Manzi is a software entrepreneur who has made a mark in conservative commentary in recent years at National Review and the Manhattan Institute. This complex book puts him in a tradition, with Friedrich Hayek and Sir Karl Popper, that emphasizes limits to knowledge of how societies work and thus views government intervention and centralization with wariness. I will return to Manzi’s political arguments, but I think a substantial part of Uncontrolled’s value is in its sharp thinking about how various disciplines seek reliable knowledge.
Physics and chemistry have made great headway, in major part, because they study phenomena that are relatively simple and suitable for controlled laboratory experiments. Astronomy similarly benefits from its subject’s low “causal density,” in Manzi’s apt phrase, with the natural conditions of isolated celestial bodies allowing repeated observations that approximate lab experiments (plus the field has tight linkage to physical laws that have been corroborated experimentally).