If Then: How One Data Company Invented the Future Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 39 minutes|
|Audible.com Release Date||September 17, 2020|
|Best Sellers Rank||
#106,754 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals)
#27 in Privacy & Surveillance Studies
#100 in Politics of Privacy & Surveillance
#163 in Technology & Society
Top reviews from the United States
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1. The second half of the book is tight and fact-rich. The information technology content throughout was well-written and at just the right level for the audience and topic. The author tried valiantly, and generally succeeded, to make this important but dry topic interesting.
2. This is a gift book for the sort of person who is impossible to buy for: 60+ white collar/intellectual, preferably from/in the Boston-DC corridor or the SF Bay Area. The older the better. If Republican, send nose plugs. There’s a gratuitous undertone of “how in the world could the wonderful Democrats lose election X” to some of the discussion.
3. This book acknowledges something of crucial importance for American culture. Events 50 years and older are history and we should be treating them as such. Trillions of dollars were spent by funding agencies on Cold War research. Those funders, the actual people, and researchers are getting old and starting to age out. Modulo intelligence concerns, these stories should be captured. Doomed to repeat failures and the like.
The first half ambled in areas of political economics and Cold War military posture outside of the author’s expertise. Stylistically, the first half reads like a group of 20-something research assistants wrote drafts of portions of the book and it was cobbled together by the author. Let’s call it tenured-sloppy. Not just pandemic-sloppy. I’ve noticed some late-career writings by some tenured humanities academics, especially “golden rolodex’ types, share this disjointed and self-indulgent style. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, the author bemoans the humanities crisis, saying fixing it is easier said than done. Well, think global and act local. Get your cronies to establish an editorial process to correct this understandable and natural but malodorous trend. You (the royal you) are too tenured to be effectively managed by your acolytes and peers without some structure within your discipline. You have to police yourselves. There are only so many crotchety independent old snarks like me willing to complain.
Doubt the direct words of Harvard 20-somethings in this? Here’s what I learned from the first half of the book:
1. The tenured Harvard history professor author believes “humanity would, by the twenty-first century, find itself trapped and tormented: stripped bare, driven to distraction, deprived of its senses, interrupted, exploited, directed, connected and disconnected, bought and sold, alienated and coerced, confused, misinformed, and even governed.” I interpret the author as stating all of humanity has been in this state for 20 years. This sounds like 20-something hyperbole to me. Allen Ginsburg would have loved it. Allen Ginsburg was a poet, not a historian.
2. The author really doesn’t like Richard Nixon. The author blurts out negative comments about Nixon irrelevant to the thesis of the book like a sufferer from political Tourette’s syndrome. Maybe Checkers bit her ankle as a child.
3. McCarthy activities went after “supposed Communist subversives”. Not “actual and supposed”, just “supposed”. How in the world did they avoid the actual? And the author thinks McCarthy himself was a poopy-head. That’s about all the information presented. It isn’t mentioned whether he had a dog.
4. The author really likes John F Kennedy. “The election of John F. Kennedy to the White House in 1960 became the stuff of myth and legend. It carries an air of destiny.” #MeToo doesn’t exist in the author’s universe. Just womanizing. The cad. The dreamy, dreamy cad. Wait a minute, the author is from Harvard, and Harvard is in...do you think there’s a little tribal signaling by the young bloods going on? Nah.
5. A historian will quote passages *from novels* of the period *about fictional characters* to support a thesis about real people and events. Several times. A tenured professional historian. This topic has available more than just living memory of what participants had said. Many of the people tangentially involved are still alive and have most of their own teeth.
6. Women students at top colleges wore “skirts and baby blue eye shadow and midnight black mascara” and would look up at a male professor longingly. There was no citation from the period, not even to a Harlequin romance novel, to support this assertion. And I’m certain there is absolutely no projection going on here by 20-somethings.
7. A UC-Berkeley protester in the 1966 "cried out to a crowd aching to hear an indictment of the age of the machine, his voice rasping with exhaustion” over a ban on handing out pamphlets on a specific 25 foot brick walkway on campus. Out of a two square mile campus. And they say over-wrought 20-something purple prose is dead.
8. In the early 1960s, IBM would, upon request, step in and deliver a number of “girls” on Election Night since the “girls” (always in quotes, a signature move by tenured Harvard professors) actually knew how to operate all the equipment. (Get your minds out of the gutter.)
