The book really should have been titled "The Bonobo and Human Empathy". The two pillars of all philosophy are empathy and reciprocity. He completely examines the first pillar, empathy, by illustrating empathetic behavior in Bonobos (and other animals) and linking it to our behavior.
He's such a good writer even when he wrote about things I completely disagreed with I would find the book thought provoking. I thought he trivialized the arguments of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and John Stuart Mill. But, I'm not bothered. I believe what I believe and I appreciated the different perspective.
The narrator did a perfect job.
The book is much better than most pop science books I have listened to and I'm much richer for having listened to this highly entertaining book and can definitely say because of this book I'm much closer to my goal of understanding our place in the universe. He does talk about philosophy but I enjoyed those parts as much as I did about bonobos.
(P.S. Matt Ridley's book, "The Rational Optimist", fully covers the second pillar of human philosophy, reciprocity. Also, my personal take on the author he seemed like an apologetic atheist and he didn't want to offend anyone. But as I say, I wasn't bothered by this, but I disagreed with him regarding those sections. Also, he seemed to characterized the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill in a comic book fashion. Once again I wasn't bothered but I don't want to leave the impression that I agreed with him on those two points).
In a lot of ways this book is the summation of the 100 plus science, evolution, and philosophy books I've read over the last three years. To understand our place in the universe the author asserts you must let the "physical facts fit the facts". No need to assume any items not in evidence. We don't any where else in life except in the spiritual realm and so why should we accept those premises while thinking about the universe.
To understand the universe and our place in it one most first understand the second law of thermodynamics and the author does a wonderful job in explaining it and why it is so special. He then gives a detail explanation for why evolution through natural selection can explain the world and why we exist in contrast to Kant's assertion "that there will never be an Newton for a blade of grass".
The author attacks the theory of mind by explaining how are thoughts are not real and our introspection are at most just a model we play with but gives us great evolutionary advantage. He's really getting at attacking Descarte's "cogito ergo sum", "I think therefore I am" and Descartes' homunculus or Lebnitz's monads are not facts necessary for understanding the world. He embraces 'scientism' and he convinced me not to run away from the word. He's right on consciousness but sometimes I don't says it as well as Daniel Dennett does.
He also embraces 'nice nihilism', but I would not because there is really too much preexisting baggage with the word 'nihilism'. The author also gives many statements for which I disagreed with. For example, I don't think "history is Bunk with a capital B" (that is a direct quote). The author would probably agree with Protagoras that "man is the measure of all things" and since who we are can explain why we are I'm not too quick to dismiss history. I think he's really getting at the teleology historical approach that Hegel or Toynbee would bring (he mentioned Toynbee but doesn't elaborate). He also seems to dismiss economics. I would recommend Picketty's book "Capital in the 21st Century" for why I would not reject economics so quickly as the author does. He fumbles somewhat in explaining consciousness and Dennett does a better job by describing our consciousness as the final draft of an ever changing edit that is only captured when we speak the thought or think it actively. The author is right consciousness is an illusion, but it's an illusion we accept. And does everyone who has depression really need to take Prosaic? as the author suggest.
Dennett's books "Consciousness Explained", "Darwin's Dangerous Ideas", and "Freewill" cover the same topics as this short book, but I'm always reluctant to recommend Dennett because he can be dense reading for others but I do love him so. Dennett explains almost every concept within this book, but he does it much better and more nuanced.
Overall a very good book, but I really would recommend Dennett instead.
The author could be right, advanced AI could be the final step for humans and can lead to our own extinction, but the author deals mostly in speculation and never gives us a firm foundation for why that will happen. He does mention Alan Turing and the cracking of the enigma code in WW II. The story is much more nuanced than he lets on in this book and for anyone interested, I would highly recommend "Seizing the Enigma" available at audible (Polish Mathematicians had a large role in cracking the code too! as well as many, many others).
The author would have been better served by just slightly changing his story, adding a narrative, and writing himself a fairly good science fiction story instead.
I'm not minimizing the potential seriousness that transcending the singularity can portend for us humans, but unfortunately this book does not make a convincing case.
