If you've ever taken a picture without immediately thinking about the caption you'll post it with, if you've ever taken a step back from Facebook and thought "haven't I seen this post before?", if you've ever decided not to tweet something wonderful that has happened to you - read this book. It's scary, but you'll also feel refreshingly understood and empowered.
In literary terms, this is no 1984 or Brave New World. As a story, this is passable - the protagonist a bit annoying, her choices a bit predictable.
BUT as a statement on social media, The Circle is as poignant as it is terrifying. There will be a lot of "OMG!" moments when you realize, this is not the future. This is a slightly exaggerated version of Now. At its core lies the creeping, painfully positive social pressure to give more and more of yourself to a system that, in the end, feeds on itself alone. It is obviously not quite where we are today - but it's close enough for this commentary to hit a nerve.
Plus, it's incredibly well narrated. The story is told from a female narrator's perspective, but the voice of Dion Graham delivers beautifully. He captures the perfect nuances of naive, annoying, outrageous and vulnerable in this 20-something girl - not an easy feat.
An important book to have read (and an excellent conversation starter).
For linguists, I am sure this is well worth the five hours - for me, it was tough to get through. McWhorter digs deep into a large variety of old European languages and nuances of vocabulary and grammar that go well beyond what I was looking for.
The narration by the author is a huge bonus though because pronunciation of so many very foreign or old words is crucial, I doubt another narrator could have performed this nearly as well. His occasional laughs at his own jokes are unnecessary, but forgivable.
This book goes far beyond what we generally learn about what America looked like "under the hood," especially around Independence, and provides insightful cultural explanations for so many of the inconsistencies and conflicts that plague us today.
Woodard backs up the lines he draws among the various groups of early immigrants with so much background and so many interesting facts that I have been able to impress even astute students of American history with this book. In his persuasive view, our many modern divisions are the harvest of seeds sown long before the Constitution (about which I also learned some surprising facts). The seeds include not only religion and slavery, but fundamentally different views on freedom, wealth and democracy, and even very different experiences as colonies. The differences between New Englanders and New Yorkers, the cultural nuances among the Western states, the kinship between the Coasts, even the regional differences in unionization make infinitely more sense after listening to American Nations.
If you have any interest in how the patchwork that is America came into being, you will devour this book.
Walter Dixon's occasional use of regional or foreign accents are misplaced and sometimes borderline offensive, especially as none of the 17th and 18th century persons he narrates with a neutral accent would sound neutral to modern ears either. He is such an outstanding, funny, intelligent character narrator in fiction, non-fiction just seems to be a waste of his talents.
What distinguishes this book from others is its first-person perspective - on occasion, you realize that the guy talking to you is, in fact, a psychopath. With the behavior, the narcissism and the expectations of one.
That he can explain the workings of the brain as an expert provides a valuable theoretical backdrop. But this book stands out because we start out rooting for the author because we are embarking on a personal journey with him, until his choices leave us disappointed over and over again - just like we are dealing with a psychopath.
If you are interested in the subject matter, do not miss this book.
If you enjoyed Freakonomics/SuperFreakonmics, definitely get Think Like a Freak - it is an update with exciting new stories. I wouldn't call it a guide to a different type of thinking any more than those first two books, but they did a pretty good job getting us all out of the box already. An exciting, interesting new listen.
If you are a listener of the Freaknomics podcasts, this will feel less like an audiobook and more like a long podcast because it is read by Stephen Dubner (which is in no way a negative!). Some of the facts and figures also won't be new to you. The length of the audiobook also includes three podcast episodes at the end which you may well be familiar with.
(Given that subscribing to the podcast is free though, I nevertheless feel good about the price of the audiobook.)
Dog Chet tells this story with so much humor and wide-eyed wonder, you can't help but love every minute of it. As he doesn't quite understand everything going on around him and can't communicate his own findings, the human hero and the reader have the perfect amount of information asymmetry to keep things suspenseful. And did I mention how ridiculously charming Chet is?
The narrator is absolutely outstanding. Chet's confidence, his naivete, his ego and his all over adorable dogness sparke throughout the book, I couldn't tell you if I smiled more at the writing or the narration. They are a perfect combination.
