[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 03 November 2023]
Matthew Perry always seemed like a good guy to me. Of course he completely immersed himself in the character of Chandler Bing, but was a solid actor in general from what I could see. I of course, as a sentient being, knew that he had issues with addiction and spent time in rehab during the shooting of Friends, but that was about it.
Reading his autobiography right after his passing is a bit of a gut punch. Boy, you talk about having demons. How he managed to perform at all, not to mention perform at the level he did is astonishing when you understand his struggles and the sheer depth of his addictions.
Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing feels very honest and raw, with Perry not flinching from accepting his own behavior and describing his struggles to get better, both with his addictions and the psychological issues driving them.
It’s also wrenching toward the end, as he has found his sobriety and gratitude for the blessings he has had, and you know he will soon be dead.
Extremely Online traces the evolution of online influencers from the days of the mommy blogger to today’s YouTube megastars. How influencers engage with both their fans, their platforms, and their advertisers is constantly evolving, and Lorenz does a great job of both being exhaustive and of moving the story along. So many names! So many influencers! So many schemes!
As an Internet Old, it felt a little weird to read about trends and platforms I was only vaguely aware of as they were happening. Vaguely aware, since I am a cis white male and both the female and young social spaces where the most frenetic activity was going on are a bit outside my wheelhouse.
Lorenz makes the very valid point that a lot of especially early social media was derided as vacuous because it was by women, for women, and thus not to be taken seriously. I’m glad she wrote Extremely Online to help fill in the historical record and to give credit where credit is due.
I knew cryptocurrencies were mostly scams and that there never was a "there” there, but I’m still floored by Zeke Faux’s Number Go Up. It’s all scams and the worst human beings possible. Jeebus.
The story of course involves the spectacular flame-out of Sam Bankman-Fried, the debacle of using Bitcoin as official currency in El Salvador, those ridiculous NFTs, and the farcical Terra/Luna stablecoin scheme, but also the two real use cases for crypto out there: money laundering and ransom payments. Which of course leads to human trafficking and horrific abuses. Great work there, true believers.
Faux writes breezily and avoids the pitfalls of getting sucked in to all the made-up BS that shrouds the scams. Highly recommended and more than a little depressing.
Traces the beginnings of NASA and the Mercury program, and puts it in context of the Cold War and the fear of the Soviet Union dominating space, thus gaining the ability to drop nukes wherever it pleased.
Mercury Rising does a good job of showing the paranoia and fear of the Cold War, as well as the initial resistance to the cost of the space program and how it turned into a huge morale booster for the United States.
Also shows what a horrible hand John F. Kennedy was dealt as he entered the White House. And of course the amazing human qualities and weaknesses of the Mercury 7 astronauts, with John Glenn at the forefront.
This is a great look back at the fears and hopes of the beginning of the Cold War and the incredible effort by the astronauts as well as all the support staff and engineers working on making the rockets not explode catastrophically.
It boggles the mind that eighteen thousand people spread across the globe were involved in the first Mercury launch.
The End of the Myth is an extremely thorough look at the American psyche and its relation to the idea and concept of the frontier and expansion.
The book traces the American idea of expansion back to the Founding Fathers and how they intended expansion to prevent society from fracturing into haves and have-nots. They were keenly aware from the French Revolution what happens when the gap between haves and have-nots grows too wide. From there, the Blood Meridian and the Louisiana Purchase, then the expansion into Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Phillipines, and now the stagnation of no more room to expand and the Mexican Border becoming a crucial symbol.
The End of the Myth is exhaustive and dense and could have done with some editing—it’s a bit of a slog at times. But its exhaustiveness gives it weight and makes it hard to refute its central thesis about how the American myth is coming to its end.
A smoothly and punchily written tale of various operators in Washington, D.C trying to navigate the rocky return to “normalcy” in politics after the turmoil of the Trump administration, The Big Break includes congressional staffers, an oil fortune heiress attempting to become a power player, a now-disgraced Democratic pollster, a now-disgraced Republican kingpin, and a burned-out staffer who decides to stage his own one-man late-night protest in a senator’s office featuring shrooms, a joint, and R&B.
It’s an engaging, easy read, and also really frightening. I recognize these are all human beings, but for me they might as well come from Mars.
If you’re interested in the culture of D.C., pick up The Big Break.
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