The Blind Giant by Nick Harkaway: "A brilliant treatise about being human in the digital world"
The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World by Nick Harkaway, out now in hardrback (John Murray, £20)
Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach by Jean Sprackland, out on now in hardback (Jonathan Cape, £16.99)
Wool (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey, out now in paperback (Createspace £11.99)
How much of your life do you spend online? Probably a lot more than you think, yet how much have you thought about how you interact with the digital world, and how that might affect your behaviour, your very sense of self?
Nick Harkaway has thought about it a lot. Up until now Harkaway has been best known as a novelist, delivering two excellent literary novels that crossed over into science fiction. He also happens to be John le Carré’s son. But now Harkaway has taken his amateur interest in the digital age and used it as a launch pad for a non-fiction book, The Blind Giant, a brilliant treatise about, as the subtitle says, being human in the digital world.
It’s a fascinating work that really puts our sprint towards immersion in digital technology into perspective, as Harkaway tackles everything from politics to play, from social media to the music and publishing worlds, and the market dominance of a handful of global companies.
What’s great about The Blind Giant is that Harkaway is absolutely even-handed about it all, refreshingly non-judgmental – here is a man who has no axe to grind against anyone, be they multinational companies or whoever. He has clearly done his research, and he has read and thought long and hard about the issues involved, but he’s also just one of us, trying to muddle through as best he can and not get bamboozled by the speed of change around us.
The book confronts some big concepts – freedom of speech, the work-play balance, creativity versus commerce – but the author brings his own personal experience into play to lead the reader through it, and he does indeed suggest ways that all of us can try to be more human in the digital world, methods of engagement with our environment (physical and digital) which might stop us feeling as if we are drowning in a sea of information and chatter.
If you use the internet or digital technology at all, or if you’re interested in where society is headed in the 21st century, this is a riveting read, packed full of interesting details, but also with one eye on the wider context.
One way of escaping from the digital hubbub is to take a walk along the beach (without your smartphone, naturally). That’s exactly what Jean Sprackland did every day for a year, and the result is the simply gorgeous Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach.
Sprackland is best known as a poet, but this first non-fiction offering is as good as piece of nature writing as you’ll read anywhere. Part of a resurgence in the genre, Strands does what the best nature writing does, in that it takes the everyday stuff around us and makes the reader see it in an entirely new light.
Sprackland went searching for flotsam and jetsam, anything washed up on her local beach that might be of interest, and expanded on each item to take in history, social commentary, biology, literary and poetic description, and much more. One of the finest pieces of writing, nature or otherwise, to emerge this year.
And another thing…
Heard of Wool by Hugh Howey? You will before long. The latest self-publishing phenomenon, it’s a post-apocalyptic novel series that’s been snapped up by 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott’s production company. Expect The Hunger Games treatment on a screen soon.
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A Book Of Remarkable Criminals by Henry Brodribb Irving (1918)
A curiosity rather than one to take too seriously, A Book of Remarkable Criminals is a dryly composed collection of Victorian true crime written from the perspective of a world emerging from the horrors of the first world war. Just like the many true-crime tomes put together more recently, or indeed today’s tabloid press, Irving, who hailed from a British thespian background, manages to be both lasciviously interested in the crimes and the everyday lives and motivations of little-known French criminals, while simultaneously puritanically condemning their actions.