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Michael

I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

Walnut Creek, CA, United States | Member Since 2014

3544
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 406 reviews
  • 1396 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 5 purchased in 2015
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FOLLOWERS
1024

  • Vortex

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Robert Charles Wilson
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (396)
    Performance
    (317)
    Story
    (322)

    Vortex tells the story of Turk Findley, the protagonist introduced in Axis, who is transported 10,000 years into the future by the mysterious entities called “the Hypotheticals”. In this future, humanity exists on a chain of planets connected by Hypothetical gateways; but Earth itself is a dying world, effectively quarantined. Turk and his young friend, Isaac Dvali, are taken up by a community of fanatics who use them to enable a passage to the dying Earth, where they believe a prophecy of human/Hypothetical contact will be fulfilled.

    Ron says: "well-written, well-narrated, but..."
    "Better than Spin"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I liked Spin quite a bit, and Axis somewhat less so. I was prepared for Vortex to follow the common downward spiral of most sequels. I was pleasantly surprised to find Vortex was significantly better than Spin. The characterization was deeper and more touching, the story more compelling, and the ideas more thought provoking. I am a real stickler for good science and as wild as the story becomes it remains grounded in (equally wild) current theories of cosmology. This is not a feel-good romp, the story is dark, thoughtful and intense. The conclusion may not satisfy every reader, but it was consistent, unexpected, and interesting. The twists were inventive and fascinating. The Spin was good, but I suspect I will be thinking about Vortex for some time to come.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Will Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (633)
    Performance
    (478)
    Story
    (471)

    Durant lucidly describes the philosophical systems of such world-famous “monarchs of the mind” as Plato, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Kant, Voltaire, and Nietzsche. Along with their ideas, he offers their flesh-and-blood biographies, placing their thoughts within their own time and place and elucidating their influence on our modern intellectual heritage. This book is packed with wisdom and wit.

    Arthur says: "Beginners start here! This is the one you want!"
    "Excellent but Limited"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is early Durant and his depth and style improved in his later works. This volume is also quite selective including only a few of the most important or pivotal Philosophers and it was written in 1924 thus it does not cover later philosophers. I was more than a bit surprised by the little jump between Aristotle (300 BCE) and Francis Bacon (1600 CE). Nevertheless what is there is fantastic, I only wish there was more, much, much more.

    I recommend reading this before Durant’s monumental History of Civilization series.

    The narration was excellent.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Saint Odd: Odd Thomas, Book 7

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By Dean Koontz
    • Narrated By David Aaron Baker
    Overall
    (596)
    Performance
    (546)
    Story
    (545)

    Odd Thomas is back where it all started…because the time has come to finish it. Since he left his simple life in the small town of Pico Mundo, California, his journey has taken him to places strange and wonderful, mysterious and terrifying. Across the land, in the company of mortals and spirits alike, he has known kindness and cruelty, felt love and loss, saved lives and taken them - as he's borne witness to humanity's greatest good and darkest evil.

    G. House Sr. says: "The Ends Justifies the Means"
    "Pleasingly Odd Conclusion"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a quite enjoyable final chapter of the Odd Thomas series. Yet, this may not be our final Odd book. The author repeatedly refers to this as Book 8 (while there are only 6 prior books making this number 7) and refers to events of a story not yet told. This book nicely wraps up all the strings of a pleasantly and compellingly odd series and character. I really liked this book and could not put it down. I like Odd, and I like Koontz’s style and quality. The action is not as compelling as the best of Koontz, the chase scene goes on a bit too long, it is a little too religious for my tastes, and the ending is poignant but anticlimactic, yet I still liked Saint Odd quite a bit.

    This ends this mystical series and ends it in a satisfying way. The narration, as always, was excellent with the mood, emotional state, and even subconscious feelings of Odd coming through.

    I hope there really is an eighth book, so this will not be, not quite, the end of Odd Thomas.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304 - 1576 AD, The Story of Civilization, Volume 5

    • UNABRIDGED (37 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Will Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (31)
    Performance
    (27)
    Story
    (28)

    In this masterful work, listeners will encounter: the poets Petrarch and Boccaccio, the fathers of the Renaissance; the paintings, sculptures, and architecture of Milan, Florence, and Venice; the life and accomplishments of Leonardo DaVinci; the Catholic church and the popes of Avignon and Rome; the politicians and philosophers of Italy, including the Borgia family, Julius II, and Machiavelli; the Italian Wars, the conflicts with France, and the country's decline.

    Michael says: "Wonderful Review of Renaissance Italy"
    "Wonderful Review of Renaissance Italy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the fifth book of Durant’s excellent History of Civilization series.
    See my review of the first volume for comments on the series as a whole.
    This volume does not cover all of, or only, the Renaissance, but instead covers Italy from 1304-1576 AD. Not to worry, Volume VI covers the same period in the rest of Europe. Durant presents an integrated history, which does not focus on dates, but upon the themes of history and the totality of each period including the daily life, the arts, the crafts, the politics and the ideas. This volume covers a few well known artists and popes and other characters of the Italian Renaissance, but also much more. After a brief framing of the period, the history of each major city or region is covered along with the art and artists, politics and leaders, and people and life, then each pope of the period is covered along with the politics and art of their pontificate. Finally the transition between the Renaissance and the reformation is described.

