1) Davies explains physics and philosophy better than any one,
2) The chapter on entropy is one of the best I've ever heard,
3) The philosophy of the approaches to science from atomism, reductionism and the teleologic of Aristotle is explained in accessible ways for the non-philosopher and are put in proper context,
4) Determinism and randomness of physics are completely explored and expertly explained,
5) Gives good explanation on chaos theory,
6) You will have learned something you didn't know by listening.
1) The book is dated. Originally published 1988. No Dark Energy. Inflation Theory becomes more developed after book is published,
2) His holistic approach is not believable to me,
3) He does not take evolution as a fact. Books by Dawkins, Robert Wright, and E.O. Wilson have drilled in to me that evolution is a fact,
4) When he speculates on what will possibly come to pass, it hasn't,
5) The process of formation of galaxies is much better understood today than when the book was originally published,
6) Hard to follow some of the math and charts while listening,
7) Very hard to follow his Cellular Automation explanation just by listening. Look up rule110 on wiki before listening and that will make it easier to follow.
Book is dated. He explains science and philosophy better than anyone. He has strong opinions for his pet theories, but he is incredibly fair and presents all sides. I love reading Paul Davies and I wish Audible had more of his books.
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.
History should be exciting. This book was not. It read as if it was a text book and all of the great stories that take place in this time period and the reason why it was so important for the reformation, enlightenment and today's times are not told within this book. Little context and no narrative is provided.
The author looks at each of the major Italian cities and describes them separately, then looks at some of the importance of painting, art and architecture of the period, and very little of the beginnings of the humanist thought or philosophy is presented in this book.
Don't get me wrong on this review. If you start the book, you'll probably finish it, but you will only be getting a text book like presentation of an incredibly exciting period of time and might be better served with another book on the topic which brings the history alive and would keep you on the edge of your seat the way such an exciting period of time should be told. History should be fun and this book wasn't.
The author captures the secular humanist changes within the society that have been happening to America with a particular emphasis of the recent past up to the beginning of 2012.
It's easy to say the author was slightly ahead of his time and foresaw the rapid changes that have happened since the publication of the book, and the changes have been even more dramatic after the book's publication. It's as if the author was writing a book about the financial crisis but published it in October 2008. He sees what was happening before it became real to everyone else.
The author puts the story in great context and tells you how the world is changing and how the secular humanist (and atheist) movement is winning and coming out of the closest unashamedly. Not too recently, and slightly before the book was published, the default position was to be in the closet with ones secular humanist beliefs and the media would assume that the religious perspective was the most right, he states. For example, the Mormons gave the bulk of the donations to Proposition 8 ('Prop Hate'), and they also said they would not support the Boy Scouts if they allowed gays. Times have changed. I suspect they would like to walk back those statements and positions and that's only since the book has been published (less than two years ago).
The book really gives a good snapshot of how times have been changing and lays the foundation for the understanding for how they will even change more. The author is never in your face, but states his positions as matter of facts.
BTW, I loved the fact that a woman reader read the parts of the book when a woman was being quoted. It allows me to follow the narrative even better.
I enjoy the author's approach to our deterministic universe and the perspective of free will with moral responsibility for our own actions. As always, the author is never in your face with his beliefs and practices the art of critical reasoning better than anyone. He puts others contrary viewpoints in their most effective forms and systematically shows why they are not right and are not as effective as they might seem at first glance, and then goes on to build a coherent consistent system.
For me, I enjoy the author's writing style, but I realize it can be dense for others and the author himself refers to some of his previous writing as "obscure and difficult". I guess I like obscure and difficult when I know at the end I'll understand the subject matter better than I have ever before.
He says that "if you make anything small enough than everything will be external". By making the role of the individual insignificant you will make free will outside of the person and free will belongs within us not outside of us. Also, he says that "we all want to be held accountable for our own actions", both at the individual and societal level. That makes free will within us.
As the author steps the reader through the development of freedom, he also gives the listener some of the best takes on why homo sapiens are so different from any other species known in the universe.
Most of what is in this book seems to be covered in his other books I've read, Consciousness, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and Intuition Pumps. For those who don't have the time to read those three books (2 of which are fairly long listens), this book would act as a great surrogate for them.
This book can be read without having read the first book in the series, and it gives a complete story in and of itself. Though I do recommend the first book too.
This is a particularly good book to listen to since it's read most splendidly by the male and female reader.
Great Fantasy must follow rules of logic. The first of these rules is that a thing must be true to itself, that the essence of the character is always there. In this case, for example, Kaladin might do stupid things, but you know he'll end up doing what's right. The fantasy must be consistent and must be coherent while it's keeping you on the edge of your chair waiting for the story to unfold. This story does that for the listener.
Another thing, a great Fantasy should do is make you think beyond the story at hand. Dalinar believes at one point that "God is Dead", but he knows if that is true one must still act as if God were still alive. Kaladin is defined by his brother (and "who is his brother", everyone in Bridge group 4 and than some!). The point is that good Fantasy makes you see beyond the story itself, and everyone who listens will be able to put their own spin on the story and will be richer for having listen to it.
The biggest thing not understood if one hasn't read the first book in the series is Kaladin's relationship to his brother defines who he is and why Kaladin is such a great character. The second book does tell the listener some of that back story but not all.
