Ben Smithgall

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Bit pusher at Spotify. Previously Interactive News at the New York Times, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





Against Everything: Essays

By Mark Greif

Finished reading on March 16, 2018

This is a hit and miss collection of essays, most of which are available to read via nplusone magazine’s website. I think that a few :

I think that the biggest problem with the book is that Greif’s writing just tries very, very hard. Thoughts that could be simple or straightforward become cumbersome and florid. Smart ideas are obfuscated behind needless complication. I can certainly do this as well, but Greif takes it to a whole new level.

In terms of Greif’s thinking, I realize that he draws great inspiration from Thoreau (he notes that he grew up near Walden Pond), but I wish that his hopes for how to adapt to our individualized and atomized time included some hopes of joining together and realizing collective strength. He references the power and hope of Occupy Wall Street, people wishing to realize true democracy, yet he recommends that we find beauty everywhere around us (aestheticism) and that we pursue it to its fullest (perfectionism). These are highly individualized actions. I am not convinced they will move us away from the atomization that he decries.

One the whole, though, I enjoyed this book, even through its most ponderous sections.