In the excellent seventh-season “Mad Men” episode “The Monolith,” Sterling Cooper’s creative team loses its brainstorming/smoking/drinking lounge to make way for an enormous 1969 state-of-the-art office appliance. “Well, we’re getting a computer,” Roger tells Don. “It’s going to do lots of magical things, like make Harry Crane seem important.”
Good information has always been worth something, but the Internet today makes almost all information goods. And in many cases, we’re freely giving away those goods — our tastes, our ideas, our art — to different enterprises in exchange for connection and exposure. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but the problem is that too many of us do so blindly. Two new books will open your eyes.
Late in Chris Bohjalian’s stirring, sensitive novel “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” teenage narrator Emily Shepard describes the “poetry of a nuclear disaster.” She finds alliteration in “rads and roentgens and rems” and captures the rhyming “iums” of words like cesium and strontium and, of course, plutonium. And then she vaporizes it all. “Unfortunately, whenever I write those words down I instantly recall the dead cows and the dead moose and the dead birds,” she says, “and the poems in my head turn to steam.”
The witty title of Vikram Chandra’s soulful, erudite new book, “Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty,” appears to play with a couple of Western cultural touchstones. The ancient Greek Longinus’ “On the Sublime” gave us some of the earliest ideas about what makes great literature, and of course Keats’ most famous lines, if not his most wonderful, are: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
This isn’t your professor’s philosophy book. By her own count, MacArthur Fellow Rebecca Newberger Goldstein breaks at least one cardinal rule of the academy in her remarkably alive, ruminative new work, “Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away.” “I was trained as a philosopher never to put philosophers and their ideas into historical contexts,” she writes, “since historical context has nothing to do with the validity of the philosopher’s positions.”