This was one of the most enjoyable books I have ever 'read'. I am an avid reader of science and other non-fiction books and I would place this one at or very near the top. Rather than stopping short at explaining the scientific principles, experiments, discoverers, dates etc, Bryson repeatedly puts it all into context to illustrate what an amazing and impossible world we live in. I realize that this isn't by any means a new approach, but he manages to do it in a very entertaining and engaging way. His voice and delivery are perfect for the task -- so much so that I'm not sure if I even would have enjoyed the written text as much on its own. Many stories that I have heard a hundred times (like Einstein's writings on relativity) I became much more exciting as narrated by Bryson. He also covers topics that are rarely covered in other popular science books, and makes you wonder how such interesting topics could be so universally neglected. I can't recommend this book strongly enough. Though I would say that I found the first couple of chapters less interesting than the remainder.
Probably not a book to listen to in bed before going to sleep, unless you are truly fearless.
But overall, a well-told true story that is as much about the people behind the effort to irradicate smallpox (and prevent future terrorism) as it is about the disease itself. Very well-researched. It seems that Preston interviewed just about all the key people behind the story over the last few decades.
The most interesting parts of the book for me were the incredible personal stories of how certain seemingly unlikely individuals became involved in different ways.
A couple reasons for a less than perfect rating -- I thought sometimes Preston went overboard on his attention to detail. Like discussing what someone happened to be eating or wearing at non-pivotal moments in the story.
Because the events in fall 2001 occurred while writing the book, Preston seemed compelled to tack on the story line dealing with anthrax. At times it made the book a little disjointed but overall I thought the discussion of anthrax added more than it detracted.
I usually go for unabridged versions, so when I chose this I must have either overlooked the unabridged edition or it hadn?t been released yet. It hardly seems fair to the author to review an abridgement that is only one-third as long as the complete text. It?s like reading the Reader?s Digest version! In any case, I thought the book was great: informative, enjoyable, and with the right mix of macroscopic and microscopic detail.
In some reviews I have read (mostly on other web sites), McCullough is criticized for being too forgiving of Adams? personal and political faults. I disagree. In fact, my overriding impression of Adams after reading this book was that I probably would not have liked him at all had I known him personally. For someone who esteemed humility in others, he was outwardly very arrogant. And despite his frequent claims to desire the simple life, he seemed continually determined to attain high office and personal glory, even at the expense of familial relationships. He often claimed to be unconcerned with how history would remember him, but I can?t help but feel that many of his letters to Jefferson and even family members were tinted with attempts to reshape his reputation for posterity. One response from Jefferson in the book suggests that even T.J. suspected Adams? motives for wanting to rehash old battles in his letters.
To be fair, I do believe that Adams sincerely changed for the better once he was out of office and out of the limelight, and that he was finally able to enjoy the company of friends and family above power and prestige. I also gained new respect for the key role that he played in building the new nation.
I found the book to be totally engrossing and entertaining, but also amusing (not always in a good way), a little inaccurate, and probably more than a little embarrassing to the participants in hindsight. If you are looking for an entertaining read about the highest fliers in the internet bubble, this is a great choice. But if you are hoping to learn more about venture capital from an insiders point of view, this book will lead you astray.
The description of the attitudes and lingo at Benchmark and other venture firms in the book seem out of place. The author seems to be describing the macho environment of an investment bank rather than the more subdued approach of venture capitalists. But maybe that's the way things actually were at Benchmark in the late 1990s.
As a venture capitalist myself, I was surprised by the apparent lack of due diligence and the thin premises upon which the partners seemed to make their investment decisions. I'm sure that my perception of this is in part a consequence of the author's choice to gloss over the nitty gritty details. But explicit dialogue between the partners shows that the partners did in fact have a shoot-from-the-hip style. I am hardly qualified to question the partners' instincts when they were so successful. But I do think it is a wildly inaccurate portrayal of the industry as a whole.
I am completely dumbfounded by this book's popularity. The author's disgusting penchant for naked young boys almost gave me nightmares. The ubiquitous child nudity (and worse) serves no purpose whatsoever; it is merely the author's own sick indulgence. I actually hoped that the entire plot would turn out to be a metaphor for the horrors of sexual child abuse, providing an explanation for these apparently unnecessary scenes. Yet, even the most liberal interpretation could not lead me to conclude that Card was condemning sexual child abuse in any way. Card's only villain is totalitarianism.
The other shortcomings of this book are trivial in comparison. Among the most distracting features of the book is the extremely juvenile dialogue. It is understandable that the author would attempt to contrast the children's emotionally immaturity with their advanced intellect, but instead the children come across as Dumb (intellectually) and Dumber (emotionally).
Among Ender's greatest achievements in Battle School are his innovative combat strategies, such as shooting your opponents as they enter the room and before they can deploy, or not positioning your troops in rigid configurations. Duh!!! Meanwhile, Ender's brother and sister earn worldwide fame and respect by writing empty political platitudes that any high school AP student could match. Card's inability to create plausible intellectual giants belies his own limitations. Without real intellectual achievements or smart dialogue, the book's heroes are distinguished only by their early promotions and self-promotion.
Contrast Card's crude, in-your-face approach to developing a protagonist that children will identify with to J.R.R. Tolkien's creative masterpiece, Lord of the Rings. What young reader doesn't identify with the Hobbits, who succeed not by overcoming their perpetual childhood, but by embracing it? Orson Scott Card, by contrast, treats childhood as a period of ignorant bliss, ineptitude and weakness.
This book covers all things DNA: eugenics, sequencing, cloning, prenatal testing, bioengineering, and so on. At times, it hardly seems there is a common thread running through it all. If there is a unifying theme, it is the political and moral lens through which Watson discusses these topics. Somewhat surprisingly, his personal views are pretty moderate.
The book is at its best when discussing the behind-the-scenes competition between researchers. With a front row seat to the disputes, Watson is an authoritative witness.
Personally, I wish I had bought the hardcopy instead of the audio. Having skimmed the book, it is full of good illustrations. Besides, as long as you are deciding to buy the definitive text on a given subject, why get an abridged version?
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