I thought "Bad Samaritans," another book by Chang also available here, was the best nonfiction audiobook I have listened to, so I was happy to have the chance to listen to "23 Things" as well.
This one is a bit of a disappointment as an audiobook, because it relies on a "bullet point" style, with headlines announcing the received economic wisdom and then Chang's refutations. This probably makes for a visually appealing book, but it doesn't work so well in the audiobook format, and I found myself getting lost quite a bit.
The audiobook reader doesn't help by over-enunciating phrases which often the points Chang is actually trying to refute. The reader sounds a bit like Casey Kasem delivering a Top 40 list, which detracted from the seriousness of Chang's ideas.
As a complete stranger to economics, I learned much from this appealing book, but I had to rewind often to follow the flow of the argument. I may just check out the physical book from the library instead of trying to listen to it again.
In which Bellow presents us with the perpetually outraged, perpetually pampered Herzog. I kept thinking that the book is the male writer's answer to the sophisticated romance novel - Herzog is offered delicious food, love, and great sex by a series of beautiful, intriguing women. A utopian fantasy, isn't it? The only problem is that Herzog is hung up on one of these women, his second ex-wife Madeleine, a meretricious academic wannabe and Jew-turned-Catholic (horrors, according to Herzog!). From the reader's point of view, Madeleine's reason for being is clear enough - she is one of the most unforgettable villains in literature, along with her strange associate Valentine. Bellow's examination of the folie a deux that connects Madeleine and Valentine is more fascinating than the most twisted reality show. But the main character's reason for being is less clear - okay, he's a fully sketched human being, but why should Herzog be interesting enough to narrate this novel? He mostly isn't; he writes countless letters puffed up with pseudo-learning and philosophical gibberish. In the end, the writing is lovely enough to carry you through to the end, but the book's reason for being was not always clear to me.
This is the most engaging and provocative entry in the "Modern Scholar" series. Despite the huge differences that divide my view of politics from Baumann's (I consider myself much more left-leaning), I was challenged by his strong arguments, which are very difficult to refute. He is particularly harsh on Rousseau and Marx, and you can feel a conservative animus driving his critique of Rousseau in particular (his stunning advice about how to read Rousseau at the end of the last lecture about him is much worthier than the critiques that precede it). But it's an animus, not a bias; he's passionate about the material, and communicates his sense of the stakes with piquancy and concision. He gives all the thinkers under consideration their due, without using the occasion as a personal soapbox. He even has some memorable one-liners. And that's everything that one could ask for from a professor.
N.B. You can probably tell from my review that the title of Baumann's course is misleading. This course isn't about the question of human perfectability, let alone about utopian literature. It's about some classic theorists' attempts to eliminate the contingency of politics and the (mostly disastrous) efforts that result.
***Spoilers*** This installment of Dexter faithfully continues the storyline from #4 ("Dexter in the Dark"), which was probably the best in the series. Lindsay does a good job of characterizing Dexter as a family man gradually discovering his humanity. As if that weren't disgusting enough, he shows Deborah becoming an expectant mother as well. Luckily, Dexter's brother returns to remind the main character of his duties to his "dark passenger." The strength of this installment is that Lindsay does the most soaring writing of the series; there are a lot of gorgeous sentences. But the absurd cannibalism plot is all too reminiscent of the human-sacrifice story of the low point in the series, #3 ("Dexter in the Dark"). This will be a necessary listen for anybody who likes the series, but probably more for completist reasons than for the innate value of the book.
After the boring, repetitive, and rambling Dexter #3 ("In the Dark"), "Dexter by Design" represents a return to form for the author, as well as a major improvement for performer Nick Landrum, who sounds a lot better than in #3. It's like #3 never happened; everything just picks up from #2. I found this to be the funniest entry in the series, as Lindsay's satirical eye focuses on the excesses of the two worlds of art and tourism. If you have ever witnessed performance art, you'll laugh a lot. It's great satire. If you want deep reflections on the relationship between life and art, though, don't look here -- this ain't Marcel Proust. Good entertainment all around.
