The book gave me more reasons why humans are different from anything else known in the universe and how we got that way.
I've been looking for a book like this one which takes all the anomalies and traumas that have happened to individuals and weaves them all together in a coherent story about how our mind works and doesn't work. The mind is a wonderful thing to understand and this book goes a long way in helping me understand it.
The author has one of the best droll sense of humors I have ever come across while listening and he made me laugh out loud multiple times. The narrator really knew how to add the proper amount of drollness and added to the experience.
This is one of the few books where I lost something by listening instead of reading. I would get confused when he talked about some of the illustrations of the optical illusions under discussion and when he talks and names different areas of the brain, I would get lost and forget which region does what. Overall, even if I had read the book with the maps of the brain, I wouldn't have followed the names of the regions of the brain, but be warned, it does get very confusing while listening.
The author tells the story in three acts: the discovery of the tablets, the unsung heroine, Alice Kober, striving to crack the code, and the actual code cracker Michael Ventris.
There's so much of human nature tied up in this story. You have the discover of the tablets, Arthur Evans, not wanting to share the tables as a whole and wants to keep them as esoterica for his own attempts at solving them. The story of the obsession and logical approach that Alice employs is inspiring and is tinged always with the fact that we the listener knows she will be dying soon.
This story completely held my interest and my mind did not wander while listening, because I was riveted by the details and the process. As the author kept explaining the task at hand I saw the main story as a metaphor for how we learn in life. There's two kinds of approaches to learning (cracking the code of nature), one is deductive (reason) and the other inductive (empirical). To crack the code it first took faith in a deductive approach and certain assumptions needed to be made. But reason alone was not going to crack the code. That's why so many crackpots kept showing up in this story. Coherent stories explaining nature can be told, but coherence alone is not a sufficient condition to explain nature, but coherence is a necessary condition to explain. The crack-pots and amateurs used coherence but not a consistent solution corresponding to reality. The code cracking needed knowledge beyond the tablets themselves for the ultimate decipherment.
The topic is exciting, well explained and the main character and the process they used were inspiring.
Everything I thought I knew about The Great War was wrong. This book has set me straight. The author writes a book with attitude and has the goal of destroying the myths about the starting of the war and correcting the lies about the war and explaining why it was important in its day and is still relevant for understanding today.
I always thought that "both sides were to blame", and that the sacrifices the triple entente (France, Britain, and Russia) made did not justify the cause. I was wrong. The author lays out the case on how the Germans are to blame with their blank check, their invading neutral Belgium and the Austrians with their wanting to punish all of Serbia for the actions of one teenager, Princip for the assassination for an Archduke that most of his fellow countrymen didn't even care for. The author states that "it's really not that complicated, July 23, 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia, the next day Russian responded", and so on. The book is much more nuanced than that one sentence indicates, but he makes clear Germany wanted war and they made it happen. So, that they could gain complete Hegemony of Europe and impose their will.
Also, the author points out that Germany didn't really play by the rules of the game and by orders of magnitude were more servere and, for example, were more likely to kill civilians who were taken hostage and commit multiple other atrocities and did the acts by orders from their hierarchical chain of command in contrast to the Allies who would have do such things only by rogue actions. Another strong argument the author makes is that German Hegemony of Europe would have had dire consequences going forward the rest of the world.
The author did quote the magazine "The Economist" twice. Once was how Serbia wasn't worth Britain's trouble and another how an early negotiated peace should be attempted. It's nice to see that "The Economist" is just as wrong today as they were 100 years ago.
There was another similar thing the author kept bringing home. The Germans after the war kept building up a denier mythology about the war: "if only they had more men", or "if that general had fought harder" Germany would have won the war. That kind of denier mentality is most certainly not true.
The book gave me an interesting trivia question, "what do Ronald Coleman, Herbert Marshall, Claude Rains, and Basil Rathbone all have in common?". Answer: besides being four of my most favorite actors they were all in the same regiment in Belgium during the first year of the war.
