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Roger

South Orange, NJ, United States | Member Since 2004

282
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 49 reviews
  • 378 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 18 purchased in 2014
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10

  • Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 45 mins)
    • By Richard Wrangham
    • Narrated By Kevin Pariseau
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (390)
    Performance
    (187)
    Story
    (189)

    Ever since Darwin and The Descent of Man, the existence of humans has been attributed to our intelligence and adaptability. But in Catching Fire, renowned primatologist Richard Wrangham presents a startling alternative: our evolutionary success is the result of cooking. In a groundbreaking theory of our origins, Wrangham shows that the shift from raw to cooked foods was the key factor in human evolution.

    KHarrang says: "Fascinating book about early human development..."
    "Intriguing"
    Overall

    Wrangham presents a compelling, if not always well organized, argument for the importance of cooking in human evolution. Cooked food is easier to digest, allowing more nutrients to be abstracted more quickly. That allows humans to spend less energy digesting food, leading to a smaller digestive track, and more on a larger brain.

    Wrangham also makes intriguing arguments both for the control of fire helping to lead to the loss of body hair and for cooking helping to lead to pair bonding. He asks the fascinating question whether cooking helped give rise to gender roles, but I found his argument incomplete. He ends with a somewhat preachy discussion of what the ease of digesting processed food means for today's couch potato society.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • American Slavery, American Freedom

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 19 mins)
    • By Edmund S. Morgan
    • Narrated By Sean Pratt
    Overall
    (7)
    Performance
    (6)
    Story
    (6)

    "If it is possible to understand the American paradox, the marriage of slavery and freedom, Virginia is surely the place to begin," writes Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom, a study of the tragic contradiction at the core of America. Morgan finds the key to this central paradox in the people and politics of the state that was both the birthplace of the revolution and the largest slaveholding state in the country.

    Roger says: "Explaining the great American contradiction"
    "Explaining the great American contradiction"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It’s the huge irony in the creation of the United States: a country dedicated to freedom but founded on the back of slavery. Morgan confronts that irony head-on and seeks to explain how such contradictions could coexist.
    He focuses on Virginia, which had the most slaves of any of the 13 colonies and yet also produced the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as 4 of the first 5 Presidents.
    His argument is meticulously researched and presented in great detail. He argues that improvements in the tobacco market meant planters could afford to make the greater initial investment required to purchase slaves, rather than the contracts of indentured servants. The growth of slavery then significantly curtailed the flow of indentured servants into Virginia. This in turn gradually reduced the size of the white underclass, which had previously threatened the security of the Virginia gentry. Building off the classical notions that first, a successful republic requires virtuous citizens, and second, virtue requires economic independence, Morgan argues that republican ideologists were able to ignore those persons, white or black, who didn’t fit the mold. Since such persons, by definition, could not be good republicans, they were not entitled to the benefits of republican liberty.
    When the underclass was white, and the distinction was one of class, there was inevitably class conflict, which occasionally would erupt in violence. When the underclass was composed of slaves, however, and the distinction was racial, then whites could unite to think of themselves as special. As they grew more successful, they could even consider themselves virtuous. They thus could throw off what they saw as the corrupting ways of executive tyranny in the mother country, at the same time subjecting another race to much crueler horrors than those against which they rebelled.
    Morgan has some great discussions of intellectual trends, including attitudes towards work, class consciousness and fears of tyranny. He discusses only briefly the traditional classical connection between virtue and the success of a republic, and the book would have benefited from a more thorough discussion.
    He also mentions that some Virginians were able to see the inconsistencies between their rhetoric and slaveholding. That discussion too could have been fuller.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 40 mins)
    • By Thomas E. Chavez
    • Narrated By J. D. Rowlett
    Overall
    (4)
    Performance
    (4)
    Story
    (4)

    The role of Spain in the birth of the United States is a little known and little understood aspect of U.S. independence. Through actual fighting, provision of supplies, and money, Spain helped the young British colonies succeed in becoming an independent nation. Soldiers were recruited from all over the Spanish empire, from Spain itself and from throughout Spanish America. Based on primary research in the archives of Spain, this book is about United States history at its very inception, placing the war in its broadest international context.

