The author starts his story with the return of the POWs from Vietnam and ends it with the nomination of Gerald Ford at the Republican Convention. As we're living life and experiencing it as it's happening we don't have the time to put the events into proper context and give it a narrative to tie the pieces together. This is were the author excels. He gives the listener the context and a narrative to tie the story together in a coherent way and enables the listener to understand what was really going on in a big picture kind of way.
The author is expert at not missing any detail or major pop cultural event and weaving it into his framework. "Happy Days", "The Exorcist", "Nashville" the movie, as well as "Convey" the song are all tied into his story and almost any other event those of us who lived through this time period might remember. Often, as we were living the events during the time period, only part of the story was fully told (e.g. "The Mayaguez" ship, Richard Welch, CIA agent killed, Patty Hearst, and so on) and the author gives us "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say and does in the book. The author doesn't miss a story that shaped who we are and how they lead to the rise of Reagan.
Reagan's worldview and how the world was changing is at the heart of the book. The author is always aware of his narrative that Reagan is always optimistic, believes if America has done it, by definition it can't be wrong, and "God put America here because we are exceptional", seeing the world in two parts: good and evil, and so on. This is why the book works so well. Every event is seen through the central narrative on how Reagan sees the world.
I loved relearning these events and putting them into their proper historical context after all of these years and with the perspective of history and hindsight.
A linear detailed presentation of a bunch of Roman Emperors and wannabe emperors after the reign of Marcus Aurelius for which you most likely have never heard of. There's no doubt Gibbon writes better than almost anyone ("all the German men were brave, and their women were chaste, and notwithstanding the latter of these virtues is acquired and preserved with much more difficulty than the former"), but there is a reason why the emperors after 150 AD to 300 AD are so little known today and are best just a footnote instead of the main story of a history.
Read at your own risk. Beautifully written, but comprehensive to the point of tedium. Beautifully read by narrator, but doesn't change the fact that the story leaves little impression with the listener.
There is no refutation for the standard proofs of supernatural or magical thinking mumbo jumbo that this book doesn't address. Usually, if you watch a debate on youtube for the proof of God and the person's specific religion all the arguments follow the same six forms: design and teleological, first cause, morality, ontological, purpose of life, and proof of the resurrection. This book leaves no stone unturned and provides a scientific basis and explanation for all supernatural phenomena and the standard proofs of magical thinking. We never appeal to the supernatural anywhere else is life, why make an exception for the unknown?
The author is actually very gentle as he dismantles each argument. The book is really encyclopedic in its presentation, but he lets his arguments flow into the next such that the listener thinks he's listening to one thematically tied together story with an easy to understand narrative and not realizing the encyclopedic nature of the story. He's not really an expert on most of the topics he's discussing but he does a great job in explaining everything, but sometimes he lacks depth.
Science is hard. Religion is easy. Science must always deal with doubt and probabilities. Religion has no doubts. (Scientific) Truth is only a probability. The best we can do is have a 'corresponding theory of truth" and if our theories correspond to reality we use them, when they don't we modify or get better ones. He correctly points out the facts of evolution existed before Darwin and the Theory of Evolution is the model that goes about explaining the data better than any other model before it. Even if the model gets rejected there are still the facts of Evolution. They will always exist.
He does give the listener many interesting ways of thinking about science and religion and can convince any serious listener that the world can be explained with naturalistic means. He makes many insightful points and almost every reader will profit from reading (or listening) to this book. He defines a "hard atheist" as someone who doesn't believe in any of the currently known God(s). Thus not necessarily rejecting all supernatural explanations. I think that's a good way of framing the problem. It's easy to reject all the currently known God(s), but perhaps a good supernatural explanation will come along (something coherent, consistent, and non-contradictory), and moreover will have an iota of data or theory to support it. The theory of atoms came before ever seeing one, but the coiner of the word "quanta" and real developer of the second law of thermodynamics, Ludwig Boltzman, was driven to suicide because his correct ideas were rejected by the establishment. I'm not willing to reject any reasonable theory about a God or a supernatural entity. I just haven't come across a reasonable theory as of yet.
I liked the book and I can recommend it. It's a good book for a religious person who is starting to question non-naturalistic explanations. The only real problem is the author covers everything but he doesn't ever get to cover anything in depth and gives it the nuance that the topic requires. For example, he does talk about the Historicity of the Resurrection and does a good job, but, Bart Ehrman's latest book covers it in much more detail and gives the nuances that's required to understand the real issues. Matter of fact, if I were to recommend one book to help someone deconvert from Christainity it would be to read Bart Ehrman's book, "How Jesus Became God", it can open ones eyes to what it means when someone says "the bible says". Or if someone's faith was tied up in the truth of The Theory of Evolution, I would recommend Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", it gives a complete story on why Evolution Theory is correct and how to think about science.
