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Steven Poole's non-fiction choice | Book review | hublines.com

Steven Poole's non-fiction choice | Book review

Language, Technology, and Society by Richard Sproat, Crack Capitalism by John Holloway and The Upside of Irrationality by Dan ArielyLanguage, Technology, and Societyby Richard Sproat (Oxford, £25)The title sounds impressively all-encompassing, but this is really about first the history of writing (from the earliest pictograms to typewriters and computers), and then the fields of computerised speech synthesis and language analysis (in which the author, a computational linguist, has worked). There are considerations of Chinese characters ("largely phonetic", the author insists, perhaps exaggerating for effect), "pseudodecipherments" of ancient scripts, and a quixotic universal writing system, invented in the mid-20th century, called Blissymbolics.Enjoyably geeky info-dumps – such as a table of ASCII encodings, and examples of voice spectra – festoon the pages. The author occasionally smiles: speculating on how the first symbols for numbers came about, he observes (for all the world as though he has tried it): "It is awkward to have to stamp 20 sheep symbols every time one wants to indicate 20 sheep." It is tempting to wonder whether some curious misprints – "luther" for either; "bort" for both – constitute a sly joke about our own language-processing abilities.Crack Capitalismby John Holloway (Pluto, £17.99)Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you want to bring down capitalism, how should you go about it? Holloway urges readers to create "cracks" in the edifice: in lieu of "alienated labour", choose to do something you think is necessary or interesting. Just reading a book in a park is a good crack, and a person who does this, on Holloway's analysis, is on a continuum with more apparently impressive dissidents such as guerrilla gardeners, rioting Greek students or his beloved Zapatistas.The slight German-philosophy-in-translation feel of some of the prose (what are the hyphens doing in ...

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