In Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist and musician who became the face of virtual reality in the 1990s, pins the devolution and ultimate destruction of the Western middle class on accelerating technological change, and on the internet in particular. He then suggests a way to re-engineer our networked world to recreate a middle class. His critique of the conditions that led to America’s economic crisis, while flawed, is mostly a sharp and enjoyable read. The last 150 pages (nearly half of the book) dedicated to the solution, however, get bogged down in the contingencies of something that will never occur.

Lanier would have done better with a blast of pure pessimism or by embracing far simpler and more probable fixes. But some surprisingly knee-jerk reactionary political prejudices lead him away from the more likely solutions. The result is an often brilliant book that is subverted, in the end, by an obscure intellectual exercise.