Tag Archives: David C. Thompson

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?

Fiction:

There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.

Nonfiction:

There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

 

Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housekeeping: Books Reviewed in First Quarter 2015

These are the books reviewed here in the past quarter.

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee

Fiction

Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

 

Book Review: “The Reputation Economy” by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson

The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson

The CEO of Reputation.com ‘splains what it is all about. If, like me, you’ve been curious about what reputation.com and similar services actually do for you, this book is very informative. If this is a book length advertisement for his company, it is nevertheless filled with valuable information.

And by the way, if reading this book doesn’t make you think seriously about getting off social media altogether, I don’t know what will.

Fertik andTthompson make clear that “Big Data” was last decade’s big thing, now it is “Big Analysis”—making connections and inferences from all that data out there. His other point is that, whether like or not, or know it or not, you are leaving permanent digital footprints which others can see. Besides revealing what you have said and done, they are being used to infer (guess) your future behavior in many ways.

The Reputation Economy is all about using data to help people make decisions and predictions with limited secondhand information.” (p. 167)

They call this footprint and the inferences from it as your “reputation”. I think this is a poor term for it, but it is general usage now. F&C explain the many ways that such “scores” may be used to judge and pre-judge you, and influence insurance rates, credit terms, school admissions, job prospects, even personal relationships.

The first few chapters give a (very) non-technical summary of the technology. These sections are accurate, if shallow. Fortunately, you don’t really need to know the boring details (which are, let’s face it, really, really boring) in order to grok the basic idea: it has become very cheap to store and process data, and people are learning all kinds of ways to ask and answer questions from multiple datasets.

Chapter 4 introduces what he terms “decisions almost made by machines”, which he terms “getting DAMMed”. More decisions about people, including hiring, promotion, and firing, are being made by a combination of machine and human, with the machine heavily implicated in filtering and therefore biasing the human’s ultimate decision. The point is that the want us to understand how this happens and to make it work for us as best can be managed.

They see this as leading to hiring processes that resemble professional sports drafts: candidates ranked on the basis of extensive, detailed data about previous performance, individual and as a team. I both love and hate this idea.

Reasonably done, data driven processes can be far better and fairer than human “gut feeling” and old boy networking. (But, crucially, reasonableness and fairness requires transparency.)

On the other hand, this aggressively merit based “super star” model is a terrible way to create collegial spirit or a humane life style. After all, the sports model he uses pays extreme benefits to an absurdly small number of players, rapidly diminishing pay down the hierarchy, and nothing at all to the 99.9999%. A workforce on this model is scarcely sustainable. (Indeed, many sports franchises survive through external subsidies from governments and advertising.)

Chapter 6 discusses how “The Reputation Economy” will disrupt the current system of undergraduate education. They state the case for the unsustainability of current models, and the low validity of college education as a “signal” for job performance.

Their analysis here is rather shallow and selective, neglecting some key benefits of college, especially, the development and testing of new ideas, creation of new enterprise, social networking, and important steps the psychological maturation of young people. And they complain that students “game” the system—as if that wasn’t one of the key lessons to be learned in school.

Nevertheless, they make the interesting point that college operates as both education and certification, in the same institution. Not surprisingly, they see “reputation” scoring as a way to do better than GPA, degrees, and even the “reputation” of famous schools. By reporting and publishing credible evidence of completed work at a fine grain, no matter how it was done, the system would be so much better and cheaper for the “hiring process,” optimizing “the one criterion that matters: whether they will make good employees” (p. 131). Sigh.

If this vision for education (more accurately, certification) is plausible, subsequent chapters head into crazy territory. Chapter 7 considers how to “Live Like a VIP in a Reputation Economy World”. (p. 139) The main idea is that reputation scores will be aggregated and available instantly all the time. Well, maybe, but I’m pretty sure that the powerful will control who sees what. And the boss will be able to see my scores, but I won’t be able to see his.

The “live like a VIP” part comes from imagining that these scores will be used to (secretly?) reward good scores and punish bad ones. It’s not clear to me why this would be good business, at least as applied to masses of ordinary people.

Also, there are zillions of kinds of reputation, so the idea of a single “reputation balance” is pretty iffy. Why would a valuable contribution at work have any effect on life insurance? Why would a bad play on the weekend softball team be used to influence hotel perks? I’m just not buying it.

Much of what F&T talk about is basically “branding” yourself and dealing with corporate “brands”. Put your best foot forward, avoid looking bad and be careful stroke “brands” the way they want. What could possibly go wrong?

Chapter 8 is about “portability”, particularly across situations. This is another form of prediction model, estimating from skill in one area to another area. Whether this is valid or not (and mostly it is bogus), why would I want to do it at all? This is useful only if there is no directly relevant information, in which case you have to extrapolate.

Chapter 9 gets to the heart of the issue: online data is too often incomplete, out of date, and wrong. The network is also an echo chamber, such that a false rumor or mistaken identity can be instantly repeated and copied and acted upon by many computers.

What is one supposed to do? Chapter 10 is about being proactive, emitting positive and desirable signals to create positive reputation. Again, we are supposed to act like a company or movie star, to protect our “brand”. Sigh.

In the end, Fiknik and Thompson’s view of “The Reputation Economy” appears to hinge on the assertion that these inferred “scores” and predictions will be aggregated and public, so both the powerful and weak can use them to make decisions aided by computers. Also, he seems to think that the analytics, if imperfect, are somehow unbiased.

But if history is a guide, the data will not be public and the algorithms will be designed by and skewed to promote the interests of the powerful. Those of us in the 99% will access rigged and trivial data, while we will be surveilled by powerful interests who work to extract everything they can from us. And I don’t even want to think about how mafias will exploit this system.

Along this line, it is worth pointing out that two entire chapters about “education” and “work” are all about how to cheaply and efficiently meet the needs of employers, not workers. Other sections discuss how to protect your megabusiness from public criticism, and how to screw your colleagues before they screw you.

This is not a humane future.

For further reference, see the Gospel According To Brother Jaron.

Note:  Revised 26 Feburary 2016 to more consistently reflect the do-authorship of the book.


  1. Fertik, Michael and David C. Thompson, The Reputation Economy: How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation is Your Most Valuable Asset, New York, Crowne Business, 2015.

Sunday Book Reviews