Wandering into a dangerous amount of detail

Now, we interrupt our regularly scheduled homeschool posts to bring you an assignment from my instructors—a review of Matt Richtel’s A Deadly Wandering.


The book delves deep into the science of attention—or lack thereof. Richtel’s attention to detail is astounding, but it’s a case of “can’t see the forest for the trees”—Richtel spends so much time expounding on the details, the story loses some of its power. Each chapter focuses on a different character or topic, which is incredibly hard to follow. The focus on the backstory of each character, while ultimately helpful in understanding each one’s motivation, detracts from the horror of the story. A teenage boy killed two rocket scientists while texting and driving. This story is horrific, but by spending so many chapters dissecting the backstory of minor characters, it’s easy to lose sight of the incredible tragedy of the story.


Terryl’s story in particular dragged on a lot, especially in the beginning. Terryl is introduced at the very end of Chapter 4, and her story begins in Chapter 5 without any clear context.


Things had been leading to this moment for a long time, a slow-motion wreck starting in August 1962 when Kathie, who was chunky and adorable with short blond hair and had just graduated from high school, gave birth to Michael. He was a big kid but passive.


Richtel spends a lot of time giving information like this—interesting and visual, yes, but relevant to the story? I don’t think so.


One of the strengths of the book was is way Richtel breaks down the science. He explains incredibly scientific terms in a way that is easy to understand.


Here, it is possible to see the in which our devices play to beautifully to our own two basic attention systems: top-down and bottom-up. Our top down, goal-oriented system wants to keep in touch, make connections, form relationships, forge partnerships. Our devices are masterful at allowing that. And the goals get reinforced, or so it seems, by the buzz of incoming call or text, alerting us to a new development in the narrative of our lives. It is the bottom-up system at work. (p.169)


Even the strength of the science, however, doesn’t make this book an easy-to-follow or even an enjoyable read. From a journalist’s perspective, this book shows a depth of research that we should all strive to meet. For anyone who would pick up this book off the shelf, however, it’s far from an easy read. Peppered with questionable grammar choices and typos, it’s nonetheless an extraordinary story, told with an amazing attention to detail.


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