Book Review: Dataclysm

Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, And Identity–What Our Online Lives Tell Us About Our Offline Selves, by Christian Rudder

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Broadway Press in exchange for an honest review.]

In many ways, this book is deeply fraught with tension and even contradiction. The author claims not to provide a rah-rah case for big data or a lament, but spends a great deal of the book touting the benefits of understanding data and lamenting the loss of privacy. The book claims to honor the data representation excellence of Professor Tufte [1], but most of the graphics provided are a little thin in actual data points, even if they may have a lot of dots without labels showing on scatter graphs. Perhaps most egregiously of all, the author claims not to have an obvious bias, but spends a great deal of this book praising Howard Zinn (a Maoist historian most famous for his travesty A People’s History Of The United States) and promoting morally corrupt left-wing social agendas. If that’s not a bias, I don’t know what would qualify as a bias, particularly given his partisan sniping at more conservative cultural figures.

Concerning its contents, the book is divided into three parts. The first part looks at what brings us together, but not really. The first chapter looks at the different ways that men and women behave when it comes to seeking relationships. Men are more fair when it comes to judging attractiveness along a bell curve, while women think that somehow only about 16% of guys are above average looking (such harsh judges). Unfortunately, the statistics show that while a woman wants a man to grow old with her, men tend to find women at their most attractive in their late teens and early twenties, no matter how old they happen to be. The author then comments on the ways that it is good to inspire strong feelings, whether positive or negative, and the sort of relationship patterns that work best and worst. The second part, what tears us apart, looks at the different searches that are most popular among straight men and women and gay men and women, and also among different races, as well as the way in which rage and public stoning find themselves far too common on the internet, stories many of us can relate to personally. The third section, what makes us who we are, is largely critical of those people who focus on personal branding, and brings up some thoughtful question, but is largely written with a contradictory tone of smug superiority and alarm at the fact that it seems difficult to do anything to prevent the loss of personal privacy for very little gain to people (companies and governments) who cannot really be trusted. Considering the seriousness of this matter, the fact that the book spends most of its time talking about the frivolity of OK Cupid profiles is a failure to focus on what is most important.

Although the list of books written about big data and its implications is a fairly long one [2], this book has a promising niche among those who are interested in both big data as well as a mildly libertarian or even socialist streak. The author has done a lot of work to make this popular among the slacktivist class of readers, even if he makes fun of them for not being more concerned about matters of privacy, and the content of this book, which focuses on relationships, sex, racism, and left-wing talking points like the “male gaze” and other aspects of the contemporary outrage culture, ought to appeal to its target audience. Unfortunately, perhaps, for the reader, I find the author’s use of the flood imagery in cataclysm, which was used first to describe the flood of Noah, to be all too appropriate for the content of this book, and in a way that is seemingly unintentional. As this book was clearly not written for me, the best thing to do is leave it aside, and let others who are more appreciative of such material mine it for salacious cocktail party trivia.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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11 Responses to Book Review: Dataclysm

  1. Ginny says:

    Nathan, we have a gift card for you from the blog tour drawing! But the email we have for you isn’t working. Could you pls email me at thanks! (feel free to delete this comment, I just didn’t find another way to reach you)

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