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Gary

Letting the rest of the world go by

Las Cruces, NM, United States | Member Since 2014

959
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 192 reviews
  • 215 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 10 purchased in 2015
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149

  • The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

    • UNABRIDGED (22 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Steven Pinker
    • Narrated By Victor Bevine
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (762)
    Performance
    (403)
    Story
    (401)

    In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits, denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts.

    Frank says: "Great book from an amazing polymath author"
    "Once again a Pinker book changed my world view."
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    The book really opened my eyes about how we learn and become who we are. I had previously just accepted the various interruptions of the the noble savage, the ghost in the machine and the blank slate. Pinker demolishes and demonstrates why those interruptions are misleading, and you will realize why Pinker is called one of the only linguists who can write in prose.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Steven Weinberg
    • Narrated By Tom Perkins
    Overall
    (5)
    Performance
    (5)
    Story
    (5)

    In this rich, irreverent, and compelling history, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg takes us across centuries, from ancient Miletus to medieval Baghdad and Oxford, from Plato's Academy and the Museum of Alexandria to the cathedral school of Chartres and the Royal Society of London. He shows that the scientists of ancient and medieval times not only did not understand what we understand about the world--they did not understand what there is to understand or how to understand it.

    Gary says: "How the world created a Newton"
    "How the world created a Newton"
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    The book listens like a series of lectures given to undergraduates (or maybe even graduates) in the liberal arts who want to understand how science developed and how we finally got to Newton. Newton changes everything, and the author will explain why the greatest book ever about the physical world is Newton's Principia ("Principles of Natural Philosophy"). The author outlines the steps that it took for the world to create a Newton. But just like in a college course you have to learn a lot of difficult things (which you'll quickly forget after the class) in order to understand the big picture.

    In the process of getting there the author will describe in detail the theories of the early thinkers. To get to that understanding the author steps the listener through the Early Greeks, the Hellenic Period, the great Islamic thinkers (and they were great!), and through Thomas Aquinas, and to the start of Modern Science.

    I now know in excruciatingly detail the wrong theories from the history of bad science such as the Ptolemaic system, the Aristotelian theory of motion, and Galileo's erroneous theory of tides. That's sort of a problem with this book. It's hard enough to keep today's less false theories about the world straight than it is to try to learn the fine points about the previously more false theories from the past.

    The biggest crack in the armor of superstitious thinking and absolute knowledge comes with Thomas Aquinas. He takes the theology of his time and uses the logical principles of Aristotle to support his faith. At first the Pope forbids that approach but then the next Pope commends the approach. Allowing the logic and the reason that Aristotle represents (but not quite allowing for empiricism), allows the West to create a Newton.

    The real theme of the book is along these lines: Plato is silly with his complete reliance on absolute knowledge; Aristotle puts science on the right path by categorizing the real world, but mars it with his final causes; Bacon's empiricism is still not relevant since he is striving for absolute knowledge by divorcing the individual from the world; Descartes's methods of thought leads no where, but his science (and math) are quite impressive; Galileo makes incredible strides but still doesn't realize the universe is not made up of mathematics, math is just a tool for understanding. Newton takes Kepler's empirically derived laws, idealizes them and derives them from first principles and shows how they can explain as well as describe.

    Science needs to be understood as studying the particular, contingent and probable, and it never proves anything it just makes statements less false and this book helps one understand how we finally got to this point and out of Plato's Cave.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Leaving Time

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Jodi Picoult
    • Narrated By Rebecca Lowman, Abigail Revasch, Kathe Mazur, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2813)
    Performance
    (2507)
    Story
    (2503)

    Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice's old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts. Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest.

    Jan says: "Pickiest Reader Would Be Willing to Give 6 Stars"
    "Elephants are fascinating!"
    Overall
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    I got to learn a lot about elephants with this book. They never forget and they care for their young and their dead . They probably have "theory of mind" and they wrestle with death (hey, they're just like us humans). I saw the elephants in the story as a character and mostly they just seemed to keep me interested in the story since they are so very interesting to learn about.

    The story itself is mostly about unfinished business the characters have and how sometimes we define ourselves by the mistakes we have made in life, both the psychic and detective need to rediscover their authentic selves before they can actualize their potentialities.