Overall, the book is necessary reading for understanding about the war and why it matters today and at the least might destroy a falsehood or two one might have about it.
I would recommend this audiobook more than any other audiobook that I've listened to for someone who is thinking about signing up for audible for the first time and using their free credit, because this performance highlights more than any other why I love audible. The narrator makes the story come alive by his choice for voices and inflections and at times when I reflect upon the book, I'm not sure if I was watching a movie of the book or had been listening to the book since the narrator is as good as the writer (good job! David Pittu) at setting the imagination on fire.
The first half of the book is driven by the character who never speaks, "The Goldfinch". The listener is at all times aware of the character who does not speak and is in on the secret that all listeners of the book are aware of. This alone keeps the listener hooked to the story.
At the heart of the story is the story of a friendship between two very flawed characters from the age of 13 onward. Each are corrupt characters but need each other to see the truths that surround them.
I can really appreciate the author for another reason. She's dealing with universal truths that the smart listener can pick up on, but for the non-smart listener like me, she explains the points that should have been learned from the book by stating them explicitly in the last parts of the book. I would even say the author is a Hegelian and thinks understanding comes about from the knowing the whole (meaningless digression: when her character talks about "The Goldfinch" and what it means to understand art, she is also allowing her character to explain why literature is another gateway for universal truth, the whole must be understood to understand the pieces (very Hegel like). I prefer non-fiction and its Aristotelian linear fact based approach for understanding the pieces that lead to the whole, but I know Newton is a counter example when he takes the works of Galileo and Copernicus and made an Ideal out of their facts. That's what this author does and I can appreciate the lessons learned in this book; end of meaningless digression).
This book transcends mere fiction by becoming literature, because the author had some truths about being human to make and luckily for me she explains them so that all listeners can understand them. She even has her main character tell the listener "That our secrets determine who we are" and what is meant by that and why art (and literature) is necessary for seeing those kinds of truths.
I would highly recommend this book to anybody who is thinking about signing up for audible with a free credit. This book has depth and would not always be apparent to a reader of the book but is present in the audiobook since the narrator provides subtlety to the characters and the narrative that a reader will often miss. An audible book like this shows why audiobooks can be more rewarding than actually reading.
Life is robust and its neutral states provide for easier suitability for overall fitness within environments leading to the fittest set of genes. Yes, that sentence is a mouthful but the author will step you through all of the steps necessary for understanding what is meant by it.
The author looks at life from its beginning to today mostly at the genotype and the resulting phenotype level. The going does get tough at times, but the author is very good at stepping the listener through. He states the two key components of life are its universal currency of energy, ATP, and the Universal Genetic Code, DNA and/or RNA.
He never misses sharing a good example while explaining the complex nature of amino acids, proteins, and metabolisms (5000 known). I didn't know dogs can synthesize vitamin C and humans can't. We need 13 vitamins, there are 20 amino acids making up the proteins we need, the body can synthesize 12 of them but needs 8 from our food sources and so on. I did not realize there were so many cool things to know about bacteria until he explained how they exchange genes and reproduce. Interesting stuff.
His professional work is in analyzing the movement necessary for viable genomes giving workable phenotypes through large scale computer modeling. He talks about this hyperspace of almost all potential combinations and how the process of evolution can move towards only viable solutions to biological configurations thus leading to the fittest.
There's definitely enough interesting things in this book to hook the average listener. His discussions on hyperspace and his computer work can get detailed, but he gives plenty of interesting discussions on many related topics making this book an interesting read.
Algorithms are a systematic set of rules for handling complex processes often using a recursive methodology (the routine calls itself). The author doesn't really define algorithm this way but he mostly appeals to examples that involve pattern recognition or some kind of sorting of subsets into their most common elements and associates the correlations between those subsets.
He gives good examples on the state of algorithms in use today and how they aid us in our decision making (just think Google's search engine). He gives an example how the programmers got it wrong in creating an algorithm for social aid in Colorado. The program thought only homeless people deserved medical coverage for the poor and other such poor interruptions of policy.
