I read this just after finishing The Year of Magical Thinking and enjoyed both very much. The author reveals depths of parental doubt rarely acknowledged by modern parents.
The book contains reminiscences and reflections about the life and death of the author's adopted daughter who died after a prolonged illness in her mid-thirties. They are roughly chronologic, but there does not seem to be a particular meaning to the order of presentation. It feels more like someone pawing through a box of photographs. She paints a vivid picture of her daughter and her loss without being melodramatic or morose. A parent who loses a child is entitled to self-pity, but these moments are brief and poignant.
She discusses both her own difficulties about becoming a parent and her daughter's problems with bipolar disorder and the inevitable baggage of adoption. It is charming to hear how naive and vulnerable Mrs. Didion was about parenting and the passages detailing her daughter's bipolar episodes are heart-wrenching.
The book was very emotionally touching because she includes so many personal details and everyday events that you really feel like a family friend. Somehow, acknowledging so many doubts and flaws makes her not only sympathetic, but also capable--because she is engaging her problems.
The performance is very good. Clear and sincere without being too dramatic.
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the grieving process or the difficulty of parenting.
The book describes the finding and investigation of one of the most enigmatic ancient artifacts. Many theories have swirled around it (Aliens!) but in 2006 a group of math, astronomy and imaging specialists finally determined the purpose of the existing fragments.
She does a great job of describing the initial find and the first enthusiastic but erroneous interpretations of what the device was. All of the standard academic personalities are here--the Dreamer, the Enthusiastic Amatuer, the Double-crosser, the Possessive Curators, the serendipitous encounters.
I was particularly impressed by how she explained the subtleties of translating irregularities of lunar and solar motion into clockwork. Her descriptions of the actual bronze fragments were less clear, but since they are apparently barely recognizable as gears this is easy to forgive. She also describes future possibilities for investigation since there may have been more to the device than was recovered.
I was less happy with the performance. The reader has a whimsical delivery that the text really doesn't support, but her reading is accurate and easy to understand.
I would recommend this to someone interested in classical Greece and science history in general.
As someone with an extremely limited knowledge of music I have always felt intimidated by classical compositions. I could not tell you the difference between a symphony and a concerto, but after listening to these lectures I have a much better appreciation of them.
The lecturer's delivery is a cross of Lewis Black and George Will--authoritative but wickedly funny. He actually made me laugh out loud a few times. His passion for these works comes through in every lecture.
The format he follows is a brief bio-sketch of the composer followed by snippets of music and commentary. When he says "notice how the composer uses dissonant harmonies to convey struggle" you can actually hear it. Each lecture is meant to be complete in itself allowing you to jump around, but I found listening beginning to end to be most convenient.
This is an ideal work for an audio book.
This is a well researched book but it could be half as long if he didn't repeat himself so often.
He presents many nuggets of video game lore. Often he has found the original sources for stories that have become myths. This allows him to tell the myth and the real events that generated the story. This is not the repetition I am complaining about.
When presenting details of a story his style is like this:
They started having problems with their chips around this time. "Our engineers said that there was a problem with the chips."--Joe CEO. "I was working as an engineer at that time and we encountered several problems with the chips."--Jim Engineer.
Each iteration of the information adds nothing to the story and it becomes very frustrating to listen to.
This appears to be the definitive work on video game history, but the writing makes it difficult to get through.
There have been many recent advances in sleep science and the author takes you on a slightly dreamy tour of them. The performance assaults your ear with bad foreign accents an unnecessary caricatures.
The material is disjointed and the author repeats himself in different sections--possibly because he expected people to jump around to the chapters they were interested in. Not being a scientist he makes the various sources understandable for the layperson. But this also makes it difficult for him to analyse the material and he often presents conflicting points of view without any effort to say which is more likely to be correct. He's basically serving up everything he read and letting you sort through it.
I had to skip certain sections because the reader adopts a nasal, whiny voice whenever he's quoting a study or an interviewee--even ones that are clearly authoritative or completely correct. It's like he's saying "this is how all geeks and nerds talk." He also feels obliged to use British, French and Austrian (Freud) accents if the source material allows.
Without good synthesis or a critical eye for the data you could do almost as well for yourself by Googling "sleep science."
This is an excellent book about Richard Feynman's contributions to physics over his long, storied career. It is not a biography, although one has a great sense of the man by the end.
The author discusses his contributions to theoretical physics in detail and a basic familiarity with the concepts of relativity and quantum mechanics are required. There are no equations, so math skills are not required but if you are not already acquainted with the fundamental problems of modern physics there won't be much for you to enjoy.
The performance was excellent. I was genuinely surprised at the end to find I had been listening to the author the whole time. I suppose the text required someone well versed in theoretical physics but his performance is engaging and inflects and enunciates better than some professional readers I have listened to.
I would highly recommend the book for someone who is a fan of Dr Feynman's and wants a better understanding of why he is such a legend in the world of physics.
Observational parenting humor that doesn't break new ground. The book is funny enough but he does recycle material from his stand-up act and if you are not a parent the material probably won't resonate with you as well.
I was happy that he actually read the book instead of performing it in his comedic persona. I don't think the onstage delivery would stand up over 6 hours.
He wanders frequently between humor and reflection so sometimes you are expecting a punchline until you realize that he's just talking and not delivering a joke. The reflections are rather banal (the term "MILF" bothers him because it's not respectful of motherhood. Really? That point needed to be made in a book called "Dad is Fat"?) and tend to slow down the pacing.
It could have been better if he edited it down to the really funny content, but it's still very enjoyable.
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.
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