Walnut Creek, CA, United States | Member Since 2014
Walter Levin is clearly an excellent teacher who loves physics. Every science teacher in America should read this book and think about what Levin does to be so effective. I love physics and respect and value great science teachers like Levin but I found this book a little boring. The stories and recollections are nice and demonstrate what Levin does that is so extraordinary but this book is not as compelling as those of Feynman or Green. I really hate giving this book less than 5 stars.
Why was this book written?
The author says it is an attempt to dispel the fear of racism that overhangs the discussion of human group differences and to begin to explore the far reaching implications the discovery that human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.
I read a lot on the topic of genetics and I have been impressed with the depth and breadth of the research into geographically linked genetic traits. I have seen no fear of racism in any mainstream research. It seems to have been very widely understood that human evolution has been recent, copious and regional. I have seen no dispute about this. So, why was this book written? The book seems to make the argument that it should be OK to discuss genetically influenced behaviors differences between races (as opposed to family, regions, or other well defined classifications.) This is troublesome as the term race has been, and continues to actively be, used to justify segregation, discrimination, injustice, and genocide.
Wade says “The idea that human populations are different from one another has been actively ignored by academics and policy makers for fear inquiry might promote racism.” I have never heard ANYONE say human populations are not genetically different. Indeed there is substantial research on genetics of various populations and there is a well-developed science studying geographic genotypes.
As far as I could tell the author never actually proposes a concrete definition of Race. Instead he points out some fuzzy statistical clustering of alleles and calls that race. The number of races he is discussing seems to vary from three to five (or more). The author admits his races, however defined, have fuzzy boarders, so you can never be sure which race to assign an individual.
Wade repeatedly presents long discussions of other research that (it seems to me) strongly support theories that environment, culture or other non-genetic factors greatly impact societal differences. Yet, Wade then waves these conclusions away pointing out that, although the research seems to support non-genetic factors, surely it is obvious that genetics is really much more likely.
Wade has quite a few unsubstantiated ideas he feels are obvious.
Arabs, Afghans, and sub-Saharan Africans are genetically predisposed to tribalism, so we should not expect democracy to work with them; obviously.
Jews are genetically predisposed to prefer money lending; obviously.
Language grammar rules must be genetically based; obviously.
Social institutions differ due to tiny genetic differences in social behavior; obviously.
Religion must be genetically based; obviously.
If a race did not have genetically based behavioral differences it would be quick and easy for the race to take on the successful social institutions of a more successful race; obviously.
It is hard to conceive of any circumstance racism could be successfully resurrected; obviously?
Resurrected? What planet does this guy live on?
I suppose white Cambridge men are not exposed to the dark side of racism regularly (except for the British teeth thing).
Wade says “It would be better to take account of evolutionary differences [in behavior] than to continue to ignore them.” Sure. If there was any evidence I am sure it would be carefully considered. Unfortunately there is only guesswork, not evidence.
Wade never mentions some very important non-genetic effectors of behavior. Mothers that experience stress during or prior to pregnancy have offspring with altered behavior patterns, infants that see some parental behavior become imprinted and will repeat that behavior when the time comes, parents teach their children complex behaviors, and societies train young humans for decades before adulthood. Such non-genetic biological systems allow humans to alter behavior much more rapidly in dynamic environments than genetic evolution could support. Many of the behaviors Wade discusses (radius of trust, aggression, risk taking, etc.) are exactly the kind of behaviors requiring rapid changes in response to a dynamic environment, thus we would expect these to be overwhelmingly controlled by these non-genetic systems.
Wade attacks several straw-men, like those people who say human evolution has stopped or has no effect of behavior. I have never heard anyone (other than creationists) say human evolution has stopped, or has no effect on human behavior, only that other factors appear to be overwhelmingly more important and there is little or no evidence of specific genetic influences.
Wade says his theory is not racist because there is no assertion of superiority (except your race has the violent, slothful, tribal, stupid, unimaginative, dark skinned genes while his race has non-violent, hard working, cooperative, intelligent, innovative, light skinned genes; but these are not value judgments, these are simply facts; obviously.
