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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 2015

3800
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 424 reviews
  • 1414 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 27 purchased in 2015
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  • Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

    • UNABRIDGED (28 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Christopher Hitchens
    • Narrated By Simon Prebble
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (707)
    Performance
    (580)
    Story
    (570)

    The first new collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens since 2004, Arguably offers an indispensable key to understanding the passionate and skeptical spirit of one of our most dazzling writers, widely admired for the clarity of his style, a result of his disciplined and candid thinking. Topics range from ruminations on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men to the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell.

    Kristopher says: "Written with skill and style"
    "Too much good stuff for audio alone"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a really nice set of reviews and essays. The best is when he personally undergoes waterboarding. The worst part about this audio book is there are too many references I wanted to note to remember. The only way to effectively listen to this book is to be doing nothing else and have paper and pen handy, which kind of eliminates the usefulness of an audio version (for the sighted). I did not agree with everything I heard, but virtually everything was interesting or thought provoking. The narration was simply awesome.

    22 of 24 people found this review helpful
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By Ishmael Beah
    • Narrated By Ishmael Beah
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (162)
    Performance
    (134)
    Story
    (131)

    This is how wars are fought now by children, hopped up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s. In the more than 50 violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived. In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now 26 years old, tells a riveting story in his own words: how, at the age of 12, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence.

    Amazon Customer says: "Fascinating and tragic story"
    "Intense, but not intense enough"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a story of a 12 year old boy’s life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The writing is first person and author narrated, but did not strike me as intensely personal, or brutally honest, or deeply introspective. It effectively tells the story of how a normal kid becomes a killer, and then returns to some level of normalcy. If you are not familiar with the issue of child soldiers, this book is an excellent introduction.

    I expect quite a lot from a memoir. In this case I heard the author’s intense story, but I also felt the author held back the very worst and the potentially most powerful. It is completely understandable for a young man (now 26) to be unready to express the fullness of the story, but a memoir should await that readiness.

    The narration is good, but a bit dry and in a very few places difficult to understand.

    I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the issues surrounding child soldiers, but as a memoir, or as literature, I found it weak.

    There is an appendix dryly recapping the history of Sierra Leone which seemed a pretty odd way to end a memoir.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By Steve LeVine
    • Narrated By Mike Chamberlain
    Overall
    (29)
    Performance
    (23)
    Story
    (23)

    A worldwide race is on to perfect the next engine of economic growth, the advanced lithium-ion battery. It will power the electric car, relieve global warming, and catapult the winner into a new era of economic and political mastery. Can the United States win? Steve LeVine was granted unprecedented access to a secret federal laboratory outside Chicago, where a group of geniuses is trying to solve this next monumental task of physics. But these scientists - almost all foreign born - are not alone.

    Michael says: "Nitty Gritty Battery Story"
    "Nitty Gritty Battery Story"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a very detailed story of the scientists, car companies, government programs, and venture capitalists, involved in the development of the battery of the future. This tries to do quite a lot and may be too detailed for many readers. I understand those that feel it was boring. It covers the stories of battery development, the process of vying for a big government projects, the greed and maneuvering of venture capital funded startup companies, and how EV’s might affect the environment and the oil industry. Although this was not an easy listen, I learned a lot and enjoyed the various storylines. Overall I was very satisfied with this book. The one thing was unsatisfying is the story ends abruptly with the battery of the future still in flux. The narration was very good, dealing with the technical detail very well.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Interpreter of Maladies

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Jhumpa Lahiri
    • Narrated By Matilda Novak
    Overall
    (520)
    Performance
    (296)
    Story
    (303)

    With accomplished precision and gentle eloquence, Jhumpa Lahiri traces the crosscurrents set in motion when immigrants, expatriates, and their children arrive, quite literally, at a cultural divide. The nine stories in this stunning debut collection unerringly chart the emotional journeys of characters seeking love beyond the barriers of nations and generations.

    Jennifer says: "Novel-amazing; Audio-mediocre"
    "Underwhelming"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a highly touted, award-winning collection of nine short stories and is on several “best” lists.
    I found most of these stories superficial, and the writing quite ordinary.

