 book reviews?

[NB some responses were lost unaccountably during processing of Humanist
messages this evening. Apologies to those who sent them. Resending would
be welcome. --WM]

From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty"kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: book reviews

Several responses to my query follow. Some of them suggest that I wasn't
as clear as I should have been, so let me say here more exactly what I
have in mind.

First of all, the model with which most of us begin is the Bryn Mawr
Review, which publishes online reviews of high quality in classics and
medieval studies. I cannot on my own manage such an operation for
humanities computing, so my proposal is much more modest, and alas less

Since I find myself writing a book review once a month for my local
college newsletter, I thought perhaps there might be others doing the same
sort of thing and who wouldn't mind sharing them with the rest of us. In
other words, a cottage industry of book reviewing. What sort of books,
some have asked? Well, this is Humanist, so anything relevant to
humanities computing, I'd think. With that kind of scope, the number of
books we could informally review here is large. I presume that many of us
are reading books in the field (thus defined), that we have views on them,
like to say what we think, and can write reasonable English. A formula for
success, surely.

The last review I wrote was also the basis for a longish note to Humanist,
so I won't share that one, but the book I reviewed previously I don't
think I mentioned at any length, so I include it herewith.

Continuing comments, please. Book reviews would be even better!



Book of the month

Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of
Unintended Consequences (New York: Vintage, 1997).

As new technologies begin to settle down into the routines of daily life,
one is struck by two facts: first that they do not simply replace what
came before but tend to alter the way we approach the situations to which
they apply, second that they have unexpected consequences. The eventual
application of a new technology is sometimes foreseen, but often
considerable time is required before we understand what the device is for.
We tend at first to avoid the problem by confusing a device with something
it apparently replaces -- thus the terms "iron horse" (for the locomotive)
and "horseless carriage" (for the automobile). When the personal computer
first appeared many tried very hard to construe it simply as a kind
of typewriter, then as a productivity tool", then a means of saving

The unexpected consequences about which Tenner entertainingly writes
take us by surprise, even in an age of ecological awareness. As he
shows, not only is a new technology to some degree an unknown
quantity in the beginning, but its assimilation into the social,
economic and cultural system of which it is a part is both complex
and historically contingent. Seldom, it seems, are we particularly
eager to think about the consequences. The promotional phase that
moves us to experiment with new things may lead us to believe that
the advertised benefits are without cost or fundamental alteration of
our professional and personal lives. Experience shows otherwise.

Tenner's book is valuable because it contributes to the growing body
of literature on the system-wide effects of our devices, thus their
"ecology". Ironically, as he argues, intervention in natural
processes (such as the control of forest-fires) means greater
long-term involvement, necessitating more rather than less vigilance.
The cognitive scientist Andy Clark has asserted somewhat humorously
that "We use intelligence to structure our environment so that we can
succeed with less intelligence. We make the world smart so that we
can be dumb in peace" (Putting Brain, Body, and the World Together Again,
MIT Press, 1996). Tenner's argument suggests on the contrary that we
cannot afford to be dumb, at least not for a long time to come.

One might, however, wish for less of the anthropomorphic in the book.
Tenner's notion that "technology" has its "revenge" on us, depicted
on the cover of the paperback edition by a coiled power cord rearing
up in the posture of a cobra, is an amusing but dangerous conceit. We
already indulge too much in the apotheosis of our own devices, as if
the benefits and threats were not of our own making.

From: Peter Liddell <pgl@uvic.ca>
Subject: Re: 11.0589 book reviews?

Yes, definitely, to Humanist reviewing relevant books. I just got
Cairncross' Death of Distance, based on a review I read in one of the
online newspapers I peruse - the Times (London), I think. To have a single
source for reviews on books of interest to humanists would be a boon

Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 19:34:44 +0000
From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu>
Subject: Book Reviews on Humanist


I think the idea of book reviews on Humanist is a very good one! I will
probably need a higher credit card limit for orders through amazon.com
but that is one of the prices of progress!

All the best!


Patrick Durusau
Information Technology Services
Scholars Press
Co-Chair, SBL Seminar on Electronic Standards for Biblical Language

--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 19:35:00 +0000 From: "F. Levy" <flevy@u.washington.edu> Subject: reviews


It sounds like a good idea, but it would be easier for me to judge if you'd mention a clutch of the titles you have in mind.

Fritz Levy Department of History, Box 353560 University of Washington Seattle, WA 98105 (206) 543-5790 (dept. office) (206) 543-9451 (dept. fax)

--[5]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 08:42:51 +0000 From: Toby Burrows <tburrows@library.uwa.edu.au> Subject: Re: 11.0589 book reviews?

Dr McCarty,

I think this is a very worthwhile idea. The number of books relevant to Humanist subscribers is growing at an exponential rate - and range from the technical to the more cultural / speculative / scholarly. For example, I've just completed a review article covering eleven books on SGML and XML published in the last six months (and there were others I missed!). To have a regular book announcement/reviews service would be very helpful. Let's keep the reviews shorter rather than longer, though!

I'd be happy to help in some way, though Australia may be a bit far removed from the action!

Toby Burrows


Dr Toby Burrows Principal Librarian, The Scholars' Centre The University of Western Australia Library Nedlands 6907, Western Australia

E-mail: tburrows@library.uwa.edu.au Facsimile: + 61 8 9380 1128 Telephone: + 61 8 9380 2358 WWW: http://docker.library.uwa.edu.au/~tburrows/


--[6]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 19 Feb 98 11:08:58 -0800 From: Orth_Michael_P/cpslo_employee1@polymail.cpunix.calpoly.edu Subject: 11.0589 book reviews?

Yes, I'd like them--but with a journalistic word limit (good stuff first, then details the editor can cut off) of say 500 words. And with categories in the subject line, so we can avoid books on vegetarian ideals or homeopathy in the future, if we choose?

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