"On the Origin of Species" is one of the most important books ever written. It is the most accessible of revolutionary original scientific works. Galileo's "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems" is next closest. One might try reading Faraday, but not Newton, Copernicus, Boltzmann, or even Einstein. Darwin intended it as an "Abstract" for a much longer work, but in fact, this abstract needs abridgement. Darwin justifies each assertion with too many detailed examples, complaining all the while about having to omit so much. This interferes with the coherence of his argument for descent with modification by means of natural selection. Thankfully, Richard Dawkins, a celebrated polemicist and author in his own right ("The Selfish Gene," "The God Delusion") has selected out the most important chapters and the most important passages in those chapters, and then he reads them beautifully. One of the most striking revelations is how many of the arguments against his theory Darwin himself anticipated. This is a great way to "read" a book with which every educated person should be familiar.
This is a virtual reality adventure set in the year 2040 with a teenaged protagonist/narrator and nice readable prose that suggests a target audience of young adults. On the other hand, it is full of 1980s nostalgia and trivia that should appeal primarily to 40-somethings, especially early gamers who played "Dungeons and Dragons" with their friends, "Pacman" and "Joust" at the arcade, and "Zork" on the PC. While I watched my share of "Family Ties" episodes, heard Devo songs, saw "Heathers," and played an occasional game of "Pacman" (after all, I have been in a pizza parlor), I am not in the same demographic as the recently deceased character, Bill Halliday, who created the book's virtual world, the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). I'm not too young, I'm too old. (You can stop reading now.) Even so, I still loved the book, and I've shared it with friends from my generation who are loving it too.
This entertaining discussion of the laws of thermodynamics was originally published in hardback as "Four Laws that Drive the Universe." The author, Peter Atkins, is a famous chemist and the author of textbooks on physical chemistry and popular science books like "Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science." Atkins is also a famous atheist in the Richard Dawkins "God Delusion" mold, but his atheism does not figure into this book, which I downloaded because I was interested in a moderately rigorous review of thermodynamics. This was partially because of the relationship between the 2nd Law and Information Theory (see Gleick's "The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood), partially because of CP Snow's famous essay on "The Two Cultures" in which he compares ignorance of the 2nd Law to ignorance of Shakespeare's "Hamlet", and partially because it has been 35 years since I took physical chemistry in college. This met my needs perfectly. Atkins manages to balance readability/listenability with scientific rigor. I do own the print version of this Very Short Introduction and referred to it periodically as I listened. For example, I would look at the figures in a chapter before listening to it while jogging. I doubt it would work well without the print copy. I have downloaded several of these Very Short Introductions as audiobooks, and this is one of the better ones.
Having read ???Of Human Bondage??? and ???Cakes and Ale,??? I already knew that I like Maugham???s writing and storytelling. I also enjoyed the Charlton Griffin productions of the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre. Unlike two of the other reviewers, I like the music and sound effects, all apparently chosen by Griffin himself. He both reads and produces these recordings. However, I am surprised and dismayed by the mispronunciations. Come on Charlton. You are a great reader, but if you take the time to choose and add music and sound effects, you should also take the time to learn how to pronounce ???antipodes.???
Take Jane Austen???s ???Pride and Prejudice,??? set it in London 75 years later, and add a serial killer; then you have ???The Cater Street Hangman??? by Anne Perry. It is a good novel that stood well on its own when it was released in 1979, something like 15 years before it was discovered that the author Anne Perry is also the convicted murderer Juliet Hulme. Reading (listening to) it now with that knowledge adds a distinct creepiness to the story.
As per a previous review, the reader is Davina Porter, and she does a great job.
The writing, the period detail, and the narration are all excellent, but why read a novel by a modern writer set in Victorian London and written in the style of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins when you could read Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins instead? One answer could be that the modern writer is able to treat some subjects, such as sex and violence, more openly than Victorian writers. "The Meaning of Night" is somewhat more explicit in these areas, but not much more. Another answer is that you have already read every good contemporary thriller set in and around Victorian London. If you are such a connoisseur of Victorian literature, you will love this book. If not, just read the originals. Start with "Great Expectations," "Bleak House," or "The Woman in White."
My other problem with this book (and this is not a spoiler) is that it starts with the narrator's random murder of an innocent stranger. This was unnecessary to an otherwise well-plotted story. Maybe the author was trying to suck the reader in, but it turned this reader (listener) off to the point that I almost gave up on the whole book.
Many authors write historical fiction set in and around the Victorian age that is entertaining and not particularly profound. Fun books in this category include James Clavell's "Noble House" and "Gai-Jin," and Michael Crichton's "The Great Train Robbery." Ken Follett has written two of my favorite historical entertainments, "Pillars of the Earth," and "World Without End." (Set in medieval, not Victorian, England.) But none of these books resorts to inventing a fictional South American country that is central to the plot nor does any stray as far from the actual events of the time as "A Dangerous Fortune." I don't think even Sidney Sheldon fabricated a country in his potboilers. One likes to think that the history in these books has at least a reasonable semblance to reality. For me, this was a fatal flaw.
"The Genome War" is the fascinating story of the race to sequence the human genome. Shreeve tells it perfectly, describing the principal players, reviewing the history and the science, covering the politics and the business. It "reads" like a crime novel, with similes right out of Raymond Chandler and narrative devices out of Elmore Leonard. The reader was perfect too.
This is a great audio production of an enjoyable first book by a talented young writer. I am consumed with envy that Josh Bazell actually wrote a thriller about a hospital intern -- something I imagined doing 20 years ago when I was an intern. Of course he will sell the film rights for big money, drop out of medicine, and spend the next 20 years writing books, talking to Terry Gross and Oprah, and generally enjoying fame and fortune.
So what strikes me as farfetched in this book? Not that the protagonist starts his career as a teen aged Mafia hit man by killing four armed hoods with his bare hands -- after they have tied him to a chair. Not that he then visits Auschwitz as something of a Nazi hunter. Not that he has oral sex in a shark tank with his girlfriend -- after a gun battle. Not that he finishes medical school in the witness protection program to become an intern at a cross between St. Elsewhere and the House of God. No, what bothers me is that, as an intern on the medicine service, he performs a laparotomy and gastrectomy, with an emergency splenectomy thrown in. How unrealistic!
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