    With all that aside, I say this story mostly is a detective story (with some psychic twists) led by two flawed characters and a young girl in search of who she really is who all have unfinished business to take care of. For me, just an okay story but I would have been better served listening to a Dean Koonzt novel instead even if he doesn't teach me about elephants.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 - 1848

    • UNABRIDGED (32 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Daniel Walker Howe
    • Narrated By Patrick Cullen
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (529)
    Performance
    (321)
    Story
    (316)

    In this addition to the esteemed Oxford History of the United States series, historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the Battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, an era of revolutionary improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated America's expansion and prompted the rise of mass political parties.

    Amazon Customer says: "Excellent"
    "History is not just for those who live in the past"
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    I did not realize how interesting or nuanced American history was during this period of time. The author tells the history while never boring, but at times the players got more complex than any science book because the categories don't always neatly fit into today's way of thinking about things. There just too many good stories to be told and he tells them. The author gives the political top down story, but never forgetting the bottom up approach and looking at the individuals who make up the whole.

    The country was not a monolithic beast able to only hold one thought in its mind at a time. Even when we did wrong (slavery, Native American removal and extermination, women discrimination, wars of expansion, and so on), there were large undercurrents who spoke up against it.

    The real dichotomy throughout the book is the value of the individual as weighed against the good of the society as a whole. The characters and the stories being told never ceased to awe the listener. The author also really gave large sections on the history of religion at the time and why it was so important for the development of the country at that time. The Millennialism Movement was widely believed and contributed to the belief of American Exceptionalism and even helps pave the way for Abraham Lincoln. My only regret with the book, is he didn't take me all the way up to 1860.

    I would definitely recommend this book. The more we understand where we came from the more we can understand where we are going. There is a reason why some politicians want to end Advanced Placement History from high schools and not let students read books like this one. History does not always tell our story such that we are always exceptional, always in the right, or that we have a manifest destiny. History is much more nuanced (and interesting) than cable news, talk radio or some blogs would have you believe.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 18 mins)
    • By Yuval Noah Harari
    • Narrated By Derek Perkins
    Overall
    (89)
    Performance
    (76)
    Story
    (74)

    One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the Earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism?

    Gary says: "Masterpiece! Our myths make us who we are"
    "Masterpiece! Our myths make us who we are"
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    This book is a masterpiece. I feel fortunate that I discovered it before most other people. I discovered it by reading an extremely negative review for this book in the Wall Street Journal written by a historian. (In his defense, he just didn't understand that this is not a history book, and he had no idea what Harari is getting at).

    This book never stops in challenging my understanding of our place in the universe. What we believe in determines what we want to want. Sapiens are distinguished by our ability to believe in fictions. The cognitive revolutions starts with the first set of hypothetical stories we allow ourselves to believe in whether they are true or not. The real importance is that the family, kin, friends, and community share those beliefs.

    Our fictions allow us to cooperate. They gives us the imaginary order that is necessary for societies to act together. Corporations are not people, they do not exist in reality. One can not point to a corporation. It's not the buildings, or the executives or any other physical entities that make the corporation, but it is our belief that makes them real. The author notes that the word for corporation comes from the Latin, corpus, the same as in the body (corpus) of Christ within the transubstantiation.

    Religion gives us comfort from the absurd and comforts us to accept death. Science (and its offshoot, technology) does the opposite. It gives us knowledge leading to life extension and makes our time alive more comfortable. The Gilgamesh Project of life extension is a major character is this book.

    The myths we create can never be logically consistent without contradictions. Perfect liberty will always conflict with perfect equality. Knowledge about the real world can never be 'universal, necessary, and certain', but we only get glimpses of reality by considering the 'particular, contingent, and probable'. Our myths give us comfort and subjective well being, but they are never without contradictions.

    The acceptance of our myths give us our commonality. He'll even say that because of the myths we chose to believe in they determine our progress. When cultures (imaginary orders) collectively know Truth, they have no reason to proceed. Biology enables us, cultures forbid us. The most important words necessary for progress are "I don't know, but I want to find out". He connects Imperialism with Capitalism leading to seeking knowledge (and developing science). Only those who do not believe they know everything need to search.

    If I were to have ever written a book (which fortunately for the reading public, I save all my writing only for book reviews!) this is the book I would have written. I believe this will be a classic in the future and am glad I discovered it. The author has written this book to make sure we do everything in our power to understand that the things we belief in will determine who we will be going forward. The myths we chose to believe in will determine what we become.

