The author covers the material so well that even for those who aren't interested in the development of electronic trading will find the story an exciting read. He puts the context around the development and has written the definitive history on the subject.
I'm a big fan of "The Singularity is Near" by Ray Kurzweil and I thought a lot of his telling of the story was influenced by Ray Kurzweil's thinking on AI and such. Near the very end of the book the author brings up Kurzweil and his thinking. He really didn't fit into the story's arc, but I took it as an ode to Kurzweil.
I warn you. The book will give you a queasy feeling in your stomach because he documents so thoroughly how the HST (high speed traders) are systematically taking money away from us because there is not a level playing field for small players like us who invest through our mutual funds or individual stocks and ETFs.
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).
You get two things with this book. You get an incredible interesting exposition on the workings of the mind (consciousness) and a narrative that ties that story together by showing how mirror neurons almost certainly aren't what you thought they were.
The author does not reject the existence of mirror neurons in humans, but he does poke holes in most of what you probably have been told about them in a host of other books and articles. He gives very nuanced arguments to how the available data doesn't always mean what mirror neuron experts say they do. The author is an expert in the understanding of how we communicate. He'll delve into the "motor theory of speech" and how that deservedly fell out of disrepute over time and was resurrected only because that gave mirror neurons such a central role. The results of various experiments supporting that hypothesis are not always best explained by the ways mirror neuron advocates claim and sometimes they ignore the better explanations.
This is a real strength of the book. While showing how better explanations for the experiments and data are available which don't excessively rely on mirror neurons the author never shies way from educating the listener on the embodied processes of thinking.
I love neuroscience and books about the workings of the mind and human behavior. While reading such books, mirror neurons kept popping up in sections of those books, but over time, I started to realize that the advocates for the magical workings of the mirror neurons did not always make sense and there seemed to be better explanations available. This book tells me why my caution radar was beeping.
I'm sure a lot of experts in the field probably hate this book, but I can recommend this book because it will teach the listener to be cautious about mirror neuron claims, and help the listener learn a little bit more about the way the brain works without overwhelming the listener with too many names of brain parts which I only end up forgetting.
From the first page onward, this book never lets the listener down. Sometimes I hated to pause the story because it was getting so exciting and other times the story would make me laugh out loud. The ensemble of characters investigating the anomalies became like a family to the observer of the story and consequently the listener feels as if he is part of the family too.
If your looking for something strictly for entertainment, this story can fill the bill.
How special are we? We no longer consider ourselves the center of the universe, but we are in a fortuitous place and time for understanding our place in the universe, and complex life can exist at the nexus of order and chaos at least we have one data point.
Most of the current thought about our place in the universe rest on false premises and incorrect conclusions. This book gently takes the listener through the step by step process necessary in order to think about the problem in the most correct way. We generally make two kinds of a error in thinking about the problem 'a priori' and 'a posteriori' errors, before the fact and after the fact. (Did you know that most biographies on Thomas Bayes start off with the statement "he was probably born in 1701", funny stuff and this book will tell you why that kind of thinking is needed to understand our place in the universe).
There our subtle faults in most fine tuning arguments and purely probabilistic arguments for calculating life such as the Drake's Equation (though, I don't think the author used the eponymous equation by name). The author looks at both the telescopic and microscopic data we have, and for example delves into the Prokaryotic (simple single cell) merging into a Eukarotic (complicated single cell, the building block of complex life) and how unusual such an event really is.
This book is full of cool ways of thinking about the problem. I did not realize how unstable our solar system is and how our current epoch or order within our solar system will almost for sure not last for more than 10 million years or so. The planets orbits aren't stable and the three body problem's solution is always robust (sensitive to initial conditions). The architecture we have to observe leads to how we understand, and the better our tools the better are data becomes.
The author is just a good science writer. His books should be read by a larger audience, because he really does explain science that well. The author doesn't answer the question whether or not we are the only complex life in the universe, but he teaches the listener how to think about the problem so as not to make the common errors in thought while thinking about the problem.
There's a revolution going on around big data and this book explains it better than any other that I've read so far. The author explains how data is cataclysmic (like a flood), how it is changing the way we can study the world, and what are some of the kinds of conclusions we can draw about people by analyzing the data correctly.
Today is a social scientist's dream world. We can learn things about how individuals (or segmented groups) behave unlike any other time before in history and our abilities to understand our networks, desires and motivations are just waiting for some behavioral scientist (or even more nefariously an evil corporation or a corrupt government) to fully analyze the data trail we leave behind. Instead of guessing about human nature we are in a position to know about our behavior (at least for people up to the age of 50!, post 50 year olds aren't always fully represented in the datasets).
There is one warning about this book for audible listeners. Of all the books I have listened to this one handled tables and graphs the least effectively. Note to author: take a minute or two and re-write the graphs and tables with the audio version in mind. Sometimes the narrative got lost in reading a table out loud. I could follow the conversation, but it got deadly boring at times.
This book reminds me of a Gladwell book or Freakenomics, but is much better because it never strays from the data and never lets the model under discussion stray to far from what the data (reality) is really saying. The real strength of this book is not so much the specific examples he gives in the book, but it acts as a guide to how a smart person can change the data from just a bunch of messy information, to organized data, then to knowledge and then finally wisdom.
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