The author seems to think that "human intuition" can trump an algorithm. That just seems too naive and his examples in the book were never really convincing. Poor programming of misunderstood policy will lead to bad results, but the algorithm can be improved. A good algorithm can save lives and make better decisions (often with human interaction).
Google knows what I want to search for before I do, and Amazon recommends books better than I can, their algorithms are very good. Humans have there place with their intuitions, but a good tool can be a priceless aid. They're not perfect, but they continually get better. Watson beat the best Jeopardy contestants in the country using its algorithm. As Ken Jennings said "I, for one, welcome our computer overlords" as he answered the final question while losing badly.
A book about Algorithms should be keeping the listener on the edge of his seat. This book did no such thing. There wasn't really one thing in the book that I didn't already know (I lie. Will Smith uses patterns of recent Hollywood Blockbusters to determine his next movie is something I did not know. I don't care for Hollywood Blockbusters and that fact had escaped me).
If you have any interest in Algorithms (and who among us doesn't?), I would recommend one of these three recent Audbile books that I have listen to instead, "Dataclysm", a book on big data, and big data allows for the pattern recognition and sorting that's mentioned in this book; "The Second Machine Age", tells what's really going on with algorithms now and how society is changing because of it; and one of my favorites, "Superintelligence", tells where we will end up because of the recursive algorithm.
This book is my favorite book I've listened to all year. Most books I listen to are because I want to find our place in the universe and how we got where we are. This book does that better than any book I've listened to this year.
The author ties the pieces of the history covered together as a coherent whole. The period of time covered is from about 330 AD (Constantin's son) to about 1315 (Dante), and makes the listener understand how the events led to the making of Modern Europe and explains how we get where we are thus adding to my understanding about our place in the universe.
Most books that mention the Islamic Civilizations from 650 AD to 1300 just give comic book like characterizations. This book does not. He tells the story by first telling the story of the early Christian Church in ways which the reader can understand. I had earlier read an audible book called "Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years". I couldn't follow it, too many 'isms' unless you're an expert. Durant is expert at stepping the reader through. One thing I always like to focus on is the development of the Trinity and how it is ultimately resolved. This book shed light on that for me, for example.
I learned even more about Christianity and what they believe in and why by listening to the sections on Islam and Judaism. The author explains by comparing and contrasting between the religions (including paganism), and explaining clearly while looking within a religion.
The author has a couple of narratives that he uses to tie the book together. Perfect order leads to no liberty, tolerance of others beliefs can not exist under absolute certainty, and the part can not understand the whole.
The second half of the book covers from Charlemagne to the Italian Renaissance, which compares and contrast the progress in Western Civilization with the Islamic Civilization. The author does step away from his formula that he used in his first two Volumes. He uses a chronological approach and looks at subsets of natural entities within Europe and is less thematic than he was in his first two volumes. This allows him to be redundant and tell the same story in different places allowing the listener to relearn what he probably didn't catch the first time.
He'll spend a long time on Peter Abelard (1140 AD) which leads to a long section on Thomas Aquinas. Both allow the crack of reason into the magistracy of Faith. Once reason is permitted the relationship between man and the church will change. The Islamic civilization (at this time period) allowed theology to trump philosophy. In the end, Christian Western Europe allowed philosophy to coexist and will ultimately lead to the "Age of Reason".
As I was listening to the second half, I realized that the main character who had not been properly introduced was Dante, but he kept being mentioned. During the story, I ended up buying "Dante's Inferno", because the author would always include Dante way before he was to pop up in the story as a main character, and talks about Dante's Comedy in the final hour of the book and why it is a summary of the whole "Age of Faith". (I also bought a cheap Historical Atlas in order to follow the places better).
People, in general, avoid this period of history because it can be complex and is often thought of has not relevant to today. They are wrong, and I would strongly recommend this book.