    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 55 mins)
    • By Michael Shermer
    • Narrated By Michael Shermer, Melody Zownir
    Overall
    (33)
    Performance
    (30)
    Story
    (31)

    We are living in the most moral period of our species’ history. Best-selling author Michael Shermer’s most accomplished and ambitious book to date demonstrates how the scientific way of thinking has made people, and society as a whole, more moral. Ever since the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment thinkers consciously applied the methods of science to solve social and moral problems.

    Gary says: "Us is getting bigger, them is getting smaller"
    "Us is getting bigger, them is getting smaller"
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    This book tries to fill in some of the whys in Steven Pinker's book "Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined". The author starts off by defining morality as the "flourishing and surviving of sentient beings". It's not a perfect definition but in general the listener can latch on to it.

    The author does go beyond Pinker's book and tries to fill in more of the reasons why violence has declined by looking at the facts from a morality point of view. Shermer knows it is more profitable to realize that man is the measure of all things and that our values are not etched in stone and aren't externally given to people, but are derived by people.

    The continuous contextual approach (inductive) is almost always better than a binary, absolute approach (deductive). Using reason, science and observation can make us understand and appreciate the flourishing and surviving of others who aren't necessarily in our tribal group, be it kin, friend, community, or other self selected but always exclusionary group which divides 'us' from 'them' in some manner and leads to the widening of our moral sphere.

    He looks at how our moral sphere is constantly becoming more inclusive. Slavery is the ultimate us against them. The realization of the wrongness of slavery and its abolition was a slow continuous process. For those who derive their values from external sources, the revealed religion sources just get it wrong on slavery. He considers in detail the widening of the moral sphere for less misogynistic attitudes towards women, the slow process of no longer making gays the other and even considers some of the issues in speciesism (the author is a specieist, as I am too, but I understand the issues).

    It's hard for me not to fully embrace a book were I admire an author as much as I admire Michael Shermer, I read his articles frequently, I love his debates on the internet, he quotes accurately from Gene Rodenberry and Star Trek, he seems to love the same episodes of Twilight Zone that I do, and he quotes Michio Kaku extensively and other such things that I love too.

    But, he doesn't stick to the narrative and falls off the track. For example, I am not sure why he uses Piketty and his "Capital in the 21st Century" to try to refute Piketty's own thesis. Inequalities are real in the world (and within America) and have been getting worse. He seems to think corporations aren't a threat to moral development and represent moral good. For me, corporations are not people, and can be a force of bad. He had a lot of things like that in this book which only gets in the way of his own thesis.

    It's a minor thing, but I can't help myself. The author says "Alan Turing is agruably the most important man for the Allied's victory in WW II". Alan Turing is a hero of mine, but I don't think that statement is defensible. Betchley Park was a cooperative, and the Polish Mathematicians (God Bless the Poles!), cracked the enigma code first. For a marvelous audible book on the subject read, "Seizing the Enigma". Also, he states "most people agree that for WW I both sides are to blame". I would strongly recommend Max Hasting's recent book, "Catastrophe 1914" for a refutation of that statement.

    I would say, Pinker's book, "Better Angels of our Nature" is my favorite book. It opened my eyes to how the world has improved since the dawn of time and how our moral sphere keeps getting wider (less of us against them and more of us). Most of what is good in Shermer's book is in Pinker's book. I realize Pinker's book is very technical. This book is not. Even though the author does ramble (much like this book review!), this book is a fine substitute for Pinker's book for those who don't love sets of tables, long historical reviews, an author who keeps on his narrative and summaries of scientific papers.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Siddhartha

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By Hermann Hesse
    • Narrated By Firdous Bamji
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (654)
    Performance
    (432)
    Story
    (434)

    Siddhartha is Nobel Prize-winning author Hermann Hesse's most famous and influential work, a novel of self-exploration that will linger in your mind and spirit for a lifetime. A young man, blessed with loving parents and a safe home in a world where want and neglect abound, leaves this haven in search of himself.

    Ramanujam says: "Very Interesting to Listen"
    "There is no Eastern Solution"
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    One can either listen to a long boring Great Course Lecture series on Buddhism and Eastern Thought or one can listen to this fairly entertaining book and come away with the same depth of understanding on how the introspective path can lead towards enlightenment.

    The author clearly wants to share a reasonable interruption of Eastern Thought, and does it quite cleverly by looking at the life of one fictional person, Sidhartha, and how he learns enlightenment through his many phases of his life.

