This review of David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous is categorized under both “Books” and “Reviews”. I think he would be okay with that — he’s not against sorting, just opposed to “the idea that there’s a best way of organizing the world”. That thesis, found on page ten, echoes throughout the book with various applications. When James Tauber mentioned the book, the title alone drew me in. Indeed, the book was an affirmation of many ideas I’d had.
I can’t say I enjoyed the book as much as I’d hoped, though. When it arrived in its bubbly blue cover, I became a bit suspicious. Indeed, this book is written in a fluffy, overly colorful style. Furthermore, the author categorizes certain ideas as “those which it is safe to condescend”, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. Right and wrong themselves are a bit too provincial for Weinberger, and I got the impression he’s still bitter towards any religion on account of one of his forbear’s being waterboarded by a Republican during the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps that was the case, which would be unfortunate, but that recurring tone distracted this book from its more useful points.
I read the book last fall, and took the notes for this review at that time. This morning I finally got around to listening to Clay Shirky’s Ontology is Overrated presentation, which was delivered more than two years before this book came out. It’s much less sensationalist, more elegant than vitriolic when presenting its worldview, and still manages to cover almost everything that Dr. Weinberger did. If you’d like a general introduction to the benefits of non-hierarchical, decentralized, fuzzy means of classification, I’d recommend Shirky’s presentation before Weinberger’s book.
However, Everything is Miscellaneous did strike me as reasonably well researched and presented some interesting ideas that expanded in some areas beyond what “Ontology is Overrated” covered. As James Tauber said in his post, the book didn’t really change my mind either, but I don’t regret reading it. I’d still like to add it to one of my shelves. But I’m waiting until after it’s available in paperback this April, as that is a more appropriate medium for the writing style.