    I love short stories, but these stories seemed to focus on the shallowest aspects of both Indian and US culture. I liked the last two stories the best, but these were only above average. The rest of the stories did not make me laugh or cry or give me shivers or move me or shock me or surprise me or make me consider deeply. Yet the stories were not bad, and the writing was not bad. I did not find myself liking, or respecting, any of the characters. Yes, real life can be shallow and tedious but I don’t need to read that part in short stories.

    These stories seemed like they could be short scenes in novels, if supported by the structure and story and characters of a novel. On their own, they seemed a bit pointless.

    The audio production was down right annoying. The chapters do not align with the stories and there are discordant musical interludes between and within stories. The tone of the narrator was peppy and light, as if this was a children’s book, and I found the narration clashed sharply with the material. I certainly will not listen to this book again.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Native Son

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Richard Wright
    • Narrated By Peter Francis James
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (262)
    Performance
    (188)
    Story
    (195)

    Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic.

    Noah says: "Simply a classic"
    "75% Art, 25% Protest"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Native Son, written in 1940, was ahead of its time, and represented an important voice in an age on the brink of change.

    The first two books of this novel were quite excellent, a personal story that felt honest and impactful, with well-drawn characters and an exciting plot. The book then proceeds into the third book with a long question and answer dialog, and long monologs, reminiscent of Dostoevsky, but seemed too heavy handed to me. The first two books of this novel, through character and story, made the points better than the exposition of the third book.

    Native Son has been criticized as being “protest fiction”, limiting its artistic value. This is true, but only true of the final book of the novel. The first two books are artistically executed and powerful. Somehow I think the novel would have been more powerful if this ended without third book.

    The narration was terrific, clear and subtly powerful. The narration adds greatly to the experience.

    Although I am glad I listened to this, the last book was tedious, reducing the overall experience. Yet, this was an historically important novel and may be worth reading for that reason alone.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The End of Faith

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Sam Harris
    • Narrated By Brian Emerson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (849)
    Performance
    (536)
    Story
    (528)

    Here is an impassioned plea for reason in a world divided by faith. This important and timely work delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in today's world. Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes.

    W. Long says: "Good book, bad narrator"
    "Too Soon"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is not really about the end of faith, but the author’s post 9-11 justification for the preemptive destruction of those he fears.

    I agree with much, if not most, (actually almost everything) of what is presented in The End of Faith, nevertheless I was uncomfortable with a few of the author’s blind spots, allowing him to seriously justify preemptive violence against his “enemies”.

    This is not rationalism, not an author searching for truth, but instead a long rationalization for violence born of fear. The author’s fear is palpable on nearly every page. This may not be noticeable to many just now, as fear saturates much of west post 9-11. This book seems to be a visceral (and understandably human) reaction to 9-11. While it does address the obvious historical atrocities perpetrated by western religions, much of the book explains why we should fear Islam and might need to kill them for their dangerous beliefs.

    The author seems to show no interest in understanding the nature of his enemy, merely repeatedly justifying his fear of them. Harris indicates he does not know how we might win the war on terrorism. The answer is simple to anyone who has studied military history, you win when your advisory loses the will to fight. Loses the will to fight. This seems to be the bases of his fear. That his enemy will never lose the will to fight.

    The author fails address some key questions:

    If religion is such a hindrance to human happiness, why is it ubiquitous in successful societies? I am not at all religious, but, without fully understanding the purpose of religion I hesitate to declare the end of faith.

    The author spends much of the book pointing out the violence intrinsic to Islam, yet he clearly knows western religious underpinnings are every bit as violent. This raises another question; why have western religions recently become less overtly violent? The author seems to claim western societies are “ahead of” (more civilized than, more advanced than, better than) Islamic societies. But the author does not seem to seriously consider why this is the case.

    This is not a bad book, but the best parts have been done better elsewhere, and the fear based parts are sad.

    The narration is not at all bad, but the emphasis seemed a bit exaggerated for the material.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By Junot Diaz
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis, Staci Snell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2522)
    Performance
    (1207)
    Story
    (1215)

    Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku: the curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

    Robert says: "Wondrous Book!!!"
    "Nearly F-ing Perfect Modern Masterpiece"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Talent hits a target no one else can hit, Genius hits a target no one else can see. This novel hits the target of genius. When I rate stars, 3=good, 4=very good, 5=great. This is one of those rare books that I can’t rate highly enough.