    In the end (for me) there is no Eastern Solution for enlightenment but I find the doubt from introspection to be much more worthwhile than the certainty that comes from the revealed religions of the West. I keep meaning to finish that Great Course Lecture I have, but just have never found the time. Perhaps this book will urge me towards that.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation

    • UNABRIDGED (24 hrs and 41 mins)
    • By Jennifer Michael Hecht
    • Narrated By Martha Harmon Pardee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (114)
    Performance
    (60)
    Story
    (63)

    Hecht champions doubt and questioning as one of the great and noble, if unheralded, intellectual traditions that distinguish the Western mind. From Socrates to Galileo and Darwin to Wittgenstein and Hawking, this is an account of the world's greatest intellectual virtuosos - who are also humanity's greatest doubters and disbelievers - and their attempts to reconcile the seeming meaninglessness of the universe with the human need for meaning.

    Darwin8u says: "Surveys doubt with amazing narrative skill"
    "The more you doubt, the more you want to know"
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    When one has certainty, there is no more room for further knowledge or understanding. Science and Reason never prove, at the most they can just show things to be less false than other things. There is a long history of people who haven't been certain and their story makes for a much more interesting revealing of human history than the ones who pretend to have no doubt.

    There are two recurring characters in this marvelous book about doubters throughout history, the Stoic, Cicero and his "On the Nature of the Gods", and the Epicurean, Lucretius, and his "On the Nature of Things". Both get major play in this book, firstly when they are introduced and secondly they keep popping up through the rest of the story because their influence with latter sages has been immense.

    Survey of philosophy books with their chronological presentation can often be dull since they lack a narrative to tie the story together. This book gives that necessary narrative and gives the listener a thread to understand the connections while telling a good story that includes snippets of world history, religion and summaries of what great doubters thought throughout the ages.

    The author gives enough of the major points and sometimes long quotations from the primary sources to make the book or person under consideration come alive and make the listener feel as if he understands the person who wrote it. For example, I now realize why I enjoy the book of Ecclesiastics so much more than any of the other books in the Bible (it's mostly a Epicurean type polemic on the meaning of life). Her considered amount of time she spends quoting Marcus Aurelius is well worth it for the listener. I've never found anyone who I tend to agree more with and would strongly recommend his "Meditations" which is available at audible, but it might not be necessary to read it if you listen to this book instead.

    The other thing to like about this book: she does not ignore the East at all. She gives them equal weight to the West throughout the text. Eastern Religions are fully explored since there is a much richer tradition of not being certain, "the more you doubt, the more you understand" would be a typical Eastern religion answer to the refutation of the certainty found in revealed religions.

    Overall, this book gives a great survey of doubt throughout the ages, with many synopsizes of great thinkers, and all within an overriding narrative tying all the pieces together. I would recommend this book for anyone who does not like to "pretend to know things that they do not know", and wants to understand the firm foundation that entails.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Evan Osnos
    • Narrated By Evan Osnos, George Backman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (255)
    Performance
    (224)
    Story
    (226)

    As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic, and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party’s struggle to retain control.

    Jeff says: "The Insider's Guide to Contemporary China!!"
    "Puts China into context for future understanding"
    Overall
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    The last ten years of China is told by mostly telling the stories through second person accounts of people the author has interviewed. He tells the story with three different perspectives at play, China's phenomena growth, the corruption and intimidation the government uses, and the third perspective of what the author refers to as faith, by that he means a belief in tradition and a distrust in the system working fairly for the individual.

    At first, I thought the author was giving too many second person accounts, but then I started to realize he really did have a central overriding narrative tying all the stories together in a cohesive whole. The concept of freethinking never seems to enter in his stories. Respect for authority and tradition usually seems to permeate all the stories.

    The book does seem very up to date and it seems that China (as represented by its Politburo) is trying to transition from an autocracy to an aristocracy. They are doing everything in their power to shut down free speech on the internet (e.g. banning the search on the word "The Truth"), sometimes their corrupt official defense is "they were sisters not twins", and a young child can grow up saying "I want to become a corrupt official".

    The second volume of "Political Order and Political Decay" made me realize how different China is from the rest of the world and how little I knew about what was going on today in China. I would recommend reading Fukuyama's book before reading this one.