9. You can do a hatchet job on a man suffering from mental illness and his long-suffering wife and, if you are labeled a historian and the man is dead, get away with it. On the side of the Great Divide the author temporarily resides. That’s an “early scholar” kind of move.
10. The Greenfields “would sometimes head up to Cambridge, to visit the Pools on Irving Street, by the Schlesingers and the Galbraiths. Jean Pool loved Patty Greenfield; they’d catch up in the kitchen. America’s most beloved chef, Julia Child, lived next door, at 103 Irving Street; she was close with Jean.” We get it, you live in Cambridge. Does a tenured Harvard professor do this? No, they’d name drop Cabots and Lowells. Plebeians.
11. “Everything in the [1950s and 1960s American] culture told [Bill McPhee] that great men had to be bastards.” Everything. Christian culture, rural and agricultural culture, Hispano culture, Pueblo culture, Navajo culture, New England Yankee culture, Black culture, Asian culture, Jewish culture, Appalachian culture, Scandinavian culture, Women’s culture all pointed to that, according to the author. I respectfully disagree. And I also submit that all those facets are part of “the culture”, and always have been...even in the 1950s and 1960s America. Anything less is just a 2020 cartoon version of what America was, *even to America itself at the time*. Well, maybe that cartoon version was and is alive and well for Harvard 20-somethings.
12. “Stewart Brand broke the story of the coming computer revolution”, presumably in the same universe that Al Gore invented the Internet. History, please, not just your parents’ personal history. Thumbs up for mention of the great Whole Earth Catalog.
13. “Affairs, and fights, and recriminations” were to be expected when white social scientists and their families stayed at beaches. In fact, the author asserts it would only have been noteworthy if they didn’t. No mention of whether police were alerted in advance. #BlackLivesMatter should take note.
14. Male social scientists of the period “really were crapped up: haunted by the war, deluded by Freud, trapped in terrible straits, raised to be strong but not brutal, astute but imperturbable, lines so easy to cross.” I’ve heard that some of the 60000 young American soldiers who died in rice patties and the like in Vietnam, with their last breath expressed those exact same regrets about those tragic social scientists. I sense 20-something Harvard. Couldn’t find “crapped up” in DSM-V...perhaps a misspelling by the tenured Harvard professor.
15. “Eisenhower was a liberal.” No question? Revealed wisdom? Something a 20-something would just throw out, and a professional tenured historian would say a bit more.
16. There isn’t such a thing as an “ill-advised tennis match’’ not involving Bobby Riggs to someone the age of a Harvard tenured professor.
17. “Hinkle-pinkle!’ (OK, Hinkle-pinkle is cute.)
PS: When the author publishes a Kindle book, someone should make in-text references directly link to the attached reference section. And skip the index on a Kindle book. It’s 2020.
PPS: there might be a misquote of sorts about an honorary Harvard doctorate recipient in the book. The original quote sort of came out of nowhere in the text...one of the few current references.
[“How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Zuckerberg blinked three times, apparently shocked that Hatch could know so little about so basic a matter. “Senator,” he said, “we run ads.”]
might also be described as
[“How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Zuckerberg *winked* three times, apparently shocked that Hatch could *ask out loud* about so basic a matter. “Senator,” he said *averting a knowing glance*, “we...run ads.”]
Tomato, tomahto...generally better not to present interpretations of thoughts and intentions of living people without actual supporting evidence. For example, asking them directly and reporting their response. Maybe with commentary from others. If it’s current, it’s journalism, not the free-form half-novels of history.
PPPS: I’m keeping hinkle-pinkle and the author can’t have it. My new favorite word...
First, mentions are made over and over and over of “models” being developed and used, but there are absolutely no details given to help the reader understand what these models actually are and how they work (or don’t work). Without some such understanding, the book becomes a history of assorted eccentrics working on and around a black box.
Second, the writing style is formulaic and frenetic (cf. one reviewer characterizes it, positively, as “chirpy”). My main gripe with respect to style is that the author makes extraordinarily heavy use of literary devices – esp. amplification, (a)syndetons, and hyperbole – that are employed over and over and over and over.