This is the perfect story to listen with ones spouse (much better than TV). My wife actively listens during Shallan's vignettes, I am on the edge of my listening sit during Kaladin's story. Together the story makes for a great "theater of the mind".
I did listen to the whole book. I regret that.
He quotes Darwin throughout the book to make some of his points about specialization due to human development. The real great thing about Darwin's book "Origin of Species" is the book is a guide book on how to use critical reasoning in the development of a controversial idea. The author violates all of the necessary steps in order to present an argument. He gives easily shot down straw-man arguments such as "Jared Diamond says that race plays no part in civilization's growth in the development of civilizations". Now, Diamond days say that but it doesn't mean his bigger theme is wrong, geography, plant growth, animal availability and so on doesn't make a difference while race might make a small contribution. (BTW, Diamond's book is much, much better than this one).
He stacks the deck in favor of his thesis. He defines his terms to most favor his argument. Genes and clusters on the genome can determine a person's "race" (I put it in quotes only because he uses that definition for race. That gives him the most flexibility to see the world in terms of race. Scots, Irish and French would fall under that definition as a race, but he doesn't explicitly refer to that subset as a race).
He tells a lot of "just so stories" of how the Leopard got his spots, or in this case why the Chinese is less tolerant than the English (an example he does give). He does hypothesize a really rapid change in our Genome and this leads to different institutions because of different behavior because of genetic differences between races.
Science uses induction to prove, that is going from the particular to the general, the author usually doesn't go from the particular to the general (read Darwin, on how to do that most marvelously). He usually goes from the general to the general thus thinking he's proved his point. He does use some particular data but he can do that poorly, once he said "200 people of Ashkenazim descent in a hospital in Israel have a genetic variant of one gene and 1/3 of them were engineers, scientist or lawyers" much higher than the general population. Wow, that statement by itself is not enough to show anything. His editor should not have allowed that in the book. It doesn't mean that the variant doesn't map to intelligence, but you need another set of data to demonstrate it.
He uses quotes frequently and excerpts from Thomas Sowell's platitudes to support his positions. Generalities in the form of platitudes prove nothing. Sowell is best left on the pages of the "Washington Times". He also quotes platitudes from Niall Ferguson on capitalism and how the West is superior to the East because of behavior due to our genetics thru race. If you want to write a serious book, don't quote Ferguson on economics (if you ever want to see why just read Paul Krugman's blog when he points out why Ferguson is out of his depth in the field of economics).
He does quote from Pinker's book, "Better Angels of our Nature", and says the Pinker was afraid to use race and stayed away from that as explanation. That's true, but if you read the book (and I have), Pinker doesn't shy away from a whole host of other reason beyond genetic differences which explains the decline of violence over time that have nothing to do with genetic differences due to race.
Darwin, in his book, would always word the counter argument to his thesis in the best terms possible before he shot it down. This author doesn't really bring up counter arguments. If you bring up intelligence between races, you should bring up the "Flynn Effect", the fact that IQs when normalized to 1916 have gone up over 15 points. Either we have gotten a lot smarter or there is something in the culture/environment that makes us perform better on test that measure our abstract reasoning or as the author would conclude our genes made us smarter. I don't have the answer, but I do know if I were writing a book to persuade the reader to my belief I would have mentioned items that seem to contradict my thesis. There were a lot of other points the author should have brought up in order to shot down, but he doesn't. I'm left to guess he really doesn't have a good counter argument?
It's a pity the author did such a poor job. There can be some merit to his thesis, but this book doesn't provide any support for it. Unfortunately, this book will appeal to some who aren't attuned to critical reasoning and prefer generalities and platitudes, and I highly don't recommend it.
Durant is history for those who do not like history. He covers the topic mostly by using a thematic approach tied with an overriding narrative.
It takes the author a while to get into his own voice, but when he does the book comes alive and the history and the wisdom of the Greeks will live within the listener. He muddles his way through the first six chapters by speculating about pre-Homeric Greece and than using Homer as an authoritative source for history. It's worth wading through those eight or so hours to get to the real story.
At about 700 BCE, he starts talking about Sparta and contrasting that with Athens, and the author develops his real theme, "individualism leads to the destruction of the group, but gives creativity and progress". This is when the book comes alive! Sparta gives perfect order, Athens gives birth to the individual's growth at some expense to the whole. This story is worth telling. The story of Greece is a metaphor for this dichotomy (Plato and the Cave verse Aristotle's knowledge through observation and the values from the individual).
In two different spots in the narrative the author clues you into this dichotomy. When he talks about the Book of Ezra and how the question of evil is answered by stating that a part of the universe can never understand the whole universe and the question should never even be asked. The second time within the book he delves into Epicurean thought and explains that for the Epicurean the individual is only part of the whole and the group must be made of the parts as contrasted with a Stoic Philosophy that the group is understandable by the individual.
The book is not without flaws. The first 8 or so hours is muddled and can easily be skipped. He spends way too much detail telling me about the Greek Plays. He makes weird statements like, "even the Jew, the least superstitious of all people uses the word Mazel tov when greeting people".
When the author writes in his own voice and ties the pieces together through his narrative, nobody covers history better. In the end, Greece with it's individual city states gave us our heritage of valuing individual thought and the Romans will give us their structure for appreciating social order. I'll be looking forward to listening to Durant's spin on the Romans and their History.
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