Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | Member Since 2012
I was so disappointed with this book. The worst part was that I went in agreeing in principle with their premise - after all, it does make logical sense that small bands of human beings would bond through shared sexual partners rather than pairing off - but the first half of the book was ridiculous. I've read a lot of the science writing that they criticize, and, having read it, I know that they are deliberately oversimplifying and misinterpreting nuanced arguments to set up strawmen for them to mock. Not refute, not demonstrate to be untrue through overwhelming evidence and reasoning, but seriously mock. I was shocked by the frequency of ad hominem attacks and by how often they argued against a premise that the writer they criticize never made and would not agree with.
Listening to this book made me crazy because they really do have a solid premise that probably would win out in honest academic study, but they wasted this book looking like butthurt children who are more concerned with setting up strawmen to attack rather than honestly besting the existing research. There were a few moments where they seemed to have a more honest criticism, but it was rare. At least once, in the case of Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene", they admit long after they attack the book for calling humans selfish that they are talking about how "people" interpret the book (which people, I'm not sure), not about the real message of the book itself, and they cherrypick a quote that, in context, means exactly the opposite. I looked it up in my copy myself. The book says specifically that the "selfishness" he is referring to is the necessarily self-interested nature of genes, not animals and especially not people. Who cares if someone who has probably only read the title of the book interprets it that way? And, a better question, why criticize an argument you admit is not the argument of a scientist, but one of "people" you assume are misinterpreting the scientist's work? It is a truly bizarre way to try to get their message across, like the authors were searching desperately for a point of view they could discredit to bolster their side but couldn't find one, so they made one up. And that's just one example of the kinds of deliberate misinterpretations they use to make up their "standard narrative" - which, by the way, they repeat far too often. It could almost be a drinking game.
The second half of the book was somewhat better, since it finally stopped saying "standard narrative" over and over again, but it was still thin, argument-wise. I'm still convinced that they're right about the evolutionary history of human sexuality, but not because of this book. The proof they presented was not news to anyone who has read at all on human sexuality (testicle size, the famous t-shirt smelling study, etc.). I also wasn't a fan of their conclusion that monogamy is pointless and no one can do it and be happy and healthy. Although we as a society should absolutely admit that a lot of people would function better practicing honest non-monogamy, sweeping generalizations like that are not going to help promote their case to the public. Sex advice columnist Dan Savage has been promoting this book because he is quoted in the book saying something positive about honest non-monogamy, but even he does not have the same negative attitude about people who might enjoy the stability of monogamous relationships that they do, so if you're thinking of reading it because you heard about it from him, don't. There's better information out there about human sexuality than this.
There was nothing new and groundbreaking in this book. I gave it two stars because I suppose if you've never read anything about human sexuality before, it might be somewhat interesting. But read it with a serious grain of salt - what they say about most of the other scientists and science writers they mention is usually extremely oversimplified and misinterpreted. Read those other writers yourself and see how they stand up in context before you decide they're all idiots, as this book implies through condescending comments about their academic "intentions". As a fan of science writing and a person who agrees with their point of view on early human sexuality and behaviour, I was disgusted by the book. It could have been so great and it was such a major disappointment.
The narration was mediocre. There were quite a few mispronounced words that I noticed, and having a different narrator for the random quotes was weird.
If you like Penn Jillette, you will enjoy this book. It gives some great stories - many funny, some touching and a little sad - and no one else could narrate it but the author. The whole "ten commandments" analogy is a little forced, but the stories were so good that I could ignore that. Penn is at times humble and at times arrogant, at times blunt and at times sensitive. Who would have thought that mouthy Penn Jillette could make you cry? Not laugh-until-you-cry (though there's that too), just cry.
This book does contain language and opinions that some people may not like. I am a Penn Jillette fan (though I don't agree with him about everything) and an atheist so I didn't find it offensive, but I don't recommend reading this if you are more of, say, a fan of Ted Haggard or the Left Behind series unless you really enjoy reading things that are 100% contrary to your worldview. But I would think the title alone would tell you that.
Overall, very enjoyable.
I bought this as an audiobook so I would actually have time to read it - my husband read it several years ago and has been encouraging me to do so as well ever since, but although it's sitting on our bookshelf it never actually got read. Since I read Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature by listening to the audiobook (and loved it), I thought I'd try the same with The Blank Slate.
I found reading this book to be a little like reading The Selfish Gene (which I did read in print), since, like that book, The Blank Slate was written to eliminate the residual shown-to-be-incorrect theories that were preventing good research from being done and/or being accepted in the author's field - in Dawkins' case, biology, and in Pinker's, social science. So, if you have some background in social science, this book won't contain too many surprises for you, but it is a great demonstration about just how much we know - even over a decade ago when the book was written - about nature versus nurture and how large a role nature plays.