I liked volumes 1 and 2 in the series, but this one is a complete disappointment. Dexter is disoriented from having lost his dark "powers," which should make the story suspenseful, but it's not. I never felt Dexter was in danger. Part of the problem is the author, who allows his narrator to ramble through a lot of vague philosophizing, and part of the problem is the new reader in the series, who sounds flat, and is excruciatingly slow: I had to turn it up to 3x speed to make it halfway engaging. The only things that kept me listening is my desire to hear the rest of the series, as well as the occasional spots of humor, such as the semi-funny wedding caterer and Dexter's spot judgment on himself: “I wasn’t schizophrenic. Both of us were sure of that.”
Unlike the other reviewers, I like the author's narration -- its "fakeness" is exactly what makes it work for me, because Dexter himself is nothing if not a fake in life.
The plotting of volume 2 is better than that of 1. But listeners should be warned that the major culprit of this installment (what the TV show creators call the "Big Bad") is so horribly vile, his crimes so absolutely repulsive, that he gives the evil doctor in the Human Centipede a run for his money. I almost retched when I heard the crimes described.
I can't imagine this kind of horror being filmed, and I am grateful to the TV show creators for not attempting it. Beyond the understandable squeamishness, there's another reason for deviating from Lindsay's storyline, which is that the TV Dexter is actually fully human, so the evils done by the perps don't have to be exaggerated to justify Dexter's actions. Lindsay's Dexter insists so much on not feeling emotions or belonging to the human race that he has to make the Big Bad that much worse. This makes for a much less interesting character than the one portrayed on the TV show.
Beyond question, Jeff Lindsay can write really good sentences, even better than Poe could, who seems to be one of his inspirations. He's also come up with an engaging narrator/hero-villain here. He also reads his own prose really well (I usually get annoyed by authors who don't use professional readers, but Lindsay does it well).
But the plot development is clumsier than it is on the TV show, probably in large part because the author has restricted everything to Dexter's point of view. The final scene of the novel pales by comparison with the brilliant finale of the TV show.
That said, I came away from this wanting to listen to more of Lindsay's work - because of, not despite, its difference from the TV show.
Chang has written a fine corrective to the reigning conservative tradition of developmental economics. The strengths of his approach are a grasp of the long duree of historical development (which doesn't usually figure in most economic theory), a strong narrative style (as evidenced in his account of South Korea and the "science fiction" with which he imagines Mozambique's rise to prosperity), and the witty use of detail (the reconstruction of how Germans and Japanese were widely regarded as stereotypically "lazy" in the nineteenth century is both interesting and historically accurate). His historical depth allows his view to avoid doctrinaire claims -- he certainly doesn't argue that protectionism is always good. There are not a lot of weaknesses, other than the fact that he is too quick to discount culture and religion as factors in economic development. (He should take Weber more seriously.) I would have liked to see the historical range pushed back even further -- the paradoxical connections between the rise of the bourgeoisie and absolute monarchy could be another support for his argument. I will definitely be looking for other books from this provocative thinker.
Mencken deserves credit for having written a book on Nietzsche at a time (1908) when almost nothing was available to English readers in translation. As an introduction to Nietzsche, however, this book is not very credible; it relies heavily on the distortions perpetuated by his sister, and does not really get into the works that more recent readers of Nietzsche treasure (The Genealogy of Morals, "The Uses and Abuses of History"). The person who's never read Mencken before (like me) will find the book valuable as a reflection of post-Victorian America, where Social Darwinism and outright racism abounded, both of which are to be found in Mencken's account. Charlton Griffin channels Mencken pretty well, embellishing the prose with oratorical and sarcastic flourishes that will definitely annoy some listeners and please others. All in all, there's not much Nietzsche to be found here, so I guess you have to take what you can get.
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