Wade criticized Diamond's Germs, Guns and Steel. I am no fan of Germs, Guns, and Steel and I criticized Diamond’s tendency to cherry pick data that agreed with his theory, but Germs, Guns and Steel was a gem compared to A Troublesome Inheritance.
Most importantly Wade never proposes a single experiment to test any of his numerous guesswork hypotheses.
This is not science.
The narration was quite clear but very slow and a little monotonous. I almost never speed up the audio but on my first listen I sped it up to 1.25 then 1.5. On my second listen I did it at 3.0 and it was still quite intelligible (sound-wise).
The title is a bit of an excuse to blend together many essays regarding, very generally, human control over nature. The writing is a personal and introspective ramble through various subjects interesting to the author and very roughly connected to the title. I resonated quite well with the author’s ambivalent and ambiguous viewpoints. She is not very sure what her position is on many of the subjects covered, which I found intellectually honest and refreshing. The writing is more like introspective narrative fiction then straight science writing.
The basic premise of the book is, ready or not, for good or for bad, whether we like it or not, humans now have enormous power over nature on our planet. It is now incumbent upon us to accept this fact and make decisions accordingly. We no longer have the luxury of letting nature take its course; we have become too influential on that course. The book strays from this premise for most of the book, using this central idea only as a touch-point binding the diverse essays. The essays cover our power over animals, the climate, and the landscape, our use of plants, apps for apes, gene storage, interspecies and inter-kingdom internet, using 3-D printers to print products and body parts, and our use of robots and artificial intelligence.
The science presented is at a light survey level, with few details and no equations.
The narration is good, following the author’s personal and introspective intensions. I don’t think I learned much from this book, but it was a very easy listen, I enjoyed it, and it stimulated reflections on the unsettling idea that humans have now become accountable for all of nature on our planet. Definitely worth the listen.
This is a nice memoir by an American journalist with South Korean parents who poses as a Cristian missionary affiliated English teacher for the sons of the North Korean elite both to tell their story to the world and to plant the tiniest seeds freedom within their minds. There is virtually no action, and very little unexpected, nevertheless I enjoyed the ideas and the message.
The aspect I found most interesting was the glimpse into the enigmatic ideas and desires of the North Korean young men; Passionate patriotism alongside unspoken envy of the west, bravado and shame, strength and weakness, intelligence and naiveté, pride and selflessness, bravery and fear, hate and love. The book itself is a study in conflicts being at once heavy and light, pessimistic and uplifting. I left feeling more connected to the North Korean people, and (slightly) more optimistic about the glacial progress of freedom in that country.
The narration is flawless, with tones of voice expressing the narrator’s inner state along with excellent characterizations, accents, and Korean language.
I think few will love this book, and I am unlikely to listen to it again, yet I am quite pleased I listened to it and think most sensitive readers will appreciate what is revealed.
This is a set of related essays ruminating on humanities relation to modern science and is more rambling lyrical personal reflections than explanatory science. The essays are: The Accidental Universe; The Temporary Universe; The Spiritual Universe; The Symmetrical Universe; The Gargantuan Universe; The Lawful Universe; The Disembodied Universe.
The narration is excellent, slow paced, emotional, and poetic.
The author declares he is an atheist, but seems to believe that God, transcendent personal experience, and what created our universe are all beyond the realm of scientific analysis. I agree that such things may currently beyond complete scientific analysis, but they are not beyond scientific analysis in principle. If God, or transcendental personal experiences have any practical effects, these effects can, eventually, be tested. History is full of the phenomena that were once fervently believed beyond the realm of thoughtful enquiry (the motion of planets, weather, disease, heredity, plant growth, hallucinogenic substances, and many others). These have all, one by one, succumbed to various levels of scientific analysis. There are only a very few phenomena left that some believe are still beyond the realm of science. Many, including Lightman, have a deeply emotional desire (without fully understanding why) that some part of human experience will remain forever beyond the realm of science. Lightman seems excited that the rest of the universe follows scientific laws, yet revolts against the idea these same laws control his own essence. He is saddened by the temporality of life and seems to view the connectivity allowed by cell phone technology as disembodiment. At some level I fully understand such attitudes, but nevertheless I find them mildly quaint. Reading Lightman’s last chapter lamenting the disembodiment caused by texting I pondered if some old foggy at the dawn of humanity lamented how spoken language disembodied people from real pre-linguistic communication.
