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Darwin8u

A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

Mesa, AZ, United States

ratings
390
REVIEWS
386
FOLLOWING
14
FOLLOWERS
1126
HELPFUL VOTES
7004

  • The Luzhin Defense

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Vladimir Nabokov
    • Narrated By Mel Foster
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (22)
    Performance
    (16)
    Story
    (16)

    Nabokov’s third novel, The Luzhin Defense, is a chilling story of obsession and madness. As a young boy, Luzhin was unattractive, distracted, withdrawn, sullen — an enigma to his parents and an object of ridicule to his classmates. He takes up chess as a refuge from the anxiety of his everyday life. His talent is prodigious and he rises to the rank of grandmaster — but at a cost: in Luzhin’s obsessive mind, the game of chess gradually supplants reality.

    Darwin8u says: "Life and chess are such lonely battles"
    "Life and chess are such lonely battles"
    Overall
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    "Let's start if you're willing."

    G.K. Chesterton once famously quipped in his book 'Orthodoxy' that "Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom."

    Vladimir Nabokov’s th!rd novel about a lonely chess grandmaster reminds me of Franz Kafka and a little bit of Melville's 'Bartleby, the Scrivener'. While this isn't my favorite Nabokov (it isn't 'Pale Fire' or 'Lolita'), it is the sweetest. Most of Nabokov's characters are cold, irrational and distant. Luzhin is sad, über-rational and beautiful in his madness.

    History is full of mathematicians, logicians, physicists, and chess Grand Masters whose search for logical conclusions, 'transfinite' sets, perfect stability, etc, drives them nuts. Men who hold an infinite series of answers and thus an infinite possibility for despair. Like Kafka once said, “There is an infinite amount of hope in the universe ... but not for us.”

    To men like Luzhin, life and chess are such lonely battles.

    15 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • The Galton Case: A Lew Archer Mystery

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Ross Macdonald
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (45)
    Performance
    (25)
    Story
    (25)

    Almost 20 years have passed since Anthony Galton disappeared, along with a suspiciously streetwise bride and several thousand dollars of his family’s fortune. Now Anthony’s aging and very rich mother wants him back and has hired Lew Archer to find him. What turns up is a headless skeleton, a boy who claims to be Galton’s son, and a con game whose stakes are so high that someone is still willing to kill for them.

    Darwin8u says: "Dances down the same streets as Hammett & Chandler"
    "Dances down the same streets as Hammett & Chandler"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Ross Macdonald definitely dances down the same literary streets as Hammett and Chandler. This hardboiled detective novel, the 8th in the Lew Archer series, feels like it was written in one continuous sitting (that is a good thing).

    'The Galton Case' has a naked narrative intensity that is well-supported by its witty dialogue and California Noir setting. Macdonald is one of those authors who is so spare and bare that it is hard NOT to be impressed by the clean, minimalist architecture of his writing. If Proust was edited by Hemingway, liked bad girls (well OK, sometimes Proust liked bad girls) and wrote hardboiled novels, he'd be Ross Macdonald.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Young Philby: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Robert Littell
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (29)
    Performance
    (26)
    Story
    (26)

    Best-selling novelist Robert Littell employs all his considerable skills in telling the story of Kim Philby through the eyes of more than 20 true-life characters. When Kim Philby fled to Moscow in 1963, he became the most infamous double agent in history. A member of Britain's intelligence service since World War II, he had risen to become their chief officer in Washington, D.C. after the war. The exposure of other members of the group of double agents known as the Cambridge Five led to the revelation that he had been working for Russia for even longer than he had been part of MI6.

    Darwin8u says: ""Ahistorical" Espionage Fiction"
    ""Ahistorical" Espionage Fiction"
    Overall
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    It has been awhile since I've read Robert Littell. This wasn't one of his best novels (*** 1/2), but it was still fascinating. At its core, 'Young Philby' is an ahistorical, fictionalized telling of the early life and background of Kim Philby, the most famous of the Cambridge Five.