This is a very accessible book for anyone, since it doesn't talk down to the reader (a pet peeve of mine) but it does describe things well in plain language and doesn't use jargon without explaining it first. I'm having a baby in a little over a month and it was good to read this book because it reminds parents that they cannot shape much of their children's personalities (except by giving them genes) and that being a good parent is enough - don't let marketers or "experts" fool you into thinking you have to be supermom or superdad to have a happy, smart, well-adjusted kid. You can teach your kid skills, like reading, but you can't change innate things about them like how extroverted they are.
Overall, I enjoyed the content and I found the narration easy to listen to. Five stars all around.
This is a fascinating and accessible book about the different cultural nations of northern North America. It contains very well-balanced historical information as well as accurate generalizations about modern political affairs. I really enjoyed it.
The author's thesis is that the eleven cultural nations that make up northern North America (Canada, the United States, and northern Mexico) provide a better way of understanding the history of the area and the modern challenges in political life that the countries are experiencing. Although the book is very US-centric, as a Canadian with a strong background in Canadian history I found the parts about my own country to be fairly accurate, if superficial. Not being an American, I found the US parts to be enlightening about why different states vote the way they do and why their government is set up the way it is. It is a very general way of looking at political issues, but the author does not claim that it is accurate for every person nor does he claim that his theory can explain everything. However, I believe he does a good job of supporting his thesis that looking at cultural nations is better than trying to understand history or politics on this continent by looking at political boundaries.
The most interesting part of the book was the history. I knew very little about the methods the Spanish used during their imperial period, so that section was eye-opening. Not being an American, yet having heard a lot of American historical mythology, meant that I appreciated getting a more accurate and balanced view of events such as the US Revolutionary War and the US Civil War as well. I also feel like I am going away from this book with a lot to think about and a new way of framing historical and political issues, especially in the US. Framing the political struggles in the US as culture clashes about what the one and only "American identity" is makes for an interesting hypothesis.
Although this book presents a lot of historical information, it is accessible and easy to follow. It would benefit from a PDF of a map showing where the different nations can be found because it's not easy to keep track in your head while listening, but otherwise it is something that a person without too much background in the subjects could enjoy.
The narration was good, on the whole. There were some places where the sound quality would change slightly and it was a little distracting - it almost sounded as if a new person was reading - but that is a minor complaint. On a personal level, I know that in English it's acceptable to pronounce "Quebec" "kwuh-bek", but it's much more accurate to pronounce it "kuh-bek" - even most English speakers use the latter in my part of Canada and the former makes it obvious that the narrator does not actually understand French phonetics.
Overall, I found the book very interesting and I've already recommended it to others. It's a comfortable length and it does not overreach to try to explain everything with one theory. That said, I have come to agree with the author that it does provide a better explanation for a lot of "big questions", like, "Why is Canada different from the United States?" "Why are some US states 'swing states' and some are not?" "Why do poor people in red states still often support politicians and policies that appear counter to their interests?" etc. For that reason, I found it thought-provoking and fascinating to listen to.
This book is by far the most boring and misrepresented book I've ever gotten from Audible. I have enjoyed dense history books about subjects like the 1919 Peace Conference and I also enjoyed a very detailed book about the frauds perpetuated at Enron, so I don't bore easily and I am not lost in complex financial terminology. This book was just awful. I went into it expecting information about historical financial fraud - stories about cons and financial schemes sounds like an interesting book, right?
Wrong. Not only do the historical frauds take up a pitifully small part of the book, they are told like an encyclopedia - no narrative, no effort to make them engaging, just facts. I've never read or listened to a history book this boring, and that's saying something, considering what I read for fun. The worst part is, I know at least some of these stories can be interesting to learn about because a pop history podcast has covered some of them briefly and they were interesting (such as Tulip Mania) - hence why I bought this book looking for more details. This book had good material to work with and it still failed to make things engaging!
More importantly, this is not a book about the "history of greed". I cannot figure out why it was marketed that way. At least three-quarters of the book is about recent financial frauds (a disproportionate percentage of that is just about Bernie Madoff), and, again, they are told like encyclopedia entries (complete with references like websites and case numbers), with no effort to engage the reader at all or create some sort of narrative. I suppose one silver lining is that the book is scrupulously neutral, only stating facts proven in court in most cases, but honestly that made it worse, not better. I only listened to the whole book because I wanted to make sure I didn't skip something redeeming before reviewing it. There was nothing redeeming about any of it. Even the author's opinion about how to handle financial fraud at the end was dry and uninteresting!