I did not dislike this book, but did not get a lot out of it. I love art and literature and music and myth and my life, but I don’t feel any need to separate these things into a spiritual realm beyond scientific analysis. There is some discussion of science in the book, but it is just a bit sloppy (like convolving quantum superposition with multi-position). When I finished this book I recalled how the end of A Brief History of Time resonated more with me than anything in The Accidental Universe; “if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."
I like most of Koontz, but this book is far from the best of Koontz. I would have to review my reviews to see if there is any Koontz I liked less than this one. That said, it is still better than most in the genre (but that is not saying much).
This is a new release to Audible, but an old Koontz book published back in 1980. He has some good early work, but there are a few early stinkers. This is one of those.
Usually Koontz has great characters, a compelling story, some interesting surprises, a satisfying ending, and superior prose. All of these features are lacking in this one dimensional surprise-less story. Early in the book the outcome is foreshadowed, and then it happens, and then it is over. I was totally unsatisfied by the abrupt and uninteresting ending. Occasionally Koontz does a story with a simple good (God) vs. evil (Satan) plot, and this is one of those (which I find among his least compelling styles).
This book has more frank and explicit sex and drugs then most Koontz so it might not be great for younger readers.
I do a lot of Audible and have become, over the years, very forgiving regarding narration. I appreciate great narration, but if I can hear and understand the words, I am generally not distracted by poor narration. This was an exception, the weak characterizations, annoying whines, intoxicated drawls, and baked speech patterns were too much for me.
This is one Koontz I would not recommend.
In 1729 Jonathan Swift made A Modest Proposal that the Irish poor sell their children to the rich as food. Here Piketty suggests the opposite, that we cannibalize the rich (at least their money) to feed the poor by creating a global wealth tax to redistribute wealth from the rich into social programs.
I loved this book, it is mostly about data, and I love data. Not only is there lots and lots of data, but it is very good data, with very good explanations and outstanding transparency on sources and methods. I just love this kind of data. I spent hours before starting the book just absorbing the pdf containing over 100 charts and tables. You read that right – over 100 charts and tables, and there is no point listening to this book if you don’t understand these charts. Thus I recommend either getting a visual version of the book and/or taking a careful look at the charts before you start the book. All the raw data for all the charts is available in excel format on the book’s web site.
I highly recommend this book if you want to understand the debate regarding wealth inequality and what, in anything, should be done about it. The narration is good, but it is still a tough listen due to the many references to charts, numbers, and equations.
Although I love the data and the explanations, I did not find the conclusions very compelling. It is difficult to take the author to task regarding his conclusions because he is clearly quite a clever guy and meticulously covers his posterior by making every conclusion explicitly based on hypotheticals that might be the case.
An undemonstrated premise of this book seems to be non-egalitarian societies are inherently unjust or non-utilitarian. This is far from clear. Unequally rewarding an important helpful skill is non-egalitarian yet is both just and utilitarian. Most of my disagreements with Piketty’s conclusions are based on our differences regarding this premise. There is clearly a balance of inequality essential to capitalism, and understanding how to correctly detect imbalances, either way, should have come before any analysis of how to correct any such imbalance. Yet Piketty’s answer to what the social optimal balance should be is “it is hard to say”. Adjusting a tax when it is hard to say what the proper rate should be seems ill advised.
Piketty notes that the total capital per person (in units of annual production per person) has been increasing steadily from a low in the 1950’s back to its gilded age pre-war highs. Piketty seems to believe, without a wealth tax intervention, capitalism might naturally lead to a spiraling inegalitarian concentration of wealth (depending on various rate scenarios).