    Roger says: "Underappreciated aspect of American history"
    "Underappreciated aspect of American history"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a good explanation of an underappreciated contribution to American history. It highlights the global nature of the war that included the American Revolution and explains how fighting on the Mississippi and in Florida, Central America, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean contributed to American success by diluting British attention and resources.

    One irksome aspect of the book was the continual reference to the US as colonies until the Treaty of Paris was signed. A more substantive issue is a tension between two central themes of the book. Chavez complains that Spain doesn’t get enough credit for helping foster American independence, while at the same time stressing that Spain got into the war only to serve its own interests. These two themes are not necessarily incompatible, but they should have been reconciled.

    Chavez blames John Jay’s failed diplomatic mission to Spain and anti-Catholicism for Americans’ lack of appreciation of Spanish help. While the first reason may be valid, the second flies in the face of American recognition of French assistance. Other possible explanations include: (1) the very caution for which Chavez lauds Spain, (2) the facts that Spain didn’t have a dashing representative like Lafayette or a legend like Franklin to publicize its help, and (3) the effect of the subsequent revolutions in Spain’s colonies. The book does not address these questions.

    The book does raise fascinating questions about the longer-term consequences of Spain’s involvement in the American Revolution, including the acceleration in the decline of French finances (Chavez argues that France refused to get involved in the war without promises of Spanish assistance), which helped lead to the French Revolution; the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, which helped spur the independence movements of Spain’s colonies; and American expansion across North America, at the expense of Spain (via France), in the case of Louisiana, and of Spain’s former colony Mexico, in the cases of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

    The sound quality is inconsistent, and the narrator’s foreign accents are woeful.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

    • UNABRIDGED (25 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By S. Frederick Starr
    • Narrated By Kevin Stillwell
    Overall
    (44)
    Performance
    (34)
    Story
    (37)

    Lost Enlightenment recounts how, between the years 800 and 1200, Central Asia led the world in trade and economic development, the size and sophistication of its cities, the refinement of its arts, and, above all, in the advancement of knowledge in many fields. Central Asians achieved signal breakthroughs in astronomy, mathematics, geology, medicine, chemistry, music, social science, philosophy, and theology, among other subjects.

    Julia says: "What a wonderful find!"
    "Thorough Account of an Overlooked Age and Area"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    One of the great ironies in intellectual history is that the knowledge of ancient Greece was largely lost to Europe in the early Middle Ages, but was saved in the Islamic world and then reintroduced to Europe through Moslem Spain. This book gives great insight into the middle leg of that story in a thorough and accessible manner. Starr sets out to explain the rise of the Central Asian Enlightenment, describe all its glories, and then explain its decline.

    Central Asia, in the centuries both before and during its Enlightenment, was at the crossroads of vast commercial activities. These included the famous Silk Road to China, as well as routes to India, the Middle East and Europe. Starr focuses on how Central Asia was able to use the interactions and wealth brought by such trade to create an intellectual class. This class was both familiar and comfortable with different cultures and languages and was also used to serving as middlemen between different peoples and cultures. Those intellectuals took the ancient knowledge, sifted it through the other influences of the region, integrated it with knowledge from India and China and made substantial contributions of their own.

    The book contrasts the acme of the Central Asian Enlightenment with the comparative backwardness of Europe at the time and then further contrasts the opposite trajectories in intellectual history each area subsequently followed.

    Starr argues that religious dogmatism and conflict were prime causes of the decline in the Central Asian Enlightenment. While outside the scope of this book, Starr’s other comparisons of Central Asia and Europe lead to the fascinating question of why European intellectuals were able to escape the intellectual conformity imposed, frequently quite violently, by the Roman Catholic Church, which was even more organized and bureaucratic than Islam, while those in Central Asia could not do so.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Nobody Turn Me Around: A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By Charles Euchner
    • Narrated By Darien Battle
    Overall
    (2)
    Performance
    (2)
    Story
    (2)

    On August 28, 1963, over a quarter-million people - two-thirds black and one-third white - held the greatest civil rights demonstration ever. In this major reinterpretation of the Great Day - the peak of the movement - Charles Euchner brings back the tension and promise of the march. Building on countless interviews, archives, FBI files, and private recordings, this hour-by-hour account offers intimate glimpses into the lives of those key players and ordinary people who converged on the National Mall to fight for civil rights in the March on Washington.