But I yearned for more context. She doesn't explore the rise of first rate quantitative work by ethical political scientists (nor does she describe the advances in other social sciences, especially psychology and economics). For instance, James Coleman worked for Simulmatics, but from If Then you'd never know the importance of his landmark statistical study of education equity (1966) or an equally dazzling qualitative study of adolescent peer pressure (1961). When she does explore context, it's familiar territory--the 1960 and 1964 elections, the growing opposition to the Vietnam War. But like all her books, this is hard to put down.
As anyone who has ever read Lepore's work knows, she has this amazing knack for choosing characters that help you see a side of a story that you thought you understood, but clearly didn't. Whether you're passionate about data or AI, a 1960s history buff, or just curious to understand how we arrived out our contemporary social media-soaked political landscape, this book will take you on a journey that is utterly enlightening.
A quote from a relevant character in the first chapter sets the stage brilliantly: "The new underworld is made up of innocent and well-intentioned people who work with slide rules and calculating machines and computers... Most of these people are highly educated, many of them are PhDs, and none that I have met have malignant political designs on the American public. They may, however, radically reconstruct the American political system, build new politics, and even modify revered and venerable American institutions -- facts of which they are blissfully ignorant. -- Eugene Burdick."
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This doesn’t mean that I cannot correct and criticize a few things on my side, it is my duty to history, given the importance of Lepore’s subject. Alfred de Grazia was the head of Simulmatics in Saigon. Lepore calls him an “academic exile after he had been denied tenure at Stanford” (at age 35, which she doesn’t say... ). She does not say, or does not know, that he was a tenured professor at New York University from 1958 (at age 38...) and published some 15 books during his tenure there. She ignores other things which would have been highly relevant to her topic, like the fact that Alfred de Grazia had been one of the first officers to come out of OSS Psychological Warfare in 1943 and that he had been the head of the propaganda services of the Seventh Army in WWII. Or that he was the creator of the Universal Reference System, the first computerized retrieval system in the social sciences in the early 1960s, all things which can be verified through secondary sources. Most of all, maybe for lack of time, she did not take into consideration the following very candid brouillon left by Alfred de Grazia (d. 2014) on his involvement with Simulmatics and which I am reproducing here:
Simulmatics Corporation had become an arm of the Department of Defense Research Office. When the war expanded, research expanded and with it the contracts available to Simulmatics. Among the several remarkable men who had organized Simulmatics and had worked with the Kennedy for President movement were Ed Greenfield, a Chicagoan, and Ithiel Pool, an old friend and head of Dept at MIT. There were others, esp. Schlomo, and one day we got together and I was asked whether I could undertake to set up with Ithiel [note in the margin: Pat Moynihan, et al.] a research installation to measure the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. At the same time, the Defense estab. was planning to send a high level team to Vietnam to advise Gen. Westmoreland on the conduct of psychological operations, not that he was keen on needing advice from anyone except how to move his pieces and win the war by more bombs and manpower. I was quite busy, with teaching and a program of research in rep[resentative] gov[ernmen]t from the Relm Foundation. The head of the Relm was not happy at my risking my time in Vietnam but public service was hard to oppose and the Department at the University could not oppose me since already two other members, Ghisbert Flanz and ---- were deeply involved. I knew I shouldn’t have done it. I was perfectly suited for the task, but the war already seemed hopeless, it was unpopular, and it was being conducted by ordinary uninspiring and unoriginal generals and politicians. The N[orth] V[ietnamese] leadership was by contrast excellent, and the Viet Cong knew exactly what they wanted to do and how to do it. The S[outh] V[ietnamese] govt and army were unideological, often corrupt, badly treated in the ranks, and understandably ready to sell out the US equipment, ammo, intelligence and everything else.
