General 4-15-2005

Book Reviews

"TechGnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information" By Erik Davis and "Wrong About Japan: A Father’s Journey With His Son" By Peter Carey

Wrong About Japan

TechGnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information

By Erik Davis

Serpent’s Tail Press, $18.00

Don’t let the terrible cover and New-Agey title put you off this book. TechGnosis is a cheeky, erudite, exhilarating trip through the hidden back doors of scientific history from antiquity to the Information Age. Author Erik Davis first goes in search of the way mystical and mythical yearnings have fueled many of humanity’s scientific discoveries; he goes on to look at how scientific advances and new information technologies in turn shape existential notions of identity and self, their influences moving out of science and into pop culture, spirituality, and theology.

Davis’s command of such a broad field of topics—ranging from cyberpunk culture to Dr. John Dee, Theosophy to Tesla coil experiments—is certainly impressive. But his most notable feat is the ability to render complicated information and an epic historical scale that’s not only accessible, but entertaining. He pursues the undercurrent of millennial zeal and the hunger for mythic meaning that inform much of the history of scientific advances, from the advent of writing (the first earth-shattering information technology) to the entangled paths of science and alchemy; and from Mesmer’s experiments with hypnotism and the subconscious to the link between turn-of-the-century Spiritualism and the invention of the light bulb.

Davis’s study ranges far and wide through time and across disciplines, but his source material, however arcane, is voluminous and unimpeachable, and his reasoning is never too far-fetched for the evidence. And the staggering range of material is invigorating—if you’re looking for some nonfiction with heft and panache, you’re going to like TechGnosis.

Wrong About Japan: A Father’s Journey With His Son
By Peter Carey

Alfred A. Knopf, $17.95

Peter Carey, the acclaimed Australian novelist, has penned a tiny gem of a memoir that gently captures both the sweet toil of sharing an interest with one’s adolescent son and the rewarding, but near-impossible, task of trying to truly understand a culture not one’s own. Wrong About Japan is Carey’s insightful reflection upon a trip taken to Japan with his son when the two develop a shared interest in the pop art of Japanese animé and manga. On their cultural tour through the country, the two largely eschew traditional tourist destinations, instead seeking out the luminaries of Japanese animation and comics, hoping to decode the cultural and historical clues hidden within their films and books. They visit acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, the famed director of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, along with makers of pop anime and manga (both famous and obscure), hoping to unearth cultural truths about post-World War II Japan. Carey humbly articulates the futility of the traveler’s hope and hubris that a bit of visiting and reading up might make another culture fully comprehensible. A lovely, eloquent, generous book.

To read more book reviews, visit Ruminator’s web site