I got this audiobook on sale for $4.95 and probably wouldn't have gotten it otherwise. I really liked Eagleman's Incognito, Lehrer's How We Decide, Nørretranders' User Illusion and even Kahneman's plodding Thinking Fast and Slow, so How the MInd Works seemed like a good fit. The author is not particularly interested in how the mind actually works (and when he does talk about the mechanisms of thinking, he gets terribly bogged down in computer programming minutiae). The book is actually about evolutionary biology, and Pinker spends a huge amount of the book bashing feminists and sociologists. The book was written in the 90's, so the author had probably been on the receiving end of a lot of fuzzy thinking about everything being socially constructed, but his harping makes the book seem incredibly dated (especially compared to the User Illusion, which still seems very fresh). I would also say that as the mother of a truck-loving toddler girl who has been told by other mothers that "girls don't like trucks," I see gender roles being socially constructed every day.
I think, as a 39-year-old nerd, I am the target audience for this book. But I found the story as formulaic as one of the D&D modules it constantly references, and most of the 80's pop culture references just reminded me how sacharine and commercial the 80's were.
I love books about cognitive science and Kahneman and Tversky are giants in the field. They used thought experiments (followed up by actual experiments) to show how little insight we all have into our decision making processes -- how often we fall back on mental short cuts that give us incorrect answers, and how shockingly unaware we are of the problem. After hearing so many other authors reference their work, I thought it would be great to hear it described first hand, and it was, for the first half of the book, but Kahneman just tried to pack too much stuff in. And each chapter started with examples of how to use their new insights in business situations -- which seemed interesting at first, but got pretty annoying.
I had never heard of Tony Judt, but this book was a great introduction to his thinking, presented in an accessible style. Because Judt was dying, the book consists of a series of interviews -- so there is no chance for long footnotes or an overly-academic tone. The interview format can get a little confusing because the reader doesn't use different voices for the Snyder and Judt, so it can be hard to figure out what is question and what is anser. Judt had a strong moral compass and although he was certainly left of center, a lot of this book deals with criticism of the Left for their silence on the atrocities of the USSR. Basically a history of the Left in the 20th century that I'd never been exposed to.
I've read and re-read Neuromancer about every 10 years since I was a teenager, and I feel like I get something new out of it every time. So, this is one of the few audiobooks I've bought even though I'd already read the book, and it was completely worth it. And Gibson's explanation in the preface of the vexing "The sky above the port was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel" opening line (he's talking about some kind of old-timey television that goes silver when there's no reception) was a revelation. The reader was good. Very laconic, but, for me, that fit the cyber-noire genre.
The descriptions of his patients are heart-rending, but powerful in the compassion he brings to his work. I think his scientific ideas -- that relatively mild traumas (like your mom being stressed out) during pregnancy and infancy will give you an addictive personality -- are half-baked at best and basically amount to saying that all of us are prone to addictive or compulsive behaviors. I also found his assertion that addiction did not exist before the Renaissance to be pretty odd. It was disappointing to have someone who is trying to advocate for harm reduction, a policy that is both compassionate and evidence-based, making so fast and loose with the evidence.
The book is organized more by types of hallucination than by case studies of specific individuals, and it suffers as a result. The case studies are too short and really aren't as engaging and satisfying as those in his earlier books. But hearing Oliver Sacks talk about his drug use in the 60s is pretty amazing. It is a different kind of story about doing drugs -- about a shy, smart young man trying to find some transcendance and joy (which he ultimately finds in writing, not in drugs) not a tell-all memoir about a rock star or celebrity.
Keith Richards is really amazing taking about music -- learning to play guitar as a kid, holing himself up with the rest of the Stones perfecting their craft in the early 60s, the joy he gets playing with a great musician, what he thinks is wrong with digital mastering. The writing is clear and straightforward and his passion and awe for music are obvious. But there were whole stretches of the book that were just annoying. I know he's a rich and famous rock star, but after all his protestations that he's not in it for the money, there was a lot of gratuitous reveling in all the things that money can buy (mansions, villas, access to private islands, private jets, private doctors, fancy lawyers). I also found his constant refrain that he was persecuted for his drug use just because he's famous to be absurd. Dude, it's called the War on Drugs. It's really not all about you.
I was also kind of perplexed by the multiple narrators. I though Johnny Depp did a great job, very laconic, and that Joe Hurley was overly dramatic. He seemed to be trying to do a Keith Richards impersonation (with the bad-boy, rum-drenched voice) that was completely over the top compared to the actual Richards (who did kind of slur his words, but more like an old man than someone who was high).
Peter Kenny is a great reader for Banks's books, but using the same reader for all the Culture audiobooks really emphasizes how many of the characters in Hydrogen Sonata were borrowed from previous books. The Mistake Not ... seems like a saner (and therefore not as entertaining) version of the Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints. Septame Banstergain is very similar to Veppers. Cossant, like Yay, is just not that compelling of a character, even with her high-tech body manipulation, but unfortunately, unlike Player of Games, she's a major character in this book. The book also just seems kind of light -- it touches on government coverups and conspiracies, but has none of the psychological weight of Player of Games, Use of Weapons or even the Hells in Surface Detail.
Having said all that, it was still fun to listen to, and had the usual Banks build up to a crazy epic confrontation at the end.
The writing style is a little airy-fairy for my taste, with a few too many hallmark flourishes. And the reader's voice bugged me all the way though -- there was something sugar-coated and trying too hard to please in Dunne's voice, but she was probably a good match for the narrator -- who is struggling to break through her own flirty, girly, too eager to please persona. But a few passages in the book were so powerful and unflinching and incredibly sad they had me welling up with tears on my commute. A weird, uneven book, but strangely moving.
The first half of the book was absolutely amazing -- beautifully read by Simon Prebble (one of my favorite readers) and completely engaging, effortlessly explaining complex genetic puzzles. But, for me, the book got hard to take when it got to human evolutionary psychology. Maybe I'm one of the PC people Ridley accuses of holding science back, or maybe I'm just a woman from a younger generation, because the things he says about women's and men's different natures just don't ring true to my experience. And in the 20 years since the book was published, many of them have been, if not disproven, then shown to not be as reproducible and universal as Ridley implies.
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