    I liked this series quite a bit, and would not recommend skipping this volume. This is not the best of the series, but is interesting never the less. I had read and listened to this volume before, yet I still learned things I had forgotten or did not previously absorb, and more importantly, I enjoyed every minute of the 37 hours.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • To the Lighthouse

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Virginia Woolf
    • Narrated By Juliet Stevenson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (246)
    Performance
    (194)
    Story
    (191)

    To the Lighthouse is a landmark work of English fiction. Virginia Woolf explores perception and meaning in some of the most beautiful prose ever written, minutely detailing the characters thoughts and impressions. This unabridged version is read by Juliet Stevenson.

    Jefferson says: "A Stark Tower on a Bare Rock, or a Hanging Garden?"
    "Old Modern Proto-feminist Steam of Consciousness"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book is a pleasant stream of consciousness novel with little dialog or story. The characters are explored through their inner dialog and their perceptions of the environment, the other characters and, most importantly, themselves. There is a bit of (justifiable) feminist angst in the writing which I found a distraction weakening the work and distracting from the primary focus.

    The narration was excellent, using delicate pacing and tone to express complex internal states. The narration switches between characters which was a bit difficult to follow at points.

    I was surprised to see an attached PDF file. This has the CD liner notes, including a table of contents and a nice historical note by Roy McMillan.

    Although I liked To the Lighthouse, I liked Proust and Joyce quite a bit better.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 5 mins)
    • By Brian Wansink
    • Narrated By Brian Wansink
    Overall
    (11)
    Performance
    (11)
    Story
    (11)

    InSlim by Design, leading behavioral economist, food psychologist, and bestselling author Brian Wansink introduces groundbreaking solutions for designing our most common spaces - schools, restaurants, grocery stores, and home kitchens, among others - in order to make positive changes in how we approach and manage our diets.

    Michael says: "Another Weird Diet Book"
    "Another Weird Diet Book"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is basically a self-help book with most of the defects of the genre. The author ecstatically supports his premise, and presents lots of evidence to support his ideas, but never rigorously tests his ideas. There are quite a few very good common sense ideas and the ideas all seem plausible, particularly with the short term evidence presented.

    There are a bunch of very short term experiments described (like moving chocolate milk to the back of the school milk case which results in lower chocolate milk sales). Perhaps, but my experience of teens is once they re-find the chocolate milk, they will quickly return to their previous behavior. I don’t recall any long term controlled studies of the ideas presented. After finishing the book I tried to find long term studies online, but found promo-videos and other descriptions of the same short term studies.

    The author repeatedly discusses things that thin people do differently than fat people (like sitting far from the buffet and not facing the buffet), then strongly implies that people who do the things thin people do will become thin people. While there are some key areas where this is clearly true (like calorie intake and exercise) I am dubious sitting facing away from the buffet will really reduce weight in the long term.

    After finishing the book, I began wondering if the ideas presented there would work for alcoholics as well as foodoholics. Would hiding your vodka in the hall closet, or sitting not facing the bar, or making sure all the alcohol is out of sight, or using a smaller basket when buying booze, or giving enticing names to non-alcoholic drinks, or using small glasses, or hiding the hard stuff in a drawer, really deal with a drinking issue? I have dealt with several alcoholics and they committed to just about every one of these ideas, and guess what, THEY WORKED! For a few days. In the long run they didn’t work. What did work? Either the tough personal decision to stop drinking or committing to getting help. I was quite dubious these kinds of changes without the tough personal decision part would be successful in weight loss.

    There is a PDF associated with the book with some pictures illustrating some of the books points and several assessment test.

    There are some good ideas like keep foods that are good for you prepped and convenient, but this actually takes a substantial commitment to buying the healthy food, prepping the healthy food, and eating the healthy food before it goes bad. That is basically was we used to call healthy eating.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The Lessons of History

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Will, Ariel Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (299)
    Performance
    (163)
    Story
    (163)

    The authors devoted five decades to the study of world history and philosophy, culminating in the masterful 11-volume Story of Civilization. In this compact summation of their work, Will and Ariel Durant share the vital and profound lessons of our collective past. Their perspective, gained after a lifetime of thinking and writing about the history of humankind, is an invaluable resource for us today.

    Brad the Dad says: "This is a must for every Educated Person"
    "Impossible"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It is not possible to summarize the lessons of history so compactly, and I would not really recommend this book on its own, but as a capstone to Durant’s massive history series it is quite nice. I enjoyed the authors ideas of what America should do to postpone, for a short while, our inevitable demise as a civilization.

    The narration of the actual book was excellent, bold and clear, with humor and feeling.

    Having read and listened to Durant’s many volume history I completely enjoyed the short interview sections between chapters with the 72 year old author and his wife, Ariel. Ariel correctly points out, one should not take the advice of an old man, nevertheless it was fun to hear the author’s voice and his opinions that have changed over the years. The audio of the interview parts is really not great and the interviewer is not very good (with repeated Ah huhs and sometimes quite silly questions).