    Within the first few minutes I was hooked and finished this book in a day. Wao has great writing and great narration. There are a lot of award winning novels that leave me totally flat. Most highly touted books in the Magical Realism genre don’t impress me at all. This is superb magical realism! I love the writer’s narration style and the beautiful non-temporal character development. I am an ubergeek and enjoyed the many geek references. I am not Dominican and enjoyed the Dominican slang and references.

    This book has adult themes and language including F, S, and lots of N. If this might disturb you, you may want to get over it, or skip this wonderful book.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 27 mins)
    • By Carson McCullers
    • Narrated By Cherry Jones
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (711)
    Performance
    (293)
    Story
    (292)

    Carson McCullers was all of 23 when she published her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. She became an overnight literary sensation, and soon such authors as Tennessee Williams were calling her "the greatest prose writer that the South [has] produced." The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter tells an unforgettable tale of moral isolation in a small southern mill town in the 1930s.

    Connie says: "Cherry Jones - 10"
    "Beautiful Prose and Perfect Narration"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a much overlooked classic with excellent prose and deeply interesting characters. There is little external story, instead the internal stories of the characters, all misfits, all dreamers, all lovers, are juxtaposed and explored. The narration is perfect with superb pacing, expressing each characters’ internal dialogs distinctly and with emotion.

    I loved this book, and particularly liked this audible addition. I finished it in one day, and will happy listen to this again.

    Some of the reviews describe this as book as depressing. The book demonstrates the essential importance of not allowing your dreams to slip away, thus I found it uplifting, in its own way.

    This book is not for everyone as there is virtually no action or story.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Meaning of Human Existence

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Edward O. Wilson
    • Narrated By Jonathan Hogan
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (98)
    Performance
    (84)
    Story
    (83)

    Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called “the rainbow colors” around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Edward O. Wilson bridges science and philosophy to create a 21st century treatise on human existence. Once criticized for his over-reliance on genetics, Wilson unfurls here his most expansive and advanced theories on human behavior, recognizing that, even though the human and spider evolved similarly, the poet’s sonnet is wholly different than the spider’s web.

    Michael says: "Pleasant Humble Simple Rationalism"
    "Pleasant Humble Simple Rationalism"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book has a really pleasant humble tone of simple, non-confrontational, rationalism. He simply treats religion as silly stories that should no longer be believed. He points out humans as having amazingly poorly equipped senses compared with animals. Some religious folks might find Wilson’s unassuming dismissal of religion more annoying than Dawkin’s bellicose tirades.

    Largely the purpose of this book seems to be to make a pointed attack on the theory of “inclusive fitness” and, less so, suggest arguments in favor of “multi-level selection” theory. About half the book and an appendix focuses on this debate, while the other half is somewhat wide ranging ideas very loosely tied to the title. Notice this is not your fathers “Meaning of Human Existence”! This is not “meaning” like that endowed by a creator, but instead straightforward meaning like; the meaning of a spider’s web is to catch food. For Wilson our meaning is associated with our culture and our humanities and arts.

    I enjoyed the “inclusive fitness” debate, and was mildly interested in the other stories. I really appreciated the unpretentious rationalism. I quite agree with the criticisms of “inclusive fitness” which has always seemed to me a bit more fantasy than science, but I did not find the book quite lived up to the lofty title.

    I had just finished “The Human Age” recently, and it was interesting to see the difference in interpretation of that concept between Wilson and Ackerman. Ackerman feels humans need to take full responsibility for the planet now, simply because we must. Wilson seems quite unsettled by this idea, and quite unready for that responsibility.

    The narration was very clear and enjoyable.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Believer: My Forty Years in Politics

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 3 mins)
    • By David Axelrod
    • Narrated By David Axelrod
    Overall
    (184)
    Performance
    (149)
    Story
    (151)

    The man behind some of the greatest political changes of the last decade, David Axelrod has devoted a lifetime to questioning political certainties and daring to bring fresh thinking into the political landscape. Whether as a child hearing John F. Kennedy stump in New York or as a strategist guiding the first African American to the White House, Axelrod shows in Believer how his own life stands at the center of the tumultuous American century.