Still I hadn’t expected to get involved, did not relish the war, couldn’t understand why we had’nt won it and was not really following it intensively. I was given a high position equivalent to a brigadier general in rank and went over to take part in the commission to advise Westmoreland. We were badly organized by the chairman, who was picked by the Research Office, psychologist and dean and former colleague at [University of] Minn[esota], who knew nothing about war or psyops, Ken Clark. We met and met and nothing happened. We had a briefing or two by the army command that was top secret and showed nothing but what was in the press. I presented a memo showing the impossibility that we could make our deadline, unless we went into an impossible schedule. We did not. Ken showed an almost pathological reluctance to move ahead with the project. I finally quit and wrote a report to accompany the report that would presumably be submitted in time. My report was along the following lines: -----------
I return and visit the non-fronts, and talk to those engaged, and hire a number of Vietnamese to study public attitudes, and set them up in a large building with a typical wall and [g]arden around it. I supply pleasant conditions of work. There is little security employed. I am urged to put up barb wire and demand protection, but feel it would be useless and merely invite terrorism and would not be difficult to get into and do serious damage and then to assassinate us as we came and went anyhow. So we probably had a couple of Viet Cong spies in with us and it didn’t matter. John Hart, CIA head and former college friend, looks me up and we have lunch and talk over things in general.
I find the army overstaffed from the top down, oversupplied, impossibly organized. Incredibly outnumbering the enemy, given the tribes and the S. Viet., and the Koreans, Filipinos, Aussies. The research job is ludicrous. I am given a lot of money to administer things and set up new projects. I change money properly and receive pleas from Schlomo and Ithiel who visit while I am there in 1968 to exchange the money in the black market at twice the amount legally required. I refuse. I also get into quarrel with Col. Arnold who is in charge of the Research establishment. I wish to visit the hill town of ---- where the war college of the S[outh] Viet is set up and where they read a Viet trans[lation] of my Elements of Pol[itical] Sci[ence] among other things. His blocking tactics imply that the brass is using the resort for orgies and that he doesn’t like my CIA connection with Hart. I cannot tell what he is doing, or what most people are doing in the country, except collecting extra pay, and furthering their military careers. The men are in a poor state. They have little or no belief in the anti-communist angle. They don’t like the mode of warfare, but this attitude is promoted by the press and officers who should have known that so-called real regular warfare by organized armies would be a worse hell that [sic] guerrilla fighting. So what the men wanted was no war at all, why not. At home my boys are dodging service and no question but that draft-dodging and drug use are being tied in in a socially acceptable fashion by the school and liberal culture and the mothers don’t know what the hell is going on but refuse to tell the fathers. The rotation period in Viet[nam] is short but of course it doesn’t take long to get hurt once you are in action. (...) I decide to return to the States and not come back. On return I resign from the project, even while they are rumoring that my security clearance is in trouble, a method of blocking someone you don’t like, but then when I say I am finished the clearance comes promptly through. They didn’t mean to go that far. I ask Greenfield to turn over the management of the company to me. He naturally refuses, but the finances are in a bad state. They owe me money, too. I quit. Simulmatics cannot get contracts without me and Ed is borrowing from friends, drinking heavily, and getting into a tragic triangle with his wife and the beautiful Spaatzy who works with Brown in the world CIO_AFL union fight against communism. I am not a good friend to him at this point but then he would ruin me if I got any closer. I obtain some fine lawyers through friendship to collect my money; there is nothing to collect; Simulmatics goes broke. Ed goes into teaching in a private boys school (he had done the Chi Latin School); he is generous, warm, hilarious at times, enthusiastic, fills the room with his presence. [Scribbled in the margin: Cf. non-plot of Misanthrope of Moliere.]
Dick Cornuelle organizes Task Force for Nixon on Vol[un]tary Action. We work closely on it and come up with a good report. We know exactly what to do if people really wanted to do anything but talk. They don’t. Nixon is elected and Dick asks whether there would be some position I should ask for and I ask him to put me in for S[ecretary] of the Army. I give him a letter explaining what I should like to do in the job Y(part of it only). Goldwater and Jay Hall go to bat for me. Mel Laird should be favorable in one way, he is the new sec[retary] of Defense after the boom for a buck boys and he is more of an intellectual than most Congressmen; we worked together on a book on the new conservatism where I wrote a good piece on federalism. The book inspired the New Conservatism movement that began to receive much publicity with the AEI and a couple of other groups being held to be the dominant force in American thought in political areas and Irv Kristol et al getting written up in the Times here and there for the new approach. Anyhow there is a cocktail party where Nixon thanks us all and I sit across from Laird and he says he is getting pressure from all sides on my behalf. I laugh it off. (…)
None of this found its way into this otherwise great read, which is a bit of a pity. But now that you know, do not miss reading this strong and important book.