Unlike other reviewers, I didn't even find this overly informative about the financial industry. I found it repetitive and, even as a person without a lot of knowledge about the financial industry, I didn't find much of the information about how financial fraud happens surprising or enlightening. Besides, that's not the book's stated purpose, to teach me about the details of the financial industry, and even if that had been its purpose, it didn't do that particularly well either.
The narration was just okay. I don't think even the best narrator could have made this better, but it wasn't fantastic narration even setting aside the book's faults.
I wish this book had been better, because I really wanted to enjoy it after listening to over 30 hours about Enron and enjoying that. Unfortunately, it doesn't do a good job of being a history book and it doesn't do a good job of being a book about financial fraud either. I can't say I would recommend this to anyone.
This book was so much more than I expected. It not only accurately discussed medical and scientific information about poisons, but it was also a narrative that was interesting to listen to. Each poison had true crime stories associated with them that were a little like real-life CSI episodes - complete with descriptions of how the poison was detected and the poisoner caught (or, in some cases, an innocent person exonerated). As a scientist, I really enjoyed the popular science aspect of it, and as a history buff I also really enjoyed the overarching narrative about prohibition and the rise of the legitimate, scientific medical examiner's office in New York. The people in the book were very real and the stories were so fascinating that it was easy to forget that it was all true.
The performance was good. Considering the scientific terminology involved, there were very few mispronounced words and the voices used for particular characters were not distracting.
Although the book is about science, it is easily accessible to anyone who is interested in the topic - the author explains everything from the basics and doesn't assume the reader has scientific expertise. Ultimately, it is more about the people - the medical examiner and the chief toxicologist, especially, but also victims and criminals, as well as politicians - than the chemicals. It makes it a story anyone would enjoy listening to. My only warning would be that there is a little bit of content that might be disturbing to people (experiments on animals and descriptions of procedures to extract poisons from body tissues) - though anything potentially disturbing is described fairly neutrally and not in gory detail. The book is limited by history to describe what really happened, so it is hard to be horrified when they describe normal 1920s and 1930s scientific practices - especially when the goal of the scientists involved was to make things safer.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and it was much more narrative-driven than I expected. The science was great and the story and the characters were engrossing. It really highlights some of the unsung heroes of early forensic science that I had never heard of, but now I want to learn more about. I would recommend this book to anyone - it is easily accessible to non-scientists and would interest a history or true crime fan just as much as a popular science fan.
I went into this not sure if a 30-hour book about Enron would really be all that interesting. However, I ended up really enjoying it. It was very, very detailed and thorough, and the author did a great job of making the financials easy to understand. I could follow what was happening with the money with no problems and I have no financial or accounting background. The book is very much a narrative, and in spite of the large cast of characters and the detailed series of events, you get so that you are really engrossed in the story. It was hard at times to remember that this all really happened! The author obviously went to a lot of trouble (as he discusses in the interesting interview with him at the end of the book) to tell the story based on facts and not demonize anyone. The people come across as authentic and complex, just like they should. Even the corrupt people can be sympathetic (or at least pathetic) at times. I was a teenager when Enron went bankrupt so I really didn't know anything about the story going in, but that didn't affect my ability to follow the book - the author didn't make any assumptions about what people already knew about Enron.
I really enjoyed the narration. It engaged me in the book and was neither over-dramatic nor monotone. There were only two or three mispronounced words that I caught, which is honestly pretty impressive in 30+ hours of reading.
My only complaint is that there wasn't another 10 hours about the trials and the aftermath. I understand why - because the trials were ongoing when the book was written - but I still wanted it to continue! In general, the ending wasn't that satisfying, but it is real life, so obviously it couldn't all get neatly wrapped up. Overall, I would recommend the book to people interested in history books, actually, since it reads like a good history book, with a clear narrative and interesting in-depth coverage of the whole history of Enron as well as its demise.
As someone who started high school just a year after Columbine, I remember what I heard in the media for a while and I remember the new school policies that came later - I didn't really follow what happened in great detail or for very long after the massacre. I bought this book thinking it might be interesting to learn more details about the event; I had no idea it was going to be so enlightening.