In a lot of ways this book is the summation of the 100 plus science, evolution, and philosophy books I've read over the last three years. To understand our place in the universe the author asserts you must let the "physical facts fit the facts". No need to assume any items not in evidence. We don't any where else in life except in the spiritual realm and so why should we accept those premises while thinking about the universe.
To understand the universe and our place in it one most first understand the second law of thermodynamics and the author does a wonderful job in explaining it and why it is so special. He then gives a detail explanation for why evolution through natural selection can explain the world and why we exist in contrast to Kant's assertion "that there will never be an Newton for a blade of grass".
The author attacks the theory of mind by explaining how are thoughts are not real and our introspection are at most just a model we play with but gives us great evolutionary advantage. He's really getting at attacking Descarte's "cogito ergo sum", "I think therefore I am" and Descartes' homunculus or Lebnitz's monads are not facts necessary for understanding the world. He embraces 'scientism' and he convinced me not to run away from the word. He's right on consciousness but sometimes I don't says it as well as Daniel Dennett does.
He also embraces 'nice nihilism', but I would not because there is really too much preexisting baggage with the word 'nihilism'. The author also gives many statements for which I disagreed with. For example, I don't think "history is Bunk with a capital B" (that is a direct quote). The author would probably agree with Protagoras that "man is the measure of all things" and since who we are can explain why we are I'm not too quick to dismiss history. I think he's really getting at the teleology historical approach that Hegel or Toynbee would bring (he mentioned Toynbee but doesn't elaborate). He also seems to dismiss economics. I would recommend Picketty's book "Capital in the 21st Century" for why I would not reject economics so quickly as the author does. He fumbles somewhat in explaining consciousness and Dennett does a better job by describing our consciousness as the final draft of an ever changing edit that is only captured when we speak the thought or think it actively. The author is right consciousness is an illusion, but it's an illusion we accept. And does everyone who has depression really need to take Prosaic? as the author suggest.
Dennett's books "Consciousness Explained", "Darwin's Dangerous Ideas", and "Freewill" cover the same topics as this short book, but I'm always reluctant to recommend Dennett because he can be dense reading for others but I do love him so. Dennett explains almost every concept within this book, but he does it much better and more nuanced.
Overall a very good book, but I really would recommend Dennett instead.
The author could be right, advanced AI could be the final step for humans and can lead to our own extinction, but the author deals mostly in speculation and never gives us a firm foundation for why that will happen. He does mention Alan Turing and the cracking of the enigma code in WW II. The story is much more nuanced than he lets on in this book and for anyone interested, I would highly recommend "Seizing the Enigma" available at audible (Polish Mathematicians had a large role in cracking the code too! as well as many, many others).
The author would have been better served by just slightly changing his story, adding a narrative, and writing himself a fairly good science fiction story instead.
I'm not minimizing the potential seriousness that transcending the singularity can portend for us humans, but unfortunately this book does not make a convincing case.
This book reads like a science book and I kept listening with my full attention. I found myself replaying segments multiple times because I really wanted to know what the author was saying. The author does three things to set up his thesis, he tells the listener 1) how a person would have historically thought about the terms used such as "Son of Man" and "Son of God" at the times of Jesus, 2) how the new testament evolved historically and how thought from 30 to 100 CE evolved, and 3) the way a historian would answer the problem without appealing to the supernatural and would go about understanding the problem.
There are at least four other ways the author could have explained how Jesus became to be thought of as a God and do appeal to the supernatural or are purely speculative 1) assume Jesus had an identical twin and use that to explain the Resurrection, 2) assume ancient astronauts visited Nazareth and gave Jesus powers for which would be seen as indistinguishable from Magic (see Clarke's Third Law), 3) allow for Eternal Recurrence with a time loop to be circumvented after the singularity is created or better yet appeal to Hugh Everett III's parallel universes (see a good time travel story like "Thrice upon a Time, by Hogan and available on Audible or read Nietzsche), or 4) assume the New Testament and the Old Testament are all written directly by God and his inspired agents on earth and the final form of the book is the intended inerrant book.
The author takes the incredibly different perspective to the problem and uses the methodologies of history instead! He answers the problem by not needlessly assuming unnecessary things and by applying Occam's Razor and considers the historical record by looking at the way things are known to have happened historically and not once appealing to the supernatural or assuming inerrancy that is never used anywhere else in the study of history (or for that matter in any known branch of science or anywhere else in life).
I enjoyed this book very much and know that this kind of approach is the only way to study historical events. After having had read this book, it's clear to me that existence preceded essence in this case and the best way to think about the issue is to have realized that "Jesus became God" as the title states.
