This book was so dreadful that I hardly know where to begin. On the outset, I will disprove the author’s contention that no good deeds can emanate from a publically-schooled person. Given the opportunity to return this book to audible.com for a full refund, I declined so that I may write this review, thus hopefully saving others from wasting their time and money.
John Taylor Gatto does start well by enumerating seven true enough points about school. (I think that most of us can agree that the public school system has problems.) They are:
1. It makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, it fills almost all the "free" time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
3. It makes them indifferent.
4. It makes them emotionally dependent.
5. It makes them intellectually dependent.
6. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
7. It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.
From here, things go way downhill. The next three hours are dedicated to asserting (although not explaining nor backing with statistical evidence) the author’s main argument that school is the root of all evil including, but not limited to, the breakdown of family, community, and society in general. He expresses a longing for the good ole days when kids had mischievous fun – he is proud to have been a juvenile delinquent having been arrested three times – and people didn’t have non-propagatory sex. He is tormented by modern society and has appealed to the reader to do what they can to sabotage schools, as he admits to have done and, one can only assume, continues to do. I contend that Gatto (and society in general) would be better if he joined Glenn Beck and his fellow anarchists in Beck’s planned utopian city of Independence, USA where young’uns would know how to make their own rocking chairs and crossbows and education is strictly home-grown.
Yes, the public education system is broken. A sane and rational approach to the problem is definitely needed, but that is something that this book does not provide.
De Waal’s stories about apes, which were weaved throughout his book, were fascinating and enlightening. De Waal is, after all, an expert on the subject. Not as enlightening, however, were his insights about atheists and atheism. He was dismissive of great thinkers such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens, often quoting them out of context in order to make a point. Yet, I often had trouble understanding what point he was trying to make as his arguments were contradictory: moral norms exist in primates and other mammals and are in inherent in humans, yet human society requires religion to enforce moral behavior; religion is a man-made concept, yet we should continue to pretend that it’s not because it brings comfort and thus is an essential and necessary part of human existence.
I don’t enjoy this narrator as he comes across as condescending.
This is a cautionary tale about pro-creating beyond one’s means. The author describes the mundane life of raising five young children. It’s mostly boring, at times depressing, and not funny.
Listening to Helter Skelter was like trying to sip water from a fire hydrant. Too much of a good thing. The reader emerges from this book knowing absolutely everything there is to know about the Manson murders. I quit listening about 75% of the way through and I still feel like an expert on the subject. But the book would be more enjoyable – more of a "page-tuner" – if it had been less detailed and repetitive (especially less repetitive).
If you enjoy the typical celebrity memoire, then this book is for you. It’s bursting with antidotes about Billy Crystal’s charmed life, his rise to celebrity, and lots and lots of name dropping. As a bonus, he includes some stand-up sets performed in front of a live audience, which are okay, but contain mostly reheated jokes about growing old.
Fans of Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” may be disappointed (as I was). “Cooked” contains ample material to justify the purchase of this book, but unfortunately the material is overwhelmed by fluff and repetition. Had an editor slashed about 50% of the text - the excess words between the information - I would have given this book 5 stars.
I hesitate to write a critical review because this book is amazingly well researched and written. Temple Grandin is, without doubt, a ground-breaking expert in this area and has invaluable insights to offer, especially for people who have personal experience with autism. I just didn’t find the writing (or reading, which was too slow) all that compelling; I actually fell asleep a few times while listening in the car (as a passenger). I must stress, however, that it’s the writing, not the content, that left me wanting. For comparison, I read her book, “Animals in Translation” and couldn’t put it down, which is why I chose this book to begin with.
I'm a huge fan of Jon Ronson but I didn't find this book as interesting as some of his others. His writing, as always, is clever and the book was well-researched but I didn't find the subject matter that compelling. Extremists - conspiracy theorists, wing-nuts, paranoid crazy people - are fascinating in small doses, but after a while they get boring.
“Far from the Tree” is so much more than promised by the title. It consists of twelve distinct, fascinating and perspective-changing chapters that weave into a cohesive story of love and resilience. The author performs flawlessly, not so much because he is a professional narrator, but because this story is told from his heart.
Before listening to this book I questioned whether or not I would be able to sustain interest for 40 hours, but as soon as it started I was hooked. Hours flew by like minutes and I devoured this book until the very end.
“The Future” is extremely well-researched, thoughtful and eye-opening. Al Gore does a great job with the narration!
If you listen to only one book this year, it should be this one. And then buy a copy and read it to your kids. The future may depend upon it.
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