    Littell's fictionalized account imagines the possibility that Philby was actually more than just a double agent. I would tell you more, but then I would have to kill you. Anyway, 'Young Philby' was well-written, well-developed, and nuanced enough to make Littell's argument credible.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • The Last Magazine: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By Michael Hastings
    • Narrated By Ramiz Monsef
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (10)
    Performance
    (10)
    Story
    (9)

    The year is 2002. Weekly news magazines dominate the political agenda in New York and Washington. A young journalist named Michael M. Hastings is an intern at The Magazine, wet behind the ears, the only one in the office who has actually read his coworkers' books. He will stop at nothing to turn his internship into a full-time position and has figured out just who to impress: Nishant Patel, the international editor, and Sanders Berman, managing editor - both vying for the job of editor-in-chief.

    Darwin8u says: "CURRENT and ENERGY that is hard to contain"
    "CURRENT and ENERGY that is hard to contain"
    Overall
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    One of my big regrets over the last couple years is that I never met Michael Hastings. He wrote some of the "great" long-form journalism pieces for Rolling Stone Magazine during the last decade ('The Runaway General' & 'Bowe Bergdahl: America's Last Prisoner of War'). Hastings' genius was a combination of gonzo passion with the ability to laser-in on stories months or years before they became news.

    'The Last Magazine' gives us an energized, barely fictionalized, account of Michael Hastings' time at Newsweek. There is Nishant Patel & Sanders Berman (read Fareed Zakaria & Jon Meacham). There is sex. There is hackery. There's plenty of politics and porn, transvestites & bottom feeders. There are even twin narrators. Two sides of Michael Hastings. There is Michael Hastings the naive intern and A. E. Peoria the jaded combat vet who seems to have an inevitable destiny with self-destruction.

    Like most unpublished novels discovered only after their famous authors have died, 'The Last Magazine' is a hot mess. There are parts that are repetitive, segments that go on too long, underdeveloped ideas, etc., but there is also a current and energy that is hard to contain. 'The Last Magazine' is raw and it is FUNNY.

    One of my favorite tropes is Michael Hastings' dance on the fourth wall. In the beginning of the novel he details how many words he thinks the novel will be, the book's dangers, its pitfalls, etc. Hastings the author (not the narrator) reappears again and again to apologize for going too slow or too fast or for writing too much. This voice is difficult to pull off, but Hastings manages it with grace and doesn't typically overstay -- Hastings the author and the magician knows how to both make a scene and make a dramatic exit.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By David Graeber
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (273)
    Performance
    (235)
    Story
    (235)

    Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems - to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods - that is, long before the invention of coins or cash.

    E. J. Ford says: "Stands Economics on Its Head"
    "We are all debtors anyway."
    Overall
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    A fascinating exploration of debt, money, barter, and the credit systems used by man for thousands of years. Sure it has biases and like 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' is a bit too idealistic, but still -- wow -- an amazing book. While most economic books are still battling over the binary capitalism::socialism salvos, Graeber quietly flips both boats (or if not flips, rocks both boats HARD).

    I mean really, when was the last time my wife let me read to her about social and economic transactions? Answer: Never. She has NEVER, EVER before let me read to her about money or debt or interest rates or the buying and selling of goods. This was an early rule in our marriage. It was practically a sacred cow, a promise made with a flesh-debt. We even broke bread sticks over it (I still have my stale tally). We kept our bargain, till this book, till last night. THAT is how good it is.

    Anyway, go ahead read it in bed. Read it to your wife -- in bed. If you are really equals she will tell you after a few minutes whether she is in your debt, or you are in hers. And, that's OK. We are all debtors anyway.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  • The Dispossessed: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Ursula K. Le Guin
    • Narrated By Don Leslie
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (172)
    Performance
    (129)
    Story
    (131)

    Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.

