This book grabs you with a fast paced, exciting first chapter but never really delivers on that promise.
In trying to describe the events of the attack and put them in context the author strays a little too far a little too often to hold the reader. Further, the big question introduced in the first chapter is never answered satisfactorily.
I appreciated his description of post-perestroika Russia, which I was almost completely ignorant of before this book. But the background starts to feel like a history lesson and you keep asking "but what about the tiger?" This is even worse when he goes into the personal histories of the involved hunters and townspeople. I'm certain these people made a tremendous impression on the author, but the details of their lives do not really move the narrative along.
The writing is excellent--having lived "up north" I really was transported by his descriptions and he re-creates the feel of village life quite well. I also enjoyed his narration. It is difficult for an author to read their own book, but he manages to inflect well enough to make you catch puns you might otherwise miss.
With better editing this could have been another "Into Thin Air" but as is it requires some effort to get through.
I'm a big fan of the author and really enjoyed "Our Inner Ape." I enjoyed this book less. The writing is interesting but the book has an unstructured, unfinished feel to it.
He draws on his vast primatology experience to address the question "how can we have morality without God?" Using many insightful stories about chimps, bonobos and other monkeys he demonstrates that evolution has given us an innate moral sense that only recently (in anthropologic time) has been transplanted to the institution of religion.
He never clearly lays out this very delicate and complicated argument. His style is more throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I never had a sense of what would be coming next and there was no systematic refutation of possible objections. As a student of philosophy I expect a clear premise and a well structured argument to back it up. I agree with most of what he says, but I honestly don't see how you could attack his argument if you didn't. There's no "If A, then B and if B then C. Now I'm going to prove A and B." Instead he gives us detailed analysis of several medieval paintings and anecdotes from his research.
I did appreciate his bristling at Hitchens and Dawkins' confrontational atheism. I like(d) them, but both frequently get a pass because of their divine status in the atheist pantheon.
In the end "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and he hasn't brought that.
I agree strongly with the author's premise that engaging a practice in an ethical way represents the best way to effect change. It is much better than ridicule and disdain which have no chance of creating a dialogue.
Unfortunately, I just can't take someone seriously when the make sweeping statements like "all of modern Western society is a farce" or "the rich just don't want the poor to succeed and that's a fact."
As an advocate of local sourcing and sustainable practices I really wanted to enjoy this book. The author has many important things to say from first person experience. But the writing is just too over the top for me to allow myself to be influenced. I feel it undermines the author's trust and disrespects the reader's acumen when an author makes sweeping generalizations and wants you to accept it with "that's just a fact."
Also, the author has chosen to read his own book, which is almost always a mistake. His voice is nasal and weak and his reading is flat.
I believe he would be a fantastic dinner companion, but this book is a step in the wrong direction.
In addressing the various themes of "our stone age bodies/minds aren't designed for modern life" the author covers a lot of ground, but she still leaves some areas unexplored. The performance matches the sometimes serious, sometimes funny text well.
The author uses evolutionary science to debunk several claims regarding modern diets, fitness regimens, child rearing and relationships. Unfortunately, she only chooses to address concepts that she seems confident she can refute. While she convincingly argues for the plasticity of our genome, there certainly are ancient limitations that we are stuck with (our poor grasp of probability, our low genetic diversity, the fallacy of multi-tasking).
Her discussions are evidence based but she mostly avoids directly citing papers and studies. However, this leaves many discussions meandering in a grey area between opinion/interpretation and hard facts.
She tempers her criticism of the "paleo" movement with wit and empathy for those people trying live a better life. I believe adherents of the paleo-lifestyle who are interested in the other side of the argument could enjoy the book.
If you keep your expectations low this book can entertain you with short 1-2 min anecdotes from old Hollywood stars. Most of the material is from the 20-50s and even as a fan of that period I did not recognize several names.
The production is incredibly annoying--the reader has sycophantic tone and every story is punctuated by a burst of "ditty" music ("da-deet-deet-da-da"). You will hear that ditty about 200 times by the end of the book.
