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Andrew

Pittsburgh, PA, United States | Member Since 2011

17
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 6 reviews
  • 27 ratings
  • 1 titles in library
  • 8 purchased in 2014
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  • The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Michael Shermer
    • Narrated By Michael Shermer
    Overall
    (760)
    Performance
    (548)
    Story
    (545)

    In this, his magnum opus, the world’s best known skeptic and critical thinker Dr. Michael Shermer—founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and perennial monthly columnist (“Skeptic”) for Scientific American—presents his comprehensive theory on how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished.

    Leigh says: "Great material. Not-so-great narration."
    "Good job... until Part Two."
    Overall
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    Story

    The book provides a fascinating discussion of science and the way that evolution informs belief. It almost becomes vital reading... until Part 2. An audible review does not allow for a full rebuttal of the 2nd half of the book. But Shermer almost wholeheartedly undermines his project by spending one chapter mistaking political science, a soft science, for geology or physics, or hard sciences, and then extending those arguments throughout the rest of the book. 



    The fallacious basis of the chapter is his argument that "liberal" and "conservative" are labels that evolved organically and can be identified as existing throughout the world, based upon evolutionary concepts about the way we understand society, thereby giving the labels the same weight as a scientific formula. From that, he argues that liberal bias has been proven in news media (but pays no attention to prominent arguments refuting this - Noam Chomsky's work on this issue comes to mind). And towards the end of the chapter, he presents the case for libertarianism. 



    But he never reconciles the problems with his own categories. For example, he identifies "liberalism" with socialism, but he does not deal with the connection of libertarianism to conspiracy theory about banking, with which it is so closely aligned (and which he attacks earlier in the text). He also creates a straw man understanding of what a "socialist" is so he can argue against welfare. But he does not acknowledge how government help for its citizens is welfare to some and free market incentive to others, depending upon their social class (another concept that he does not identify at all in his discussion of evolution and politics, reflecting an American bias). He makes no mention of how the understandings we have of political narratives are conditioned by partisan think tanks and political parties, nor by his own American-ness. He argues that the evolution of a two party system in the US reflects the way that humans understand political organizations, but he does not deal with how other Western countries allow for more diversity or how many differences (and degrees of "liberal" and "conservative") exist within those countries, thereby negating the rigidity of his own labels. He does acknowledge that "of course exceptions exist" to the categories that roughly define those two labels, but he deals neither with how those exceptions might betray his argument nor with the pervasiveness of those exceptions within society. 



    I'll stop here (there's much more to critique!). But to sum up, he entwines unfortunate talk-radio style rhetoric with otherwise solid scientific exploration. His arguments become deontological, rather than evidence-based (which he ironically argues is necessary later in the book). What evidence he does present in this chapter seems cherry picked. Furthermore, he offers no masterful understanding of the opposing political views in his book, such as the anti-colonial critics of Western liberalism in economics that might challenge his libertarian views, before dismissing them. (see "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" by Naomi Klein for one strong rebuttal that might address his epilogue about Hispanola). Doing so might give this chapter the same kind of weight that the rest of his arguments against aliens and religious narratives carry. Instead, the method used to argue in this chapter, as well as its substantive content, both weaken his greater arguments and employ the fallacies and methods that he critiques elsewhere. This performative contradiction was so alarming that I almost did not finish my listening.

(For a much clearer understanding of connections between evolution, human culture and the development of social dynamics in human society, see "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality" by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha [also on audible]. This book also negates Shermer's dismissal of Hillary Clinton's argument from "It Takes a Village.")



    Finally, you can hear him shuffling his papers and turning pages into the microphone throughout the his performance of the audiobook. This was very distracting.

    14 of 17 people found this review helpful
  • American Pastoral

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Philip Roth
    • Narrated By Ron Silver
    Overall
    (840)
    Performance
    (292)
    Story
    (287)

    Seymour "Swede" Levov is a prosperous, hard-working family man who comes of age in America's triumphant postwar era. But when the country begins to run amok in the 1960s, Swede's perfect world crumbles.

    Thomas says: "A Masterpiece"
    "A pulitzer?"
    Overall
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    This novel won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. It's a very good book and well performed (RIP Ron Silver). But the content will matter much more to the middle class of the 60s than it will to a contemporary reader.

    The bits about leather manufacturing are great, as is the description of the decaying Newark. But the path of the daughter towards the end is a bit much and while it makes sense logically as a development for her character, the novel does not bookend all that well and it isn't clear that the main character has gone anywhere in his journey, other than to be really confused about what happened to his life.