    Justin says: "The Anti Atlas Shrugged"
    "The ^HIGH^ orbit of what SF can do"
    Overall
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    le Guin's 'The Dispossessed' represents the high orbit of what SF can do. Science Fiction is best, most lasting, most literate, when it is using its conventional form(s) to explore not space but us. When the vehicle of SF is used to ask big questions that are easier bent with binary planets, with grand theories of time and space, etc., we are able to better understand both the limits and the horizons of our species.

    The great SF writers (Asimov, Vonnegut, Heinlein, Dick, Bradbury, etc) have been able to explore political, economic, social, and cultural questions/possibilities using the future, time, and the wide-openness of space. Ursula K. Le Guin belongs firmly in the pantheon of great social SF writers. She will be read far into the future -- not because her writing reflects the future, but because it captures the now so perfectly.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Looking for Alaska

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By John Green
    • Narrated By Jeff Woodman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1025)
    Performance
    (855)
    Story
    (859)

    Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words - and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

    Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another.

    Darwin8u says: "Emotional Cotton-Candy"
    "Emotional Cotton-Candy"
    Overall
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    Story

    A good first novel, just not a world-class bildungsroman that I'm going to push to have my daughter read immediately. Don't get me wrong, Green writes good characters and builds tight little novels (I can use the plural 'cause I've now read two). Sometimes, however, I feel a bit like I'm reading a Jennifer Egan MFA project: something clever, funny, tight but although it desperately reaches to matter ... it never quite grabs the matter. The Universe is a finicky bit@h.

    This upsets me, because I really like the YouTube persona that IS John Green. It would be like falling for Mark Twain's personality and finding out he wrote only mediocre novels. My take is John Green is a C writer but an A+ promoter (not a bad thing if you want to make a living selling what you write).

    As a friend of mine (Jacob) on another site said, "It's like emotional cotton candy. Simple and uncomplicated. They can make you cry without making you think, force you to laugh without having to reflect, and it's all so...upsetting to me."

    16 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • The Fault in Our Stars

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By John Green
    • Narrated By Kate Rudd
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (8814)
    Performance
    (8073)
    Story
    (8123)

    Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

    FanB14 says: "Sad Premise, Fantastic Story"
    "A Cancer-Rich Day"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I have an 11-year0old daughter. So, yeah there is that. Oh, so we have a rule that we read (or in my case listen or read) before we watch (except for voyeurism which makes reading before you watch a tad problematic). Also, we are a family of Green brother nerdfighters, so there is that too.

    Perhaps, I should have had my 11-year-old daughter review it and just poach from her (the cost for me buying her the book, buying her movie tickets, indulging her 11-y-o whims and fangirl proclivities).

    Oh, and today was a weird day to read the book and watch the movie. A good friend of ours just got diagnosed with 'Butt Cancer'. So, a cancer-rich day indeed.

    Quick disclaimer, my reading/listening to John Green novels in no way should suggest I will EVER read 'Divergent'. My reading of contemporary YA fiction is VERY limited. My time on this planet is a short infinity of limited time and will not be filled with vampires, zombies, stormtroopers, or teen-crushes (too often). Well, unless my daughter cries, and then I'll probably just do what she wants.

    Also, 'Butt Cancer' friend -- fight hard and fun hard. We are rooting for you.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Middle C

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By William H. Gass
    • Narrated By Jeremy Arthur
    Overall
    (5)
    Performance
    (4)
    Story
    (5)

    Gass’ new novel moves from World War II Europe to a small town in postwar Ohio. In a series of variations, Gass gives us a mosaic of a life - futile, comic, anarchic - arranged in an array of vocabularies, altered rhythms, forms and tones, and broken pieces with music as both theme and structure, set in the key of middle C. It begins in Graz, Austria, 1938. Joseph Skizzen's father, pretending to be Jewish, leaves his country for England with his wife and two children to avoid any connection with the Nazis, who he foresees will soon take over his homeland....