My first of the series, absolutely works as a standalone.
THE essential spy novel - no gadgets, no contrived international plots, just a cocky young spy in love with the lifestyle, keener on the gambling than on his license to kill. Until he learns the hard way that he can't have it all, and becomes the James Bond we know and love. His evolution at the very end of the book is honest and incontrovertible. We're right there with him, poised for his next adventures to start.
This book will NOT ruin the movie for you or vice versa. It has actually heightened my appreciation of the film, which I now understand as a coherently updated version of the same coming-of-age-as-a-spy story. The original Bond is very much a 1953 spy, Daniel Craig is very much not.
Just one note of warning, this 1953 spy novel is also unapologetically racist and misogynist. Take it as a charming time capsule, take it as terribly offensive, just know it's there.
(And on the narration - Simon Vance is incredible! You can practically feel the martini and champagne in his soul here. By sheer coincidence I listened to another book of his right before this and can't believe that this man seems equally destined to read James Bond as Winnie the Pooh!)
For the first half, I could not put this down. Weatherford dives deeply into Genghis Khan's past, his relationships, his fears and the prejudices of his time to paint a coherent, riveting picture of a young man evolving into one of the biggest terrors of his time and one of the biggest blessings for the future.
Genghis Khan dies at the end of the first half, however. With an entire second half to go, I hoped to now get a more in-depth analysis of his impact, maybe comparisons with other historical leaders. Instead, we get an account of how his heirs continued and eventually destroyed the Mongol empire - historically important, but not nearly as interesting and sometimes hard to follow, especially per audiobook.
The book is still absolutely worth it though - thanks to the excellent first half, I have been able to engage with historians and military scholars about Genghis Khan's impact and discuss the historical comparisons I was missing in the second half myself. Spirited cocktail party conversation to say the least.
A truly enriching read.
Absolutely worth the time! The story is super cute in its man-and-his-best-partner, aspects while also being a very full-fledged police thriller that will keep you listening. Is it the most intricate thriller I've ever read? No. But the dog makes up for it 100%. If you're undecided, definitely go for it.
On the narration: MacLeod Andrews knocks another one out of the park with this narration, he is playful without letting a single sinister moment get away from him, and he had me in tears with his impersonation of the dog during some of the scenes from her perspective.
This book takes a very interesting premise and turns it into evenly paced irrelevance. It is pleasant, but absolutely not worth 17 hours. It could have made a great, much shorter story, but it does not sustain this length.
There is hardly any arc, story or character wise - with the exception of getting older, neither Clare not Henry change very much at all during their relationship. Or if they do, we wouldn't know - there are no choices for them to make, so personal growth wouldn't be discernible. The premise of the story, though fervently denied, is predetermination. There are no difficult decisions to test them.
Yet the book does not deal with the existential questions it poses, the way good science fiction should, but stipulates them away. Clare and Henry rebel once, early on, but pull back at the last minute. We are mysteriously warned of a huge calamity averted, but we never find out what that calamity might be. So why care?
The novel turns out to be a series of vignettes which may be moving, funny, sometimes sad, but you don't look back and see a masterful whole. The time travel doesn't propel the story forward at all, it is random and the episodes hardly even tie into each other. So much time is spent on establishing its marvel, yet, most of the time, it is just a prop, a nuisance they live with. And that's what the book feels like - "living with it". Shrugging along.
Even the characters' unquestioned love for each other, which is at the center of the book, seems to have no basis in their characters or personalities. It was (pre)determined by Henry's travels to Clare's childhood while he is already married to her... and this loop settles it. Their love is beautiful and convincingly written, but in its essence, it remains a random, meaningless coincidence, because there is no alternate path, but no discernable design either.
The narration though is absolutely EXCELLENT and the split between the two voices works extremely well.
(Minor point, the books is completely PG-13, except for a number of entirely unnecessary vulgarities. I have no problem at all with strong language, but here the author uses four letter words suddenly and without any reason, where something more poetic would have been much more appropriate and consistent with what we are to believe of their relationship.)
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