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Under the Volcano: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Malcolm Lowry
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (96)
    Performance
    (61)
    Story
    (62)

    On the Day of the Dead, in 1938, Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic and ruined man, is fatefully living out his last day, drowning himself in mescal while his former wife and half-brother look on, powerless to help him. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical.

    Melinda says: "Excellent...but not for everyone"
    "Great Prose, Too much drunk guy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the story of one day, the Day of the Dead, of a British drunk in Mexico. The prose of this book are, at points, sublime and the imagery and characterizations are strong, but I did not really like any of the characters, and the story was not compelling to me. The portrait of the drunken main character is quite realistic and both compelling and repellant.

    I have never read the short story this novel was based upon, but I suspect, as a short story, this would be wonderful. Stretched into a novel, was too much drunk guy for my taste.

    John Lee reads these prose with the intensity of poetry with a rhythm and power, but does not do the Spanish justice.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • An American Tragedy

    • UNABRIDGED (34 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Theodore Dreiser
    • Narrated By Dan John Miller
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (227)
    Performance
    (198)
    Story
    (201)

    An American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, who spends his life in the desperate pursuit of success. On a deeper, more profound level, it is the masterful portrayal of the society whose values both shape Clyde's ambitions and seal his fate; it is an unsurpassed depiction of the harsh realities of American life and of the dark side of the American dream.

    beatrice says: "a period piece, still resonant"
    "Funny in Perspective"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I found this book funny on almost every page. Not ha-ha funny, but a mild warm sardonic funny. This is not a classic tragedy of fate directing the characters to untimely deaths, instead, through an unbiased narrator, we see nature simply take its course without morality or judgment or even meaning, towards untimely death. The narrator seems not to be God, but some neutral naturalistic viewer of all the characters and situations, and from this perspective everything, including death, may seem funny.

    If you don’t see the very subtle humor in this novel early on, it will likely seem tediously long and slow, as the novel follows the main character’s developing motivations, beliefs, and actions as they slowly and inevitability, unfold. This powerful inevitability reminds me of Russia writers, as such inevitability is rare in American novels. As I saw the silliness of the character’s choices (which will certainly lead to unpleasant consequences) I felt compassion, yet I had to chuckle.

    The characters are very well developed, even the very minor characters, yet I related more with the narrator than any of the characters, and the story was, of course, predictable. I was moved by this writing and think I will be affected by the undercurrents of this novel for quite some time to come.

    The narration was flawless, using subtle tones of voice to reflect the subtle inconsistencies and indecision within the characters.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Catch-22

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Joseph Heller
    • Narrated By Jay O. Sanders
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2208)
    Performance
    (1257)
    Story
    (1272)

    Catch-22 is set in the closing months of World War II, in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy. Its hero is a bombardier named Yossarian, who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever, even if he has to die in the attempt.)

    Phil says: "Phenominal Reading - Story and Damn Funny"
    "Iconic Dialog"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Catch-22 is an absurdist look at military thinking set in WWII with a constant dark backdrop of fear and death. This book is a must read not for the characters or story (which are subordinate to the absurdity of the vignettes) but for the numerous truly classic dialogs. The narration of this version was excellent with great funny character voices and clear delivery of the sometimes complicated dialog.

    It is a bit odd that this work is set in WWII but does not feel like WWII in many ways. The mood and characters seem set in the 1950’s with loyalty oaths and constipated conservative military thinking of the Korean conflict.


    I had read Catch-22 many years ago, and remembered it fondly, on this reading many of the bits were still really funny, but some were less impactful the second time around. Yet this was totally worth it for the wild iconic dialog.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Sons and Lovers

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By D. H. Lawrence
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (87)
    Performance
    (65)
    Story
    (65)

    Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence's first major novel, was also the first in the English language to explore ordinary working-class life from the inside. No writer before or since has written so well about the intimacies enforced by a tightly knit mining community and by a family where feelings are never hidden for long. When the marriage between Walter Morel and his sensitive, high-minded wife begins to break down, the bitterness of their frustration seeps into their children's lives.

    W Perry Hall says: "Momma's Boy (The Dangers of Overbearing Parenting)"
    "Good Prose and Essential Truth through Life"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    These excellent prose loosely follow the life of struggling artist growing up in an English coal mining town of Nottinghamshire with a strong loving and involved mother and a rough, disillusioned, alcoholic, and uninvolved father. The later parts of the book seem quite autobiographical, while the early book seems more fictional, more novel like, and less focused on the artist’s character. The author pacts a lot of essential truth into this novel. The characters all feel deeply real, with all the inconsistencies, self-compromises, vagueness of memories, and vacillations of real humans. The author seems fair to all the characters portrayed (which is a common defect of autobiographical novels). The novel does not have any action to speak of, no adventure, little philosophy, just a story about real people living a real life, and that is enough.

    The narration is very good, handling the dialect particularly well.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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