By happenstance, I started listening to The Canterbury Tales on Palm Sunday, the same day that the narration begins. As I pulled out of my driveway on an April morning, I had Chaucer's famous description of spring in my ears as a Christian procession marched by, led by a bag-pipe player. I was on a trek to Niagara Falls, but I was hearing the account of a different sort of pilgramage, written 600 years ago, but still sounding beautiful to the ear. In fact, I much preferred listening to these tales rather than reading them silently myself from the page. This is poetry, and the scansion and lyricism can easily get lost as the modern reader struggles with the early spellings and olden vocabulary. Be advised that the first tale, that of the knight, is extraordinarily long, formalistic, predictable, and maybe even just kind of boring. It must be a purposeful tip of Chaucer's funny-looking hat to the epic poetry of Homer. But don't give up early! Chaucer rewards the patient with the following tale from the miller which is the exact opposite--short, mean, and bawdy! You'll be shocked at just how old some of the English language's four-letter words are. This pattern continues as Chaucer has each of his pilgrams take turns telling stories in their own voice, and the diversity and contrast is enjoyable. BEWARE: Although this is advertised as an unabridged reading, I was dubious when I saw its rather short length. After listening to the entire program, I looked at my very thick printed version and found several tales there that were not included in the audio reading. I have made Audible aware of this. Nonetheless, such editing may be for the best--except for purists and academics--as this version certainly offers the lay reader/listener a representative sample of what Chaucer could do with an earlier version of our language.
I walk away from this book realizing three things. First, that Hawking, "the world's smartest man" (according to The Simpsons), has a limited if not naive understanding of the philosophy, history, and sociology of science. In spite of his lip service to scientific positivism, he seems very much to believe that the supposedly imminent Theory of Everything will describe how the universe actually works, instead of being just one way (out of many) to explain incomplete observations. Hawking believes in scientific progress. Second, I realize that the standard model of the universe, if indeed we could indentify just one, is utterly absurd. Hawking is supposedly describing the universe on the smallest and largest scale, but this is not the world in which we LIVE, i.e., make our own observations and ratiocinations. When it comes to the very large and the very small (and even the very fast), we rely on scientists to elucidate us, and what a tale they tell: relative time, 10-11 dimensions, real time travel. Why do we listen? Hawking's writing is sometimes quite enjoyable but rarely cogent per se. Do we need to believe? Third, I see that science is always a language of metaphors, with all their aptness and distortions. "Strings," "wormholes," and apparently even "dimension," are all just linguistic shorthands for concepts with which we have no experience to even justify such labelings. A fascinating book to be sure, not because it explains any secrets of the universe, but because we think it might.
Delivers exactly what it promises: an introductory survey for beginners, a review with some depth for those already practicing. There is SOME history of Buddhism, SOME meditation guidance, SOME analysis of the ethical and metaphysical tenets of Buddhism. None of this is exhaustive, but neither is any of it superficial. It is just enough to spark awareness during a leisurely walk, or help center you during the drive to or from work. Includes many great parables, some of them already well-known, but also several personally from this author, an ordained Buddhist preist. His voice--he also reads for this recording--is at first distractingly languid, but this eventually aids in relaxation and detachment. A good place to start, support, or revive an interest in Buddhism.
This read a lot fresher than I expected from a book which is now almost 200 years old (although, note that the narrator reads the footnotes without any warning--at first, I thought Cooper must have been post-modern!). The most surprising and intringuing aspect was its temporal scope: the events of all 400 pages (14 hours) occur within just a few days. This means the pace of the story-telling is relaxed, even when the action is not, affording loads of detail and creating very effective suspense (reminiscent of Hemingway's _For Whom the Bell Tolls_). For the most part, this immersion keeps the reader fully interested, but sometimes it becomes tedious, e.g., the Homeric burial rites at the end. The most memorable scenes are those relating the shocking horrors perpetrated by American Natives, dubious tellings which obviously should now be taken with several grains of salt.
An enjoyable enough romp through the mystery, history, and personalities surrounding the elusive ratio, but after illustrating and celebrating the many paradigm-shifts involving the search for and understanding of pi, e.g., Archimedean or electronic, the author spends an entire chapter making fun of cyclometricians (circle-squarers), never entertaining (or admitting) that the next leap in pi studies (if there is such a thing) MIGHT be among them, and that those who in retrospect are now called visionaries in mathematics, were at one time considered cranks by the establishmentarians they displaced. Also, it could be difficult for someone not well versed in mathematics to follow the formulas recited in the audio format, but this is kept to a minimum, and you can always "rewind."
Do not go into this book expecting it to be as good as _The Millionaire Next Door_ (which this author co-wrote). It isn't. This book is a mess and isn't even sure what it is about. Feels like everyone was so eager to follow up the smash hit as quickly as possible that they forgot all about editing. There are some interesting (and useful) new tidbits on the habits of those who have accumulated wealth, e.g., what kind of house and neighborhood does the typical millionaire live in, but most of this volume is spent moralizing about the American education system. This is where the book becomes schizo. One the one hand it shows that most of those who have gone on to become millionaires did not do well on standardized tests, and therefore did not go on to grad or pro schools, or even college (except doctors and lawyers, obviously, but most of those aren't millionaires). But then on the other hand it decries those who discourage those students who score poorly on such tests from going on to higher education, e.g., relating the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But I am left asking why this is something to bemoan. The author seems to accept that the tests are fairly accurate predictors of academic performance, so if future millionaires don't and won't do well in these settings (for whatever reasons), why not let them go and do what they do best (and better than most) as quickly as possible? And as for MLK, why is he in this book? Did he become a millionaire? Save your money (better yet, invest it in a good mutual), and go check the first book out from the library and read it again.
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