This book is biography for how we got to the current internet age and all the major steps that took to get there. The author starts the story with Lady Ada Loveless and Charles Babbage's analytical machine up to the development of the internet. That's the problem. There's just too many good stories to tell and the author seldom gets into the nuts and bolts of the story leading the listener wanting more.
As in any good narrative of a biography there needs to be some themes that tie the stories together. The author pretty much tries to tie his story together with a couple of themes, "execution trumps creativity" and "cooperation leads to creation".
In general, biographies don't excite me. They deal with personalities and superficiality. The author's biography on Einstein is the one exception. The author not only taught me about Einstein the man, but what his work was all about. He explained the physics (in that biography) even better than Brian Greene does when he was talking about how Brian Greene explained the physics. Unfortunately, in this book the author seldom gets into details. A couple times he did get into the weeds. His section on Lady Loveless was marvelous and she becomes a recurring character in the book. I only wish he had explained what all the other characters were creating instead of what they did.
I think there are much better books out there that cover the same kind of material better and I would recommend them instead. I would start off with the wonderful book "The Master Switch" by Tim Wu. It delves into why Google is so important and how it got that way much better than this book does.
In general, I much prefer nonfiction books because they make you understand each of the pieces that go into the whole system in order to understand the big picture. This book is better than nonfiction because it makes you understand holistically in order understand the pieces.
Ostensibly, this book is about a concierge in a fancy condominium in Paris hiding her intellectual true nature in order to blend in as invisibly as possible. The real theme of the book is along the lines of "is there meaning to life or are we just an accident of the universe". The author brilliantly interjects philosophical lines of thought into the story by clever interactions with the characters and some digressions. The ending surprised me, and not to give a spoiler of any kind, after having listened to it, I realized that was the only ending possible.
I need to broaden my horizon and stop listening to mostly just science, technology, history and philosophy books, and find more books as good as this one because they challenge the listener even more while simultaneously elucidating the listener.
It's our curiosity that drives us. Our curiosity is the best refutation to the Myth of Sisyphus and to what is the purpose of life. Our curiosity makes us different from all other animals and it keeps us engaged. Sometimes our purpose in life can be as mundane as the conclusion to your favorite comic book serial or as complex as to knowing if the discovery of the Higgs boson implies that the multiverse is real? We just have to know the answer or to better understand the question.
This book steps the listener through all of the steps needed for understanding about curiosity. Puzzles are questions with answers and they are the stepping stones to mysterious which sometimes lack answers to things which may not be knowable. Knowledge must first have a foundation from which to build from. The harder it takes to learn something the more likely that knowledge will last. The more you know the easier it is to acquire more and put the pieces together for wisdom.
From the knowledge we build on, we learn to synthesize and become creative. Sherlock Holmes was exactly wrong when he used to say his mind was like a filing cabinet and he didn't want to store it with too much useless information. It's that useless information that we have that gives us more connections and which can make us creative.
The book is an enjoyable listen. It helps the listener put the pieces together that we need in order understand why we are curious and leads to even more awe for wanting to know more and ultimately could even lead one to listening to more science books. The author has a coherent system about curiosity and shares it with the listener.
Who would have thought a series of essays written by multiple scientific experts could have been as spell tingling as this book was? I know I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Part of the reason this book works so well is because none of the essays are that recent. We've learned a lot in the past two years for which the authors with their wild speculations at the time were not aware of.
Two things the current reader should be aware of before listening to these essays. 1) The Higgs Boson is real and is at 125 Giga Electron Volts which is half way between the string theorist wanted (115 GeV) and what the multi-universe supporters expected (144 GeV), and 2) Gravitational waves have probably been found and if that is true Inflation Theory has more support than the authors of the essays realized at the time.
For most of the essayists, I've read their books for which they are going to write or have written at the time they wrote the essays. The essays cover the subject matter of their books fairly well, and you can save yourself from reading 25 or so books by listening to these essays. (The one exception is the essay by David Deutsch. He's talking about something beyond anything in his books).
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