I really wish this book had been available many years ago. It would have saved me many years of unnecessary thought and would have guided me in my bible studies. A historian will never appeal to the supernatural in order to explain, and he had no need for such explanations to tell his story.
The author tells the story through the lens of American politics from Jimmy Carter up to the first term of Barack Obama. It's a history that I'm glad I read. Most of life is spent reacting to the events of the day but never having the time to put the events in the context that they belong. The book gives the reader the context (through the filter of politics and historical perspective) on the influence of Evangelicals (mostly from the Right) . The author reminds me of the beginning of the period with statements by people like Jerry Falwell saying things like "God does not hear the prayers of the Jew". That's what passed for critical thinking in those days. I had forgotten about the "Satanic Panic" and false accusations based on 'recovered memories' popularized by TV personalities such as Geraldo Rivera and Oprah Winfrey. I forgotten how influential the Evangelical Right was in those days.
I don't know why the author stops the story so abruptly at 2012 even though the book seemed to have been published in 2014. A more interesting story could have been told by looking at the waning of the influence of the Evangelical Right over the last 2 years.
The author, in a scholarly way, puts all of the events of the time period into their overall context and tells a fairly interesting story that should not be forgotten.
I see most people seem to rate this book very highly. I don't and found the book a tough listen. I give the author kudos for presenting one of the best peeks into the start of the Renaissance at least from a mostly French perspective. A historian sometimes needs to tell a story in addition to presenting details. When this author is telling me about the bubonic plague or the schism within the Catholic church, she was holding my interest and keeping me on the edge of the seat. Unfortunately, that kind of story telling didn't happen that frequently in this book. I thought Simon Schama's 'History of Britain Vol I' covered the Renaissance (from the British perspective) much better because he never let the history get in the way of good story telling. Sometimes it makes for a better story when you leave things out and look at the big picture instead.
The author writes an accessible book for the non-expert while never talking down to the listener who really wants to understand the working of the mind. He has a narrative that ties all of the pieces of the book together that current humans are always using their brain, and when we are not thinking about physical or abstract objects directly and our mind is at rest we are 'mentalizing', that is, we are thinking about ourselves and our interactions with others leading to the almost unique human capability of "theory of mind".
He never strays from the facts and will give the details surrounding all of the science (including some of his own experiments). He delves in to the details about mirror neurons and what they mean, contrasts that with how we constantly mentalize our social world and connects some potential dots to autism while never getting ahead of the known data. He presents all the necessary nuances necessary to understand the problem and leaves the listener realizing that the problem is much more complicated than simple a simple yes or no answer.
I know I see the social world and its role in learning much differently than the author. That for me made for a better book. For example, the author at the end of the book would say that he didn't like history as taught in school. He likes the 'how and why' more than the 'what' (objective facts). He would teach by keeping the student more grounded in the narrative of history, for example.
Some people, like me much prefer facts and like history as it was taught in school and like tying them together abstractly and analytically, and it will be people like me who would tend to prefer this nicely written book because he does stick to objective facts while tying them together through abstract relationships.
In the whole, the author does a very good job of defending his thesis that the brain and all of its pieces are wired to make us humans function the most effectively in a social world. Empathy is one of the hallmarks in our humanity.
The author's make-believe take on the East excludes India, barely mentioned, and China and Japan, mentioned even less. By the East he means the Persian Empire and the Islamic middle east. He has a fantasy that the history of the world can be described by the "battle line drawn" between Europe and the East over 2300 years ago.
The author is never at a wont for describing the East in generic negative terms. I'll bet he referred to directly or quoted others that the East is "feminine" more than 10 times. What does it mean when a culture is feminine? He never tells me, but he clearly uses that as a negative trait. Besides, why would it be bad for a culture to be feminine or good if it were masculine? The East, according to him (or the ones he quotes favorably) are lover of boys and are disordered and not for liberty. Even when he talks about the advances made under Islamic civilizations during the West's dark ages, he just dismisses them by saying since they were ruled by such disordered leaders there indigenous populations got to flourish because they were poorly led and got to be themselves because of the poor leadership, whatever.
Western Civilization History is usually told by looking within and very little of the between is told. The author does tell the story by focusing only on the between providing the listener with insights into the development of the West which is not usually told in such great detail in survey of history books. That's the feature of the book I liked and it's why I tolerated the author's comic book characterizations of the "East", but in the end his characterizations of Persia and Islam sounded like the pigs in Animal farm repeating a mantra over and over that "four legs good, two legs bad" or in his case "Western Christians good, East Muslim bad".
Life is too short to read books that have such an obvious silly take on world history and I would recommend a good book on World History instead such as "The History of the World" by Roberts instead of this comic book characterization.
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