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Decoding the World

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Member Reviews

This book didn’t have either the intellectual heft or the intrigue I’d hoped for based on my admiration of Po Bronson and the description of the title. It read a little chummy and insider-ish....and also like really depressing news of where we’re headed. It made the world seem like something I’d rather not decode.

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Good stuff. I like scifi, and although this is non-fiction, it feels like it's on the edge of science and tech at times. I certainly learned a few interesting things, and it made me think a little. Recommended for those interested in science.

Thanks very much for the review copy!!

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Thank you to Twelve Books and NetGalley for the Reader's Copy!

Now available.

Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta's "Decoding the World" is a novel concept in that it is not so much as a science book as it is an opinion book. Interspersed with personal texts and autobiographies of both authors lies some scientific explanation of common themes in modern day news articles such as climate change, longevity and genetic engineering. It is a decidedly tech bro friendly series of discussions as both have been heavily involved in the tech start up industry with their company IndieBro. While I found some of their explanations really interesting and novel, for the most part it felt like I was being lectured on opinions without substantial proof. Overall, an okay read.

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Bronson and Gupta have written a wonderful collection of scientific stories that reveal how advanced the human race has become. With all that's going on in the world these days, this dramatic scientific progress is easily overlooked. But this book has opened my eyes and given me hunger to learn more about the science behind their stories. The authors wrap quite complex biochemistry in great analogies that make it mostly easy to follow along. Some parts tend to feel scientifically overwhelming but they do not break the flow of the book. There's a lot of meaningful information to get out of it and the stories are diverse enough to cover a large range of science and even philosophy. Highly recommended.

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Review of Decoding the World: A Roadmap for the Questioner, by Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta

This is a review of a book supplied by Netgalley.

Arvind Gupta is a venture capitalist and the founder of the IndieBio science accelerator. Po Bronson is a San Francisco technology journalist who for the last few years has also worked for IndieBio. There’s a lot to be impressed with in the IndieBio accelerator. The company funds a number of startup companies using business model similar to the now venerable YCombinator, where teams of young scientists compete for seed funding to develop the first viable products that will hopefully attract subsequent rounds of funding. The wisdom of funding graduate students to come up with the next big idea, rather than buying ideas from professors after they’ve had it, has been demonstrated by the huge success of the accelerator.

IndieBio has aspirations to finding biotech solutions that will make the world a better place, and creative solutions to rhinoceros horn hunting, bee colony collapse, and other societal problems abound in the book. The book portrays IndieBio as a nerd fantasy land.

Each chapter starts with an unrelated headline from the tech press that Gupta and Bronson use as a topic to riff on from their IndieBio experience. This theme is more a cute conceit than an effective architectural element of a book: the headlines tend to be scattershot, making the book feel unnecessarily trivial in a way that it wouldn’t had it focused on, for example, societal problems that are addressed by IndieBio companies. There are hints of vanity publishing, of the “Isn’t what Arvind does amazing?” But the book is redeemed by being about genuinely interesting topics, and being written with humor and enthusiasm.

There are multiple mistakes that hopefully can be corrected by the time the book makes it to print. The authors assert in Chapter 12 that Mars's gravity decreased when its magnetic field died, which would only happen if the mass of the planet also changed. The atomic symbol for calcium is "Ca" and not "CA". The authors also capitalize the Pasadena institution as "Caltech" and "CalTech"; only the former is correct. Obvious mistakes like these are jarring in a science book: one questions what else the authors are sloppy or wrong about, which make it hard to take the subsequent sections of the book as authoritative in any way.

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Part manifesto, part memoir, part thesis, this book is the first volume of a trilogy on convergence, a theme the authors explore leisurely. Each chapter is devoted to a topical news story, and the authors trade off on writing what is essentially essays on how they portend the future of technology will impact human culture and society. They also sprinkle their side conversations between chapters, to punctuate the impact their friendship has on the development of their views. The writing is engaging and because it is mostly epistolary, the book can be put down and picked up easily. The authors raise many thought provoking issues and many readers will come away if not inspired at least curious to learn more about the subjects raised in the book. Fans of magazines like Wired and Fast Company will find this book appealing and worthwhile.

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This book blew me away. I was a bit anxious before I started it, because "the future of humanity" (from the book's original subtitle) seems so grim and I wasn't sure I could handle the details. The authors don't sugar-coat it -- many of Earth's problems are laid bare in this book. But this book did a lot of assuage my anxiety. It is very readable, not totally over my head, but also not condescending. If you are interested in articles from outlets like Popular Science, Scientific American, National Geographic, and Smithsonian, I think this book would interest you.

So many topics are covered -- medicine, COVID-19, various aspects of climate change, intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, genetics, lab-grown meat, human memory, venture capitalists, AI, cryptocurrency... this list barely scratches the surface. It is exciting to read about all the solutions that people are working on right now, and it made me feel a glimmer of hope that we aren't as doomed as I thought.

If I were teaching a creative writing class, I would have my students read this book to brainstorm ideas for speculative fiction.

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An absolutely fascinating topic although the writing is not my style. It is more of a "Wired" style "wow" without the underlying detail of scientific progress that I am more interested in. I also found it a little too self-aggrandizing -- I love hearing about how creative and intelligent people work, but this was more along the lines of "he always just new what to do."

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