The stories are the sort you would hear from the PR department of a movie studio--not TMZ. There's no real dirty laundry, just funny stories and the occasional "Oh you scamp!" moment, but the author is clearly infatuated with his subjects--probably a little too much.
The title should be "Patrick Henry Was a Major Douchebag." The book spends more time talking about Henry, the principle antagonist, than it does about Madison, the protagonist. Even when he does talk about Madison he spends more time talking about his diarrhea and hemorrhoids than his political genius.
The chapter in American history when the Constitution was ratified was obviously pivotal, but all of the historical "what if?" discussion is ultimately fruitless. The author should have spent more time on the actual importance of the bill of rights. Amazingly, for such a long book he never finds time for even a cursory review of the actual bill of rights. Some amendments are discussed as they come up but the coverage is surprisingly sparse.
Overall, the book is accurate and provides insight into the ratification of the Constitution and later the bill of rights. However, the writing is very dry and repetitive and he spends too much time talking about Patrick Henry and the other anti-federalists.
The performance goes a long way to improve the subject, but the narrator can only do so much.
The author wants to construct a case that 1775 was a more crucial year for the Revolution than 1776. But, as another reviewer points out, he uses examples from the 1760s onward to bolster his case. He never makes a compelling argument for the importance of this distinction.
His examination of the various motives for independence go too far into detail to hold the reader's attention. For example, when discussing the effect of religious denomination he gives an overlong, state-by-state, county-by-county, denomination-by-denomination analysis of dozens of different congregations.
I kept waiting for the groundwork to end and the interesting discussion to begin, but I had to give up 2/3 of the way through.
The book is well suited to intermittent listening because each word gets it's own 4-5 minute chapter without any overlap. Conversely, just as each etymology becomes interesting it's time to move on, which gets frustrating.
He uses obscure words as well as current coinage (such as "blogoshpere") to demonstrate all the various ways words enter our language. There is really no grand conclusion about the history of the language so a better title might be "The story of 100 English words."
It's entertaining and light and the performance is very good.
I was expecting an objective tour of current controversial experiments. Something about Intelligent Design, Cold Fusion and/or dark matter. Instead we get a lengthy discussion of Alfred Russel Wallace's (co-discoverer of Natural Selection with Darwin) life and personality. The author did his PhD thesis on Wallace and apparently wanted to get some extra mileage out of it.
Rather than an exploration of the actual borderlands of science, we get an attempt to describe an archetypal inhabitant of the borderlands. What sort of education, relationships, birth order etc create the "heretic personality" that will wind up in research projects that run contrary to mainstream thinking?
I don't think he is wrong in his conclusions, but I was very disappointed to find a dry psychology book disguised as a popular science text.
The story of the people who monitored enemy radio traffic for the Brits and passed it on to Bletchley Park for crypt-analysis consists of long periods of boredom punctuated with occasional episodes of excitement. The book credits the essential but un-glamorous work of the people who collected the raw material for the boffins to work on.
Unfortunately, the book is much longer than it needs to be. Most people's entire careers can be summed up as "we sat at a radio every night for 5 years and one time something interesting happened."
The author correctly wants to acknowledge the risks and sacrifices these people made for the war effort, but the plain truth is that the work was not terribly exciting and dwelling on the details does not make it more interesting. The book mostly chronicles bureaucratic pettiness and occasional brushes with danger.
Many of these people never told their families about the hours they spent at this important work and they do deserve to be honored for their labor. But there is not enough material to sustain 12 hours of reading.
I liked the book because it delves into the facts and stories of the 1906 natural disaster but the author presents more information than is necessary to make his point. This causes the book to falter at several points.
He does a good job of going back to original source material and eyewitness accounts to paint a vivid picture of the earthquake and firestorm. However, when talking about how inept use of dynamite made the fires worse he goes on for page after page describing how this building at this intersection was demolished on Thursday at 9:30 AM and then another building at another address was blown up at 12:45...There are other areas where the details become similarly tedious. For example, he goes into great detail about a corruption trial that involved several key city leader but had little effect on "how SF nearly destroyed itself."
The information is well researched and I suspect even a native SF reader will find surprises. The performance is solid and well paced.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.