A Year in Reading: Jonathan Safran Foer

December 13, 2011 | 6

coverThe best book I read last year — and by “best” I really just mean the book that made the strongest impression on me — was The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr. Like most people, I had some strong intuitions about how my life and the world have been changing in response to the Internet. But I could neither put those intuitions into an argument, nor be sure that they had any basis in the first place. Carr persuasively — and with great subtlety and beauty — makes the case that it is not only the content of our thoughts that are radically altered by phones and computers, but the structure of our brains — our ability to have certain kinds of thoughts and experiences. And the kinds of thoughts and experiences at stake are those that have defined our humanity. Carr is not a proselytizer, and he is no techno-troglodyte. He is a profoundly sharp thinker and writer — equal parts journalist, psychologist, popular science writer, and philosopher. I have not only given this book to numerous friends, I actually changed my life in response to it.

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is the author of two novels, Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (both Houghton Mifflin) and a book of nonfiction, Eating Animals. His next book, New American Haggadah, will be published by Little Brown in February 2012.


  1. when the American Indians were in their tee pees for the night, a story teller would emerge and say, “would you like to hear a story”? and like the Greek scholars, most truths and education was told from mouth to ear in the way of stories that we could remember. music would provide another road to learning. Maybe we need to take a step back and not blame “the Google gods” for our stupidity, if it is that, but ourselves. Didn’t Lear’s spiritual adviser tell him that his faults lied in ourselves, not our stars? Everything changes our brains and creates new neurons. What we do know is that there is no such thing as “multi-tasking” a concept pushed out by industry to get people to do more for less. WE will grow and change as the culture morphs into new forms. Chief Seattle, is said to have told us “The life is a web and we are only part of it. What we do affects every other living thing”–to paraphrase. Sorry, but this is another hype book–raining doom and gloom on our parades.

  2. I put the book on hold at my library. I have such a strong feeling that I will respond to the book as you did, Jonathan. I’ve been getting closer to setting limits for many months and your single paragraph really did it. I don’t want impatient distracted living. I don’t participate in most technology (no cell phone, no TV, etc) but I am computer-dependent. It’s only about 25% wonderful. The Millions is wonderful, the convenience of online banking, researching books and movies and music. The card catalog is gone, alas. A perfect example is that I want to get up and walk across the room to my splendid dictionary and look up words and follow one word to another, to another, to another — and not look it up online. I miss writing letters, taking my time, really thinking about the person I am writing to, wanting to say it right, getting the tone right and not stupid little yellow faces. I want significant restoration to how it was before.

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