The real story of the Columbine massacre is not anything like what was shown in the media. I don't want to give too much away, but this in-depth, exceptionally well-researched, and balanced look at the lead-up, the tragedy, and the aftermath made me feel like everything I thought I knew about Columbine was wrong - because most of it was. By far the largest portion of the book is about Eric and Dylan, the teenage perpetrators of the massacre. They left a lot of documentation of their feelings, their plans, and their psychology, which is explored in-depth through the analysis of a leading psychologist and investigator of the case. It has personal and remarkably fair accounts of many people involved - including Dylan's parents, families of victims, survivors, and investigators. The only people I didn't feel like I knew or understood at the end of the book were Eric's parents, which is because they have never said anything to the media and what they said to the police is sealed. To his credit, the author does not make assumptions about them in the absence of evidence and they remain a mystery.
My only criticism of the book is the organization of the plot. Every chapter has two parts - something about the lead-up (and later the massacre) from the perspective of Eric and Dylan, and something about the massacre (and later the aftermath) from the perspective of victims, survivors, families, and investigators. I'm not sure why the author chose to do it that way, but I found it a little disjointed.
The narration was good. I don't often give five stars to narrators because I am picky about mispronunciations.
It's clear that the author did a ton of research to produce this book. It encompasses aspects of the massacre that I didn't even know existed, and it avoids moralizing in most cases, letting the actions of the people involved speak for themselves. However, it is clearly critical of the media, the local country police, and parts of the local justice system. Eric is labelled a clinical psychopath, but it is not a moralistic judgment - it is a diagnosis by a professional, and one supported by a lot of evidence. He is not even a little bit sympathetic. On the other hand, for a while Dylan seems sympathetic, at least to me. As a high school teacher, I wish that someone had identified his struggle with severe depression before his death. That said, the author does not in any way excuse either of them for culpability (although he clearly believes that Eric is much more responsible than Dylan), however, and emphasizes their cruelty and the impact of their actions on the victims and survivors.
I would recommend this book to anyone who works with teenagers, has teenagers, or thinks that Columbine was a pair of outcasts retaliating against bullies. It wasn't. This book was an engaging, comprehensive, and fair look at the true story and I think it was extremely well-done.
This book is a detailed account of internal politics focusing on Gorbachev in the USSR and Reagan in the USA. In order to enjoy the book, I would say that some basic background in the earlier parts of the Cold War would help, but no background in the events of the 80s themselves are necessary (I didn't have any!). The book alludes to the events of 1989-1991, so to learn more about those, you would need another book. It does get into a lot of detail about the political machinations, but most things are well-explained - I have no background in the structure of the Soviet government and I live in a country that has a parliamentary democracy that is quite different from the American system, and I could follow it without a problem. However, being interested in the inner workings of political systems is necessary to find the book engaging - if you find politics horribly boring, this is probably not the book for you. It also does a good job of qualifying biased materials (such as Gorbachev's memoirs) clearly, something I really appreciated since this is my first book on this subject.
Having been born about three weeks before Chernobyl, and therefore not having experienced this time period for myself, this book was a real eye-opener for me. The detailed depiction of the rise of Gorbachev and his development of reform was fascinating - based on the description of the book, I didn't expect so much deep background on him, but it was important for context and worth sitting through. I knew almost nothing about Gorbachev going into this book, and now I feel like I really understand where he was coming from and why he did the things he did.
Although the Soviet side was interesting, I found even more to grab my attention in the parts about the Americans. Since because of my age I am in the position of knowing a lot about the Bush Jr. presidency but remembering nothing about the Reagan-Bush Sr. years, this explained so much. Honestly, it shocked me to find out that many of the people involved in the War on Terror - especially the "weapons of mass destruction" debacle - had been involved in similar policy decisions twenty years earlier with the "missile gap". I feel much more enlightened now about something that has always baffled me about American politics - how did the Republican Party become such a mess? - because of this book. The fundamentalist christian connections, the creation/reinterpretation of intelligence information to suit policy rather than the other way around, the ridiculous military spending, the charismatic leader surrounded by advisers... it all started with Reagan. However, don't worry, Reaganophiles - the author doesn't make him out to be the villain. He is treated as an idealist whose somewhat naive desires for changes are not always listened to or even respected by other members of his government. His attachment to SDI is portrayed as a desire to protect his country, not as pigheadedness. Even though I am practically his political opposite, I felt sympathetic towards Reagan and what he was trying to accomplish as president.
I found the narration well-done. No complaints - his voice was easy to listen to and engaging throughout.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I finished feeling like I knew Gorbachev and Reagan well, and understood their motives. The book doesn't agree with the common (but overly simplistic) assessment that the Reagan administration caused the end of the Cold War on purpose by pushing the USSR's economy into destruction. It gives a more nuanced view that gives credit to a complex web of factors. This is a great way to really understand the often-neglected last decade of the Cold War - after Vietnam, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. - and also the rise of neo-conservatism and the modern Republican Party.