    Michael says: "Luke Warm Believer"
    "Luke Warm Believer"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I usually love political memoirs, but this one did not resonate with me. The writing is quite conversational, not deeply personal, not deeply and wonky, and not very compelling. The first half of the book is pretty slow moving, the second half (the Obama years) is mildly more interesting, yet it did not go very deep into the nitty-gritty of campaigning. This is definitely not a tell-all or getting-even memoir. It is also not an introspective or self-critical look back. There are a bunch of not very interesting stories, regularly but mildly referring to the corruption of Chicago politics, but giving very few details. Axelrod is pretty nice to everybody from Hillary and Biden to out-and-out criminals. Her is really, really, nice to Obama.

    There were a few stories that I found pretty interesting:

    The idea that the greatest of presidents (Abe, FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, etc.) campaigned throughout their presidencies (which Obama did not do very well.)

    The idea that a president always becomes less powerful over time, which influenced Obama to fight for health care reform early, while the economy was still in crisis.

    The story of Obama’s problematic debate prep for the first debate of the second campaign.

    Obama’s children’s reactions to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

    I was disheartened by Axelrod’s (and Obama’s) disingenuous position on earmarks. Obama and Axelrod both say they are against earmark, but earmarks are just such an effective way to get money for one’s district or congressional support they just had to use them. Obama, in his short three years in the senate requested about a billion in earmarks, then he said he stopped requesting earmarks (after privately deciding to run for president). Obama promised to “go after earmarks line by line”. I had presumed he meant he would cut earmarks, not sign them into law.

    The author’s narration is good, without being great. It is very clear, but (along with the writing) lacks intensity and strong emotion.

    Overall this book was barely worth the time.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By John Brockman
    • Narrated By David Colacci, Susan Ericksen
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (42)
    Performance
    (38)
    Story
    (38)

    Each year,John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, challenges some of the world's greatest scientists, artists, and philosophers to answer a provocative question crucial to our time. In 2014 he asked 175 brilliant minds to ponder: What scientific idea needs to be put aside in order to make room for new ideas to advance? The answers are as surprising as they are illuminating.

    Michael says: "3% Excellent"
    "3% Excellent"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book contains 175 answers to the 2014 Edge question “What scientific idea needs to be put aside in order to make room for new ideas to advance?” Answers vary from about a minute up to less than ten minutes and come from numerous scientific disciplines. There are ground-rules that the answers focus on ideas, not scientific rivals (but there are more than a few sharp yet well hidden personalized barbs). The quality, tone, approachability, and enjoyability of the writing varies over the 175 different writers. The essays vary from unbearably arrogant to lightheartedly humorous.

    There are many different ideas considered but most fall into a few themes; over simplifications, over generalizations, arbitrary categorizations, arcane ideas, & human exceptionalisms. Some essays are diametric opposites. The vast majority did not seem critical hindrances to scientific progress. A few that I felt were right on topic and among my favorites were Freeman Dyson’s on Collapse of the Wave Function and Max Tegmark’s on Infinity.

    There were a few essays that were, on their own, well worth my time, but most I found rather uninteresting. Yet many of the ideas that were proposed to die were various arbitrary categorizations, and although none of these alone would seem to hinder science in general, the apparently natural and ubiquitous predilection of the human mind to create such categories does seem to be responsible for much of the inertia in science. Academic debates can rage between experts for years about categorizations that later turn out to have been arbitrarily based. Categorization almost always hide details, yet real scientific advancement is almost always stimulated by a reexamination of the details. Overall this book got me thinking about the general concept of categorization in science and how such categorizations seem to give the illusion of knowledge while categorizations seem to actually stifle scientific progress.

    The narration is very clear. One humorous repeated narration mistake was pronouncing F=MA (Force equal Mass time Acceleration) as eff equals Ma (as in mother).

    Although I ended up appreciating experiencing this book, I hesitate to recommend it highly. It will not be for everyone and I am certain I will not listen to this book again.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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