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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

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  • My Big TOE: Awakening

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Thomas W . Campbell
    • Narrated By Thomas W. Campbell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (45)
    Performance
    (43)
    Story
    (43)

    My Big TOE: Awakening, written by a nuclear physicist in the language of contemporary culture, unifies science and philosophy, physics and metaphysics, mind and matter, purpose and meaning, the normal and the paranormal. The entirety of human experience (mind, body, and spirit) including both our objective and subjective worlds is brought together under one seamless scientific understanding.

    Michael says: "What a Trip (but to where?)"
    "What a Trip (but to where?)"
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    This is a review of all three books. Sorry it is so long, but I care passionately about the search for truth and a book such as this should not be tossed aside lightly. It is quite long, promises much, and thus potential readers deserve a chance to understand the curiosities contained within before committing the many, many, hours it takes to properly digest this material.

    You can see figures from the book at http.://www.my-big-toe.com/uploads/MBT_Figures.pdf. This PDF was not provided on the Audible site but is on the author’s web site. A quick review of these will show how important the images are in understanding the material to come. You can read about the author’s first psi trips in Far Journeys at http://exopoliticshongkong.com/uploads/far_journeys.pdf.

    I don’t think it is fair that this book be placed under Science/Physics section along with so many other conformist books that are so narrowly focused on science in our physical universe. This should be placed with other mind-expanding works over in the New Age section.

    The author/narrator has a very personable, approachable and funny presentation. He presents himself as a no nonsense scientist who insists on hard evidence. Impressively, the author was taught his psi skills as a child by non-physical beings over a period of years until some non-physical uppity-ups, perhaps the entity he calls the “Big Cheese”, decided Campbell might be getting too weird, so a work-order was issued to close down his astral-projection portal. He forgot about this early psi training until many years later (apparently about the time he discovered people would pay good money to take classes in psi and out of body experiences). Since then he has engaged in much psi research and has quite a lot of scientific proof for spatial, temporal and trans-dimensional astral-projection as well as documented shared out of body experiences. I expect this will be peer reviewed sometime soon and appear in a major journal like Nature. Surely he will also demonstrate these skills to the Amazing Randi or another professional skeptic under carefully controlled conditions and finally put such doubts to rest forever. Unfortunately he finds due to “the common fact that some static or noise is usually on the line…there is often more confusion than clarity when comparing accounts…and it is often vague and unreliable…it does not transfer well to those who do not understand…”. Nevertheless it is comforting to know that tumors are very easily detectable and curable using psi powers, but, again unfortunately, only tumors diagnosed by psi are easily treated. Tumors with any non-psi objective physical evidence for existence (like medical test results or being seen or felt) are very difficult to treat. He is virtually always able to cure tumors with absolutely no physical evidence of existence. This is due to the Psi-Uncertainty Principle. This holds that confirmation of Psi techniques can only be made to small groups with high quality consciousness. Any experiment that could demonstrate Psi techniques to large numbers of low quality consciousnesses is prohibited as it would disturb the growth of those with lower level consciousnesses. Prohibited by whom? I presume the Big Cheese or AUO itself. Paraphrasing Campbell, I guess the proof of the Cool-Aid is only in the drinking.

    The presentation of his Theory of Everything starts by claiming that since causality must either be eternal or otherwise metaphysical in origin he must assume a metaphysical absolute undifferentiated oneness (AUO) without time or space which is the source of all reality and consciousness. Wow – what a huge and fascinating first assumption…I wonder where such an assumption might lead?

    Along with the AUO Campbell presumes a fundamental process of evolution. Does a “process” or “evolution” implicitly depend upon the notion of time? Apparently wondering such things makes me a close minded, conformist, jackass, (if you see me with this book you are advised to take it away).

    He then claims the goal of being is to decrease entropy and notes the second law of thermodynamics holds that entropy must always increase in a closed system. Now-a-days scientists believe the second “law” only holds when the starting condition is a low entropy state and one of the current issues in cosmology is to understand exactly why the universe seems to have started in such an incredibly low entropy state. Alas such thoughts are one of my dogmas that are likely to severely limit my spiritual growth.

    Time and then space develops as parts of the AUO cycle between differentiated and undifferentiated. Understanding how “parts” of an “absolute undifferentiated oneness” can differentiate then cycle without differentiation or time or space seems to be another of my limitations. I guess “timeless space less absolute undifferentiated oneness” doesn’t mean what I think it means. I did check the glossary of acronyms to no avail.

    Campbell goes on and on describing the nature of reality, AUM, PMR, NPMR, TBC, EBC, Belief Traps, Consciousness Quality, Fractal Reality, etc. Campbell indicates that all this is derived from his two simple and self-evident assumptions. I guess I will just have to take his word on that. I suspect this being clear would be a violation of the Psi-Uncertainty Principle.