This book was fascinating. I went into it thinking I already knew a lot about these events, but once I started listening I realized that I knew very little. The book doesn't just cover the Czechoslovak Crisis of 1938 - it covers the events leading up to it as well, and in great detail, such as the Anschluss (which is treated much more fairly and with much more detail than is often done in history books) and the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair (which I had never heard of but was really interesting). In that sense, the title is a little misleading, but in a good way - by covering all of 1938, the book gives a massive amount of insight into the inner workings of Nazi Germany in this time period. It also covers British events, such as the resignation of Anthony Eden from Chamberlain's Cabinet and the Churchill-led organized opposition to Chamberlain's appeasement policy, as well as giving a great deal of insight into Chamberlain's thought processes during this time.
Although the events covered in the book are really interesting and presented in detail, the real strength of this book is its ability to portray the people involved. You feel like you are there, in the room, with Hitler and his generals or Hitler and Chamberlain. It gave me a much deeper insight into the motives, personalities, and - surprisingly - humanity of the major players. A lot of time is spent on the manoeuvring of Hitler's generals and you really see them for who they are, not as purely evil villains. I was also struck by Chamberlain's stubborn naivete and Hitler's crazy mood swings. It was fascinating and real, giving me a whole new perspective on what happened.
The narration was all right. I don't speak German, so I can't comment very well on the pronunciation of the German names, but it seemed all right to me. I get very frustrated when words are mispronounced, though, and I can remember shouting correct pronunciations at the audiobook multiple times when the narrator mispronounced something. However, the pace was good and it was easy to keep up with dialogue, so i gave it three stars.
Overall, the book is very engaging, detailed, and interesting. I learned a lot about this critical period, and it covered much more than I was expecting about the year 1938 based on the title. The people are real, not caricatures, and the events are described in detail. It does require the reader to keep track of a large number of people, and having some background about the lead-up to 1938 helps. However, even a less knowledgeable reader would enjoy the insight into the human beings whose actions caused the Second World War.
This book was fantastic. It is a look into not simply the events at the end of the Second World War, but a real insight into the major players - Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill, Truman. I felt almost like it was fiction at times because the author made their personalities so real. Their interactions, their feelings, their flaws, and their motivations are so clear that you feel like you are actually there, listening to them talk at Yalta or at Potsdam. As someone who was not even old enough to be in kindergarten when the Berlin Wall fell, this book was a major insight into what caused that turmoil and misery that was to last almost 45 years. The big decisions, the most influential people, and the events that exacerbated it all - the atomic bomb, the division of Berlin, the Iron Curtain, the looting of Germany, and the argumentative beginnings of the United Nations - this book discusses all of it. I have read a lot about the Second World War, but I didn't know very much about the Cold War when I started this book. Now I feel like I really understand what happened to create such a tense environment for so long.
I've read a lot of history, and the insight and depth of this book makes it one of the best ones I've ever found. It was fascinating to get such a variety of points of view that made my understanding of the people in this time complex and human. (However, this doesn't mean that the person you see is likeable - Stalin's own daughter describes him several times as cold and unfeeling.) I also appreciated that it didn't deify the American presidents in the way American history books sometimes do, especially when a president dies in office. Roosevelt comes across as a little naive and too unwell to make a stand (a little like Woodrow Wilson does in Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, though this book was much more forgiving of Roosevelt's flaws than Paris 1919 was of Wilson's), and Truman as inexperienced and not particularly interested in reducing tensions with the Soviet Union. Churchill is left out a little, which as someone who finds him fascinating I was a little annoyed about, but it is symbolic of the decline of Britain as a world power at the end of the war. When he is discussed, however, he is also very human - frustrated by being ignored by Stalin and the Americans, well-spoken, depressed, and to some extent out of touch due to his imperialist leanings. The book also doesn't shy away from describing the atrocities of the Red Army in Germany and the ethnic cleansing that followed the movement of Poland's border to the west. The suffering of the Germans, especially in Berlin, is clearly devastating.
I thought the narration was good. I am very picky about mispronounced words, though, and there were a couple of those, so I can't give it five stars.
Overall, I felt totally immersed in this book. I highly recommend it - it is engaging and accessible to many readers, though prior understanding of the Second World War is necessary, as the reader is expected to already know what happened militarily in 1945 for context. I feel like I now have a really clear insight into the people and the decisions that created the Cold War and all of its continuing effects on the world.
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