Piketty correctly points out the estate tax is not uniform internationally and we currently have poor wealth reporting mechanisms yielding an ineffective tax. Yet if we fix these weaknesses of the estate tax, it is not clear why an additional wealth tax would be necessary. The author seems to me to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater by taxing skill earned wealth invested productively the same as inherited (unearned) wealth using a Wealth Tax, instead of just fixing the estate tax so it works. Inheritance tax has been attacked by the wealthy as The Death Tax but I suggest it should be re-dubbed the Slutty Heiress Elimination Tax.
Firstly, I completely agree with the basic premise of this book; current economic theory does not account for the non-economic urges (animal spirits) that greatly effect financial decisions. Unfortunately that is about as far as my agreement extends. I think most economists agree animal spirts are important BUT they are very difficult to quantify, thus the lack of a coherent theory involving animal spirits. This does not seem to bother the authors, who instead of quantifying their theory, tell stories about animal spirits. These stories sound reasonable, but anyone can make up stories that sound reasonable. Such stories are not evidence at all, let alone compelling evidence. Most of the stories, when analyzed carefully, are very weak at best.
The authors propose to show how “corruption” stimulated several recessions. Not only was the argument quite weak, the editors seem to have added a single line after the rest was written indicating that it was clear there were several other more important causal factors.
The authors propose the fact union labor contracts generally don’t include cost of living adjustments in their contracts, or workers strongly fight wage reductions demonstrate that people don’t understand inflation (the money illusion). I suspect union contract negotiators are quite aware of inflation, as are workers fighting wage reductions, and instead they don’t want COLAs or wage reductions because accepting such deals are not good long term negotiating tactics. Certainly many people don’t always consider inflation properly, but I think the authors significantly over-emphasize this weakness.
The authors propose the root cause of the 2007 financial crisis was the MAC’s loosening credit to high risk minorities. This loosening caused private mortgage providers to loosen their credit. Of course this makes no sense if the mortgage provider was planning to keep the mortgage. My favorite book on the 2007 crisis (The Big Short) gives a very different, more compelling, and a bit more complex explanation. Very briefly, financial analysts found they could package very diverse sets of mortgages and demonstrate these diversified products would have performed well in almost any historical period. They used this data to convince the largest, most sophisticated, insurance company on the planet to insure the product, then they included the insurance with the product. Rating agencies reasonably rated these products highly. The story was mathematics and computers allowed regional risk to be diversified then insured making these products highly profitable, yet low risk. One problem, once the banks found they could sell these mortgages as fast as they could write them, they started writing mortgages with higher and higher risk. This rendered all the statistics completely useless, but the story had been proven, so the process continued, until the mortgages began to fail across all regions, all at once, at very high rates. It quickly became clear these products were incredibly risky.
The combination of over simplification, weak supporting evidence, and a complete lack of specific practical proposed actions makes this book utterly impotent.
The idea that the government should somehow regulate these vague, non-quantitative, animal-spirits is simply frightening.
See my review of Our Oriental Heritage for my notes on the series as a whole.
This is another great volume of Durant’s great History series. This volume covers the Renaissance outside of Italy, the Reformation, and Counter-Reformation and overlaps quite a bit in time with volume 5 (The Renaissance).
The Reformation is not quite as dramatic as most of the other volumes of this series. There is a lot of politics and religion and strong historical figures but not a lot of heroes or inspiring stories. As always Durant provides a compelling integrated history of the period, going over the same period several times from the different perspectives of the historical individuals. Particularly compelling is a long overview of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as a set of monologs by a hypothetical composite character representing the reformers, the traditional catholic, and the humanist.
This was well worth the time and I (re)learned a lot. It is quite amazing how decisions of people hundreds of years ago still effect our daily lives today. Durant tells the story of History is a way that makes one feel a part of history. He shows us quite normal individuals that made a difference centuries ago and how that difference has flowed through time all the way to us (and lets us see our own power to make such differences).
The narration was excellent with a lot of character and passion which helped keep me engaged in the stories.
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.
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.
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