    This novel also paints a pretty naive picture of what it was to oppose Vietnam and to have "traditional" entrepreneurial values. Finally, there is a bit of the poor depiction of women that, from what I understand, Philip Roth was known for.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Michel Foucault
    • Narrated By Simon Prebble
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (48)
    Performance
    (42)
    Story
    (42)

    This groundbreaking audiobook by Michel Foucault, the most influential philosopher since Sartre, compels us to reevaluate our assumptions about all the ensuing reforms in the penal institutions of the West. For as Foucault examines innovations that range from the abolition of torture to the institution of forced labor and the appearance of the modern penitentiary, he suggests that punishment has shifted its focus from the prisoner's body to his soul-and that our very concern with rehabilitation encourages and refines criminal activity.

    Jaded Buddha says: "More titles like this one please!"
    "An indispensable read."
    Overall
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    Story

    Foucault offers a stunning account, though it really doesn't hit you until part two of the download (or it didn't hit me).

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Rise of the Mafia: The Definitive Story of Organised Crime

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 33 mins)
    • By Martin Short
    • Narrated By Matthew Lloyd Davies
    Overall
    (8)
    Performance
    (7)
    Story
    (7)

    Murder, violence and corruption are words synonymous with organised crime. Its long and bloody history influences all our lives whether we know it or not. But what lies behind these shadowy organisations? Where did they come from and how did their influence become so widespread?

    Linda Lou says: "WELL-RESEARCHED BUT POOR NARRATOR & PRODUCTION!"
    "Overall a good purchase"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I enjoyed the narrative very much, though the focus is more on the 20th century than I expected. I would've liked more in-depth treatment on the material on the history going back a few centuries rather than the Frank Sinatra bit. Still, this was an informative and entertaining read.

    That being said, it was performed at a snail's pace. I'm guessing the narrator was instructed to read this way, but there were numerous long pauses that led me to believe my headphones went out or a call was coming in when I listened on my phone.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Stalin: Breaker of Nations

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Robert Conquest
    • Narrated By Frederick Davidson
    Overall
    (72)
    Performance
    (42)
    Story
    (40)

    In this book, the first to draw from recently released archives, Robert Conquest gives us Stalin as a child and student; as a revolutionary and communist theoretician; as a political animal skilled in amassing power and absolutely ruthless in maintaining it. He presents the landmarks of Stalin's rule: the clash with Lenin; collectivization; the Great Terror; the Nazi-Soviet pact and the Nazi-Soviet war; the anti-Semitic campaign that preceded his death; and the legacy he left behind.

    John says: "Great 1991 Study on Stalin fka Dzhugashvili"
    "Historically interesting, but ideologically driven"
    Overall
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    Lots of good history in this, but the author connects everything Stalin has done to his ideology as a Marxist. At the end, he says that there is discussion as to whether Stalin was a sociopath, but he basically argues that every bad thing that happened was due to Socialism and Communism and that otherwise, Stalin would have been, say, a particularly stern economics professor or something.

    This is inadequate to say the least. Compare this to a cult leader who follows a narrative to the T and then implodes as the falsity of the narrative emerges in varied ways. He ends up killing his own people or himself or both and it all collapses. Ideology alone does not create the sort of lasting power monger and military force that Stalin was. There's much more to it than that - a reason why ideology speaks to a person. Compare this to "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which has a thorough understanding of Hitler, his childhood, his personal relationships and his early megalomaniacal ambitions, as opposed to just saying "well, he's an anti-Semite and that explains it all."

    The author also tries to marry all dictators in WWII to the Communist worldview, while later acknowledging that Hitler and Mussolini persecuted Socialists and Communists. The ideological bias and agenda is clear throughout the book, interrupting the flow of the narrative to reiterate that Marxism caused everything bad that happened.

    So compared to other historical biographies, the author seems to accept "he's a communist so he was evil" as the primary understanding of Stalin in a way that does not address the psychological ego and will it takes to starve millions of your own people. I would think that a different biography would provide a more specific view of the man, rather than a critique of all Marxism disguised as a biography of one person. (The straw man "Marxism" at that).

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Outliers: The Story of Success

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 22 mins)
    • By Malcolm Gladwell
    • Narrated By Malcolm Gladwell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (9519)
    Performance
    (4060)
    Story
    (4069)

    In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.

    S Prabhu says: "Excellent book; well adapted for the audio format"
    "Not as revelatory as you'd think"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It takes lots of actual practice to master something. It also takes opportunities that are not in our control. So basically, Gladwell is trying to prove Calvinism (hard work + predestination). Pinpointing the web of circumstances that leads to success is something that we obsess over as a culture and Gladwell provides a very interesting analysis of how this works. But I do not feel like I heard any revelations here that I did not learn from my father when he encouraged me to get internships as an undergraduate.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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