    It is a bit surprising to me that with all the countless myriads of higher level physical and non-physical beings I would happen to get stuck on the very lowest level…What are the odds?….(well, just about zero, actually). It does concern me that Campbell’s TOE seems somewhat non-relativistic. It seems to place humans at the very bottom of a practically infinite cascade of higher levels with AUO at the top. Placing humankind at the bottom seems exactly as odd as placing humankind at the center or pinnacle of existence.

    About half way through the 35 hour trilogy it begins to become apparent that the promised Theory of Everything is not yet actually ready for prime time. It is only a meta-framework and actually connecting it to any other science will have to wait for other people, other books or another day. Campbell instead tells you what to do to evolve your, surely pitiful, little, low quality consciousness, into a really high quality consciousness like his, to gain really nifty psi powers like his, and to reduce your ego. I am sure the notes above will give you a clear indication of how significantly Campbell’s ego has been reduced.

    There are a few places that Campbell actually connects his TOE (slightly) with physical reality. Campbell indicates that time in our physical universe starts at t=0 and increments by delta-t (a huge multiple of the delta-t of AUM). This seems odd since in general relativity multiple observers can see the same set of events in different temporal orders. The Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle does not seem to infer a delta-t but instead a delta-something-else, where that something is related to time & energy or position & momentum. I think we should keep an open mind of this one, but perhaps Campbell can check in with the Big Cheese and see if there has been a booboo here.

    In the end, Campbell’s TOE is never tied into physical reality, there is no unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity, no quantum gravity, no resolution of dark matter and dark energy, no insight upon cosmic inflation, no insight regarding Bell’s Inequality, no reduction in the open parameters of QM. This is a very-stubbed-TOE. Campbell happily proclaims he has explained all of science with his very-stubbed-TOE and congratulates his readers for sticking with him to the end. He quotes Einstein many, many times. Perhaps this makes it science?

    I have friends that, using arguments with seeming equal validity to Campbell’s, would consider it a clear fact that Campbell’s benevolent seeming non-physical teachers are certainly demons sent by Satan to ensnare him, and through him, me & you! Clearly anyone with an open skeptical mind must be open to these two, equally likely, interpretations.

    I really can’t tell you how much I loved this book!

    1 of 2 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
    (818)
    Performance
    (511)
    Story
    (503)

    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.

    William says: "Good book, bad narrator"
    "Too Soon"
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    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.

    1 of 1 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
    (2465)
    Performance
    (1162)
    Story
    (1169)

    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"
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    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.

    3 of 3 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
    (694)
    Performance
    (281)
    Story
    (280)

    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"
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    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.

    3 of 3 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
    (85)
    Performance
    (73)
    Story
    (72)

    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"
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    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.

    4 of 4 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
    (133)
    Performance
    (113)
    Story
    (115)

    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.

    Thug4life says: "Love letter to Obama"
    "Luke Warm Believer"
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    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.

    1 of 1 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
    (30)
    Performance
    (28)
    Story
    (29)

    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"
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    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.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Nicholas Wade
    • Narrated By Alan Sklar
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (98)
    Performance
    (82)
    Story
    (85)

    Fewer ideas have been more toxic or harmful than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that humans of different races are biologically different from one another. For this understandable reason, the idea has been banished from polite academic conversation. Arguing that race is more than just a social construct can get a scholar run out of town, or at least off campus, on a rail. Human evolution, the consensus view insists, ended in prehistory. Inconveniently, as Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance, the consensus view cannot be right.

    Cassandra says: "Fascinating page-turner"
    "Troublesome Incoherence"
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    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).

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By Diane Ackerman
    • Narrated By Barbara Caruso
    Overall
    (10)
    Performance
    (9)
    Story
    (9)

    Our finest literary interpreter of science and nature, Diane Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place (for better and worse) in it.In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented fact that the human race is now the single dominant force of change on the planet. Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness."

    wbiro says: "Good Broad Introduction to 'Anthropocene Age'"
    "Pleasant Light Ramble, with an Unsettling Point"
    Overall
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    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Suki Kim
    • Narrated By Janet Song
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (139)
    Performance
    (119)
    Story
    (119)

    Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields - except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

    Chelsea Griffin says: "A revealing look into North Korea"
    "The King and I meets Mary Poppins"
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    Story

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Alan Lightman
    • Narrated By Bronson Pinchot
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (50)
    Performance
    (45)
    Story
    (45)

    With all the passion, curiosity, and precise yet lyrical prose that have marked his previous books, Alan Lightman here explores the emotional and philosophical questions raised by discoveries in science, focusing most intently on the human condition and the needs of humankind. He looks at the difficult dialogue between science and religion, the conflict between our human desire for permanence and the impermanence of nature, the possibility that our universe is simply an accident, the manner in which modern technology has separated us from direct experience of the world, and our resistance to the view that our bodies and minds can be explained by scientific logic and laws.

    Michael says: "Spiritual Atheist Laments"
    "Spiritual Atheist Laments"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    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."

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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