This (audio)book is a detailed analysis of why societies succeed or fail. It has an environmental slant to it since throughout much of human history societies were tied intimately to their immediate surroundings through agriculture. Not surprisingly, a topic as complex as societal collapse can't be boiled down to "Collapse for Dummies"---a lot of evidence needs to be described and analyzed, and a set of multiple causative factors explained. This makes the book very involved, which is nice, because most popular science books are fluffy and boring.
I'm astounded by reviewers who complain that he only presents societies that failed (he presents several that succeeded); that he claims that environmental causes are the main factor in collapse (he does not claim this---in fact, he says specifically that he is not saying that!); that he is an enviro-apocalyptic (he does not claim we are doomed); or that he is simply spewing some sort of liberal mantra of envrionmentalism. I figure that reviewers who claim such things have neither read nor listened to the book.
I think that this particular book is one where the abridgement is actually a good thing; Diamond has the academic's habit of presenting the outline of an argument that he will give you eventually, presenting the argument, then presenting a presentation of the argument, then presenting a summary of the presentation of the argument. The abridgement is good because it cuts out at least two steps here.
The narrator is fine, and sounds somewhat similar to the author.
This book is not a scientific analysis of ecology, conservation biology, or of global warming. In fact, it's very much like a "position paper" for self-described "biocentrists", though this particular position paper has a reasonable amount of credible evidence to back it up. There are parts of this book that are quite melodramatic, such as the first chapter which is a "letter to Henry David Thoreau". I really could have done without that. E.O. Wilson is a good scientist, but not a very good writer---when he tries to be literary it comes off as overwrought. This is clearly an audiobook aimed at concerned laypeople who do not have much of a scientific background.
Nonetheless, there were a number of very good passages in the book and the information content in it is high. I enjoyed the narration for the most part, but Mr. Begley really needed to speak with a biologist prior to pronouncing a number of species names (e.g., Escherichia coli came out as "uh-sher'ika colee"; even if this is somehow correct latin (which I'm sure it isn't) it flies in the face of the tens of thousands of biologists who refer to it as "ess-sha-reekia cole-eye")). It isn't a huge gaff, but it's annoying like when people pronounce nuclear as nucular. Ain't no such thing as an atomic nuculeus. This echoes the sentiments of a reviewer below.
The editing was a bit uneven in a few spots; several takes were recorded at different levels and stitched together.
One reviewer mentioned that the book was "a 30 year old theme: nature good, humans bad", but I think this criticism is kind of shallow. The theme is "destruction of habitat bad, natural selection good". The only real content flaw in the book is that it spent too little time explaining *why* habitat destruction is bad. Unfortunately, that's the most important message!
The plot, as Tom Wolfe plots go, is good and not too outrageous, although I have to point out that Republican politicians don't ever have oral sex since it's sinful. The character development, well, that's good too---typically humorous and sharp. Language, excellent as always; there are two very amusing sections on the myriad use of two unprintable words.
But what this book does beyond all others is capture the undergraduate life with unflinching accuracy, at least from the point of view of frats and sororities. The mock screaming, the fawning, the groping, the unforgivably awkward geekiness, the sick pleasure of unimportant but nasty gossip, the unrestrained and misdirected lust of children just released from their parents' supervision, the ultra-low-cut pants that display the rear declivity for all to see, the fanny wagging. These are just a few of the ways that college girls have learned to debase themselves and we, the readers, are invited to eavesdrop on the whole prurient affair. Sure, sure, not every college student behaves this badly or with such a powerful self-destructive urge, but it is satire after all.
All of the images flow past in one amusing juxtaposition after another, aided by Dylan Baker's fantastic portrayal of a teenager's brain. His reenactment of an overwrought and melodramatic Charlotte Simmons is particularly awe-inspiring. And his sound effects aren't---rrrhhhaaaa-static rrrrhhaaaaa-static---bad either.
This book is like a shaggy dog story. The first 95% of the book just set up for what amounts to a one-two punchline that's delivered in about 10 minutes. But the thing is, the punchline wouldn't work without the first 95%, and the first 95% would be pointless (though well written) without the punchline. Some parts of the book are kind of formulaic: phrases short, words repeated, situations described, adjectives used, action passive. Despite this stylistic problem, the book is very well done. Even the diversions (which go into great detail about why zoo animals don't run away, among other things) are relevant and interesting.
The audio narration is quite good, and only occasionally does the reader's accent slip.
Reasonable plot, fun to listen to. It's not exactly thought-provoking, but it's a good diversion. The narration was good, though the woman who reads Valentine's voice is a bit whiny. I read the paper version in high school, and it's still pretty enjoyable 15 years later to listen to.
Since many of the proper nouns are from a different language, the poor recording quality makes it very hard to understand who is who. For example, there's some guy apparently called "olive oil" in the book of Judges, and another one in Joshua called "bazooka". Another implementation problem is that each book in the OT is bundled separately, have to be downloaded separately, and are presented in My Library in alphabetical order, which makes it kind of annoying to deal with. You'll have to put it into your own order. The reading itself is pretty good, though. I enjoy it, though not as much as more modern works of science fiction, and I am about as atheist as a person can be.
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