    Roger says: "Fascinating and Inspiring Story"
    "Fascinating and Inspiring Story"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a fascinating story of various movements coalescing into a unique event. It’s told from the viewpoints of multiple participants: the planners, the speakers, the politicians, the volunteers and members of the crowd. It follows the progression of the planning and presentation of the March, with several flashbacks to tell individuals’ stories or to explain particular trends. This technique has the risk of being disjointed, but instead it helps add layer and layer of depth at appropriate points, building in a crescendo to the grand conclusion.

    The narrator has a wonderful voice, and is particularly good with the songs. (He does a great Bob Dylan.) There are, however, several mispronunciations that are grating.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind and Changed the History of Free Speech in America

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 20 mins)
    • By Thomas Healy
    • Narrated By Danny Campbell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (56)
    Performance
    (49)
    Story
    (52)

    Free speech as we know it comes less from the First Amendment than from a most unexpected source: Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. A lifelong skeptic, he disdained all individual rights, including the right to express one's political views. But in 1919, it was Holmes who wrote a dissenting opinion that would become the canonical affirmation of free speech in the United States.

    Jean says: "How a 78 year old man can learn & change his mind"
    "Compelling analysis of intellectual growth"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a fascinating account of a pivotal development in American jurisprudence. It provides a wealth of historical background and perspective, all of which help to explain the development of Holmes’s thinking.

    The epilogue provides only a cursory discussion of developments in First Amendment law since the time of Holmes. Given the in-depth analysis of the body of the book, the final summary left this lawyer and student of history wanting more. That, of course, would be a whole textbook.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

    • UNABRIDGED (27 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By H. W. Brands
    • Narrated By Stephen Hoye
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (165)
    Performance
    (140)
    Story
    (143)

    Ulysses Grant rose from obscurity to discover he had a genius for battle, and he propelled the Union to victory in the Civil War. After Abraham Lincoln's assassination and the disastrous brief presidency of Andrew Johnson, America turned to Grant again to unite the country, this time as president. In Brands' sweeping, majestic full biography, Grant emerges as a heroic figure who was fearlessly on the side of right.

    Tad Davis says: "Underrated hero"
    "Compelling narrative"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The first half of this book, through Appomattox, is a detailed, meticulously researched account of Grant’s life and contributions. It convincingly sets forth what distinguished Grant from other Union generals. Brands also sets Grant’s activities within the general context of contemporary events and trends, but that analysis does not go very deep.

    The second half of the book is much more rewarding. Of necessity, it deals with the issues and trends of the day and Grant’s influences on and reactions to them, and it focuses less on personal details. It sets forth the accomplishments of his administration, which are too often overshadowed by the scandals at the end of his term. Brands argues that Grant showed the same courage trying to protect the freedmen and, to a lesser extent, Native Americans, that he showed in battle.

    The book also raises fascinating questions that deserve greater analysis, including: Did the Radical Republicans in Congress really hijack Reconstruction and direct it in ways Lincoln would never have countenanced, or did they try to save it from Johnson’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Southern Democrats? At the end of the Civil War, Grant was afraid the rebel armies would disintegrate into guerilla bands. While the armies did not “take to the hills,” should the KKK be treated as the reconstituted guerilla force that Grant feared? Sheridan considered the KKK to be terrorists. Had they been treated as such at the time, would civil rights have been established before more than another century had passed?

