Visions of Technology: A Century of Vital Debate About Machines, Systems and the Human World, edited by Richard Rhodes (Simon & Schuster, $30). This anthology includes pieces by some predictable big names in the analysis of technology -- C.P. Snow, Aldous Huxley, Edward O. Wilson, Julian Simon -- but also some surprises. There is Spiro Agnew on supersonic transport, Mario Savio on the oppressiveness of "the machine" (by which he meant the regime of the University of California at Berkeley, if not the whole governmental apparatus of the United States), the Czech writer Karel Capek on robots (he coined the word in a play), and E.B. White on the 1939 New York World's Fair. "Tomorrow does not smell," he wrote. "The World's Fair . . . has taken the body odor out of man, among other things."
Witness to Revolution: The Advocate Reports on Gay and Lesbian Politics, 1967-1999, edited by Chris Bull (Alyson; paperback, $16.95). As its name suggests, the national gay and lesbian news magazine began as a rallying cry against homophobia. In particular, as editor Chris Bull notes in his introduction, police raids on bars were becoming increasingly heavy-handed. The cops would arrest gays for "lewd conduct" when the only conduct involved was simply being together in public. To help combat this and other forms of harassment, the Advocate originated as a newsletter. Over the years, its pages have documented the gradually improving climate for gays and lesbians; included is a sampling of articles about figures associated with the Republican Party who have either come out (Dee Mosbacher), been outed (Terry Dolan -- though not by the Advocate) or taken a pro-gay line (Barry Goldwater). This anthology ends, however, on a cautionary note, with an interview of the mother of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who was savagely beaten to death in Wyoming last year.
The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, by Alan Cooper (Sams Macmillan, $25). "Programmers aren't evil," writes Alan Cooper, founder of SEF's Windows SIG, the largest Windows developers group in the world. "They work hard to make their software easy to use. Unfortunately, their frame of reference is themselves, so they only make it easy to use for other software engineers, not for normal human beings." This book is about how endemic bad program design is in the industry. The cost, says Cooper, is incaculable. Whole military efforts can go wrong, your airline flight doesn't get off the ground, the intricate system in your Porsche goes haywire, your child's school curriculum is paralyzed. Our lives, adds Cooper, are increasingly affected by bad programming and careless computer engineers. As more and more workaday functions are handled by computers, our reliance on them to do the most basic things has made us dangerously vulnerable. His book is an attempt to expose the problems and outline how computer engineers need to change their ways.
The Faithful River, by Stefan Zeromski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston (Northwestern, $16.95). The elements of this short novel are classically bare: a wounded Polish insurgent, a manor house whose inhabitants are mostly scattered by the uprising of 1863-64 against Poland's Russian overlords, the sympathetic young woman who is left to run the household almost singlehandedly. She takes in the insurgent, who turns out to be a nobleman, nurses him back to health, hides him when the Russians come looking for him, falls in love with him -- and he with her. But then the nobleman's mother shows up. Though she becomes enormously fond of the care-giver, the mother points out the stark reality: A marriage between the classes is virtually impossible. Zeromski, who lived from 1864-1925, is considered one of the greatest Polish novelists. What comes through above all in this tale is his evocation of physical detail: the suffering of the wounded man, the domestic arrangements, and especially the means by which the nobleman is hidden from his would-be discoverers.