Review of The Making of a Digital World


The Making of a Digital World has a very promising subtitle: The Evolution of Technological Change and How It Shaped Our World. It sounds like a more academic version of Thomas Friedman's 'The World is Flat' – and in many respects it is. To be more precise,

The central question of this book can be … formulated as follows: do the past patterns of global system development still hold true for its current transformation or are we witnessing a structurally different development, whether technologically induced or the result of its increased complexity?

The book is certainly detailed: the wealth of historical data and the breadth of literature cited are impressive.

Unfortunately, however, I found the book to be almost unreadable. Now I realise that some may protest that academic books are not meant to be readable: they are there to be consulted, which is not quite the same thing. I would have to disagree: the best written work is always gripping, even if it is intellectually alien. For example, I sometimes read Scientific American. The technical terminology used in some of the articles renders large parts of them effectively inaccessible – but that does not prevent my enjoying the bits I do understand.

Not so with this book. Long and complex sentences (such as the one quoted at the beginning of this review) do not make the reading easy. But it's not just that: the book is also – there is no nice way of saying this – poorly written. Take the following sentence, for example, which I do not think is atypical of the book as a whole (although it is one of the worst examples):

This process is nested in the process in what Modelski terms the active zone process, defined as the spatial locus of innovation the world system, representing the political process driving the world system evolution, and unfolding over a period of roughly two thousand years (again separated into four phases).

Dorothy Parker once said, in reviewing a book,

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

I dread to think what she would have done with this book.

So, is there anything positive I can say about it? Well, there is the enormous amount of data it contains, along with references for further reading. The author has done an impressive job of drawing together many disparate sources into an overarching conceptual framework. I have to say that the price is somewhat alarming, but if you can persuade your local library to stock it you might use it for source material for assignments and discussions.

Bottom line:

Try to persuade your nearest library to buy it.