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The Big Splat: Or How Our Moon Came to Be

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Dana Mackenzie
    • Narrated By Kevin T. Collins
    Overall
    (27)
    Performance
    (13)
    Story
    (13)

    It takes a certain amount of courage to step beyond one's day-to-day experiments and look at the big picture - and the origin of the Moon is a big picture question par excellence. Perhaps it makes sense that William Hartmann, one of the two scientists who unraveled the Moon's biggest mystery, is not only a scientist but also a part-time artist and science fiction writer. It took someone with an artist's eye and a fiction writer's speculative temperament to see the big picture....

    Joseph says: "Very unhappy with this one"
    "History of Mooon Science"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is really a history of scientific theories of the moon's origins and makeup, rather than just an explanation of the current prevalent theory. Unlike an earlier reviewer, I found the history of earlier theories interesting, in that they help explain the development of the current Giant Impact theory.

    What I found disappointing was the Appendix that addresses the claims of conspiracy theorists that astronauts never reached the moon. This was a very satisfying academic book and didn't need to descend to that level.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean

    • UNABRIDGED (29 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By David Abulafia
    • Narrated By Jason Culp
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (76)
    Performance
    (59)
    Story
    (60)

    Ranging from prehistory to the 21st century, The Great Sea is above all the history of human interaction across a region that has brought together many of the great civilizations of antiquity as well as the rival empires of medieval and modern times.

    Roger says: "Impressive and Accessible History"
    "Impressive and Accessible History"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a great historic panorama of the Mediterranean. It is meticulously researched and cogently presented. As with any work that encompasses 7,000 years, it is in some ways an overview and introduction. At the same time, it provides valuable details into, and insightful analysis of, all historic periods. I therefore disagree with the earlier reviewer in that the book does tell a story, and there are themes. First among these is the cross-cultural mixing that has occurred ever since humans started to cross the sea.
    Abulafia sees the nationalism and ethnic cleansing that has occurred since the end of WWI as a terrible break from that tradition. Yet he describes earlier pogroms and deportations, all of which had terrible human costs, but none of which could long prevent such mixing. I would argue that one could evaluate ethnic cleansing as a similar horrible reaction to the persistence of cultural mixing. In that vein, Abulafia also describes how tourism serves to continue such interaction across cultures in the present.
    I think Abulafia therefore overstates his disagreements with Braudel. While political history is critical, he describes throughout the book how political decisions were limited by the geography and environments of the Mediterranean and its bordering regions. To me, this exemplifies Braudel’s argument that political history can exist only within the physical, environmental and economic worlds within which it takes place.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 13 mins)
    • By John Carlin
    • Narrated By Gideon Emery
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (11)
    Performance
    (11)
    Story
    (11)

    After being released from prison and winning South Africa’s first free election, Nelson Mandela presided over a country still deeply divided by 50 years of apartheid. His plan was ambitious if not far-fetched: use the national rugby team, the Springboks—long an embodiment of white-supremacist rule—to embody and engage a new South Africa as they prepared to host the 1995 World Cup.

    Neale says: "More detail than the film"
    "Inspiring"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a great illustration of the series of challenges Mandela faced in attaining his goal as well as the ways he dealt with and overcame them. Unlike most revolutionaries, he was concerned not just with eliminating the injustice against which he fought, but also in creating the society that was to follow. Accordingly, the ways in which he fought apartheid were also calculated to create the nonracial society the ANC espoused.

    I had known the general outlines of this story, but I had not been aware of, and was particularly impressed by, how many whites, of all political persuasions, Mandela was able to persuade to join him at each step of his struggles.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Idea of America

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Gordon S Wood
    • Narrated By Robert Fass
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (18)
    Performance
    (12)
    Story
    (11)

    The preeminent historian of the American Revolution explains why it remains the most significant event in our history

    John says: "MetaHistory"
    "Sophisticated analyses"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    These essays are sophisticated historical analyses. A listener needs to be familiar with the major developments of the Revolutionary and early Republican periods as well as with the major historical interpretations of such periods. This is therefore not an introductory work.

    It is instead an advanced scholarly work. The essays challenge some of the commonly accepted interpretations of our early history in some intriguing and well argued ways. I found them both convincing and enjoyable.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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