    Darwin8u says: "All the world was a stage. But not for all the wor"
    "All the world was a stage. But not for all the wor"
    Overall
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    Another great author I backed into. Don't misinterpret me. I haven't just run backward over/into Gass. I haven't just "discovered" or "uncovered" the author. I've quoted him often. I've admired him and scanned used bookshelves for him. In my collegiate years I presumed to know more about Gass than I had a right to presume. I've carefully kept The Tunnel displayed, peacocking, on my shelf for decades. I've collected Gass essay collections, Gass criticisms, other Gass fictions. But all my Gass has, until today, remained unread, his books unopened, those pages uncut, words undisturbed.

    'Middle C' is a funky book. A musical prose that dances around the center. A mediocre family in flight, in disguise from Austria to London to the Middle of Middle America. A narrator that hides and disguises, that plots and twists. He jumps from school to store to library to university. He climbs the American ladder, remaking each rung as he climbs. He creates a fictional life and dreams that mankind must perish but also fears we might just survive. He creates an inhumanity museum for himself; an exhibit of disasters and man-made horrors, clipped from papers and hung on flypaper. He lives with his mother, dreams of his father, and gains a certain satisfaction "at being to the world an artifice".

    This isn't a plot driven novel. It is an ode to identity, a concerto between the two-selves of a man whose two identities (Joey and Joseph) are the contrapuntal themes we ALL listen to, if we listen closely, to those fuguing, fuging voices in our own head.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Eric Ambler
    • Narrated By Alexander Spencer
    Overall
    (57)
    Performance
    (32)
    Story
    (32)

    An early classic of espionage fiction. Through the cafés, trains and nighttime cities of Europe, Charles Latimer follows a twisting trail of drug-smugglers, thieves and assassins that will lead him to Dimitrios.

    Darwin8u says: "Raymond Chandler of European espionage fiction"
    "Raymond Chandler of European espionage fiction"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It is hard not to like Eric Ambler's amateur spies. They aren't reluctant, just lucky and persistent. They seem to have seeded an entire generation of suspense novelists. Reading Ambler I see exactly what inspired le Carre, Furst, Steinhauer, etc.

    Ambler has a voice and style which are matched by his ability to capture a reader's interest with characters and setting. He is like a magician that spends an elaborate amount of time carefully setting a formal table just so at the very end he can pull the cloth out -- leaving the characters shaking from the movement, but readers stuck within their own inertia.

    It is hard to judge Ambler once you realize every reference point you have to judge him by contains a fragment of Ambler. He is the Raymond Chandler of European espionage fiction. The genre doesn't exist separate from the author and 'A Coffin for Dimitrios' is one of his greatest works.

    11 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • Judgement on Deltchev

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs)
    • By Eric Ambler
    • Narrated By Tim Bentinck
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (10)
    Performance
    (10)
    Story
    (10)

    Foster’s dramatic skill is well known in London’s West End theatres, so perhaps it wasn’t so surprising when he was hired by an American newspaper publisher to cover the trial of Yordan Delchev for treason. Accused of membership in the sinister Officer Corps Brotherhood and of masterminding a plot to assassinate his country’s leader, Delchev may in fact be a pawn and his trial all show.

    Darwin8u says: "Worth the read just for the kangaroo court"
    "Worth the read just for the kangaroo court"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I might need to rethink this and give it five stars. It is still gnawing at me a couple days later. Ambler's thriller centers on a British poet that travels to a Balkan/Eastern European dictatorship to cover the show trial of Papa Deltchev for treason.

    It is a thriller that owes a lot to Kafka and to Buchan's The 39 Steps. Ambler slowly unravels the conspiracy wrapped around conspiracy as Foster (the poet narrator) uncovers the truth about the former leader and his family. It is hard to read these Ambler novels without seeing the future novels by le Carré, Furst, & Steinhauer standing behind every closed door and lurking in every dark shadow. The novel is worth the read just for the kangaroo court scenes.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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