    The book does a lot in bringing me up to speed on where China is today. I'm anxious to see what steps China takes in the future and because of this book I'll be able to put future articles in to their proper context.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity

    • ORIGINAL (24 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By The Great Courses
    • Narrated By Professor David Christian
    Overall
    (403)
    Performance
    (363)
    Story
    (360)

    How is it possible for the disciplines of cosmology, geology, anthropology, biology, and history to fit together? These 48 lectures answer that question by weaving a single story from accounts of the past developed by a variety of scholarly disciplines. The result is a story stretching from the origins of the universe to the present day and beyond, in which human history is seen as part of the history of our Earth and biosphere, and the Earth's history, in turn, is seen as part of the history of the universe.

    John P. Gillespie says: "The Big Picture of Big History"
    "All steps for apple pie making included"
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    This is the perfect reference guide for the transcendental non-material Artificial Intelligent machines of the future who want an apple pie since as Carl Sagan said "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe". All the steps necessary for making an apple pie are included in this lecture.

    This lecture is a really profitable way of looking at history. He uses certain themes to tie all of history together. Most of our way of thinking about our place in the universe has started with thinking that the way things are today is the way things have always been. Even Einstein accepted the static universe at one time. the originator of the continental drift was laughed at up till the 1960s, evolution today is denied by a large significant number of people, and so on.

    All of history can be tied together by many themes, there's a Recursive nature to processes, once an algorithm has been developed it can act on itself and give complexity and create things such as stars, solar systems and mufti-cellular life. From complexity we can get Emergent properties, characteristics that are part of the whole but could not be predicted from the parts. Think of the neurons in our brain. They give us consciousness. So, one can say the sum of the parts is greater than the whole since consciousness transcends individual neurons. The other theme is Entropy, useful energy only arises when there are differences within a system. When everything is the same, no exploitation is possible. This is true in the universe as the whole and true in the development of civilization or in capitalism. The Networking of complex systems make for better galaxies and better civilization. Our true strength as the most complex entities in the universe is our ability to Network and our advancements are based on developing ever better ways of communicating from the invention of symbolic communication (talking), through farming, living in cities and the development of the internet for sharing pictures of our cats.

    The lecture does a marvelous job at tying all the pieces of making an apple pie (or more properly, developing a great service like Audible) into a coherent whole. The lecture listens more like a book than a series of independent lectures since the lecturer never forgets his central narratives.

    Most of the audible books and Great Courses I listen to have covered the same topics as this lecture but did so in much more depth. So, therefore, most of this lecture seemed to be a review for me. I didn't mind that, because I need to hear the same thing presented in three different ways before I can fully understand it, and with that warning that this course could be mostly review for most people I can still highly recommend this course since he has such a good way of tying all the pieces together.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Barkeep

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By William Lashner
    • Narrated By Luke Daniels
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (218)
    Performance
    (190)
    Story
    (191)

    Justin Chase is the perfect barkeep, tending bar as he lives his life, in a state of Zen serenity, until Birdie Grackle, a foul-mouthed alcoholic, walks into his bar and makes a startling confession. Six years ago Justin’s life was ripped apart when he discovered his mother’s bludgeoned corpse. Now Justin’s father is serving a life sentence and Justin drowns his emotions in a pool of inner peace. But when Birdie claims he murdered Justin’s mother for cash, Justin is hurled back to the emotions, back to the past, and, most frightening of all, back to the father he tried to leave behind.

    Charles Atkinson says: "Pour me another!"
    "The Tao of Bartending and murder solving"
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    Story

    The mystery is given to the listener in the first few minutes of the story. A crazy sounding old man approaches the barkeep and tells him he killed his mother and his father is falsely imprisoned. The charm for the story lies elsewhere. The barkeep uses one book as his guide book, "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" and embraces the Tao of that book giving him a Zen like detachment from the rest of the world. The barkeep also keeps the code of the bartender and knows how to separate himself from patrons of the bar.

    There's a lot to like with this story: the dialog between characters was full of witty repartee, the code that any barkeep (or for that matter, any person) needs to keep ones distance from others, the process of discovery one learns about oneself while focusing outside of oneself , finding the actual murderer of the barkeeps mother, and the problem with detachment all add to a very fun story to listen to in spite of the serious nature of the crimes under investigation.

    I enjoyed the narrator. He gave voices to most of the characters, exaggerated voices and emotions, and really let the theater of my mind go to town. The author and the narrator made for a good diversion and helped me detach further from the world much in the same way that the barkeep was in the beginning of the story.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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