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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

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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
    (37)
    Performance
    (36)
    Story
    (36)

    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?)"
    Overall
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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 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"
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    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.

    1 of 1 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.

    1 of 1 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
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    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.

    2 of 2 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).

    1 of 2 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"
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    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.

    2 of 3 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.

    2 of 3 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.

    2 of 3 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.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Darkness at Noon

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Arthur Koestler
    • Narrated By Frank Muller
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (106)
    Performance
    (75)
    Story
    (76)

    A fictional portrayal of an aging revolutionary, this novel is a powerful commentary on the nightmare politics of the troubled 20th century. Born in Hungary in 1905, a defector from the Communist Party in 1938, and then arrested in both Spain and France for his political views, Arthur Koestler writes from a wealth of personal experience.

    Roy says: "Disturbing Commentary"
    "Darkly Uplifting"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    In one sense, this is just another dystopian novel about the historical abuses of the now defunct Soviet Union, in another sense; it describes the essential folly of man through the disillusioning of a true believer. The novel presents a believable character, a fearless communist intellectual that fought passionately for the cause and rose to the elite in the party, so far as to be colleges with Stalin. We watch as the protagonist’s friends do what is expedient by betraying him as the party devolves towards totalitarianism and barbarism.

    Although this is not a cheerful story I found it uplifting and strangely positive, as the protagonist cleanly faces the truth of the dark side of his friends and the communist movement. While reading Darkness at Noon I could not help but think that, although the Soviet Union is now defunct, the Soviet era totalitarians are still in control of Russia, and the lies and oppression continue. Just watch Russian News (RT) for a while and count the number of negative Putin stories (generally zero).

    The narration was excellent, matching the tone and spirit of the book remarkably well.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Sound and the Fury

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By William Faulkner
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (496)
    Performance
    (215)
    Story
    (214)

    First published in 1929, Faulkner created his "heart's darling", the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson, whose story Faulkner told through separate monologues by her three brothers: the idiot Benjy, the neurotic suicidal Quentin, and the monstrous Jason.

    W.Denis says: "Hang in"
    "Good, but no Ulysses"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The Sound and the Fury starts with a non-chronological stream of consciousness narrative from the point of view of a mentally challenged young boy. This part is a bit hard to follow the first time through and it really helps to read a synopsis (like the Wikipedia entry) before reading this section. Several printed version use italics to indicate the temporal shifts, which are hard to catch in the audio version. At times the prose rise to the level of greatness, but this is not so for of most of the writing. I found the stream of consciousness writing in the first section much less effective (and less enjoyable) than the narration in James Joyce’s Ulysses (which predated The Sound and the Fury by nearly a decade). Here the stream of consciousness, at times, seems inconsistent with the mental capabilities of character, and is subtly broken when the story demands clarity.

    Other sections use other narration styles and are more story like. The novel tells a story that rings true, but is unpleasant and unaffirming. This is a story of the slow decay of an upper class southern family and includes demeaning portrayals of black servants, anti-Semitism, and other politically incorrect material.

    This novel has some moments of excellent writing, and has some elements that were (almost) revolutionary at the time of publication, yet I found this overall a good, not great read.

    This version does not include the appendix covering the fictional family’s history that is included in many later print versions.

    Grover Gardner’s narration (as usual) is excellent, particularly considering the challenging material.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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