This book reads like a science book and I kept listening with my full attention. I found myself replaying segments multiple times because I really wanted to know what the author was saying. The author does three things to set up his thesis, he tells the listener 1) how a person would have historically thought about the terms used such as "Son of Man" and "Son of God" at the times of Jesus, 2) how the new testament evolved historically and how thought from 30 to 100 CE evolved, and 3) the way a historian would answer the problem without appealing to the supernatural and would go about understanding the problem.
There are at least four other ways the author could have explained how Jesus became to be thought of as a God and do appeal to the supernatural or are purely speculative 1) assume Jesus had an identical twin and use that to explain the Resurrection, 2) assume ancient astronauts visited Nazareth and gave Jesus powers for which would be seen as indistinguishable from Magic (see Clarke's Third Law), 3) allow for Eternal Recurrence with a time loop to be circumvented after the singularity is created or better yet appeal to Hugh Everett III's parallel universes (see a good time travel story like "Thrice upon a Time, by Hogan and available on Audible or read Nietzsche), or 4) assume the New Testament and the Old Testament are all written directly by God and his inspired agents on earth and the final form of the book is the intended inerrant book.
The author takes the incredibly different perspective to the problem and uses the methodologies of history instead! He answers the problem by not needlessly assuming unnecessary things and by applying Occam's Razor and considers the historical record by looking at the way things are known to have happened historically and not once appealing to the supernatural or assuming inerrancy that is never used anywhere else in the study of history (or for that matter in any known branch of science or anywhere else in life).
I enjoyed this book very much and know that this kind of approach is the only way to study historical events. After having had read this book, it's clear to me that existence preceded essence in this case and the best way to think about the issue is to have realized that "Jesus became God" as the title states.
I really wish this book had been available many years ago. It would have saved me many years of unnecessary thought and would have guided me in my bible studies. A historian will never appeal to the supernatural in order to explain, and he had no need for such explanations to tell his story.
The author tells the story through the lens of American politics from Jimmy Carter up to the first term of Barack Obama. It's a history that I'm glad I read. Most of life is spent reacting to the events of the day but never having the time to put the events in the context that they belong. The book gives the reader the context (through the filter of politics and historical perspective) on the influence of Evangelicals (mostly from the Right) . The author reminds me of the beginning of the period with statements by people like Jerry Falwell saying things like "God does not hear the prayers of the Jew". That's what passed for critical thinking in those days. I had forgotten about the "Satanic Panic" and false accusations based on 'recovered memories' popularized by TV personalities such as Geraldo Rivera and Oprah Winfrey. I forgotten how influential the Evangelical Right was in those days.
I don't know why the author stops the story so abruptly at 2012 even though the book seemed to have been published in 2014. A more interesting story could have been told by looking at the waning of the influence of the Evangelical Right over the last 2 years.
The author, in a scholarly way, puts all of the events of the time period into their overall context and tells a fairly interesting story that should not be forgotten.
I see most people seem to rate this book very highly. I don't and found the book a tough listen. I give the author kudos for presenting one of the best peeks into the start of the Renaissance at least from a mostly French perspective. A historian sometimes needs to tell a story in addition to presenting details. When this author is telling me about the bubonic plague or the schism within the Catholic church, she was holding my interest and keeping me on the edge of the seat. Unfortunately, that kind of story telling didn't happen that frequently in this book. I thought Simon Schama's 'History of Britain Vol I' covered the Renaissance (from the British perspective) much better because he never let the history get in the way of good story telling. Sometimes it makes for a better story when you leave things out and look at the big picture instead.
The author writes an accessible book for the non-expert while never talking down to the listener who really wants to understand the working of the mind. He has a narrative that ties all of the pieces of the book together that current humans are always using their brain, and when we are not thinking about physical or abstract objects directly and our mind is at rest we are 'mentalizing', that is, we are thinking about ourselves and our interactions with others leading to the almost unique human capability of "theory of mind".
He never strays from the facts and will give the details surrounding all of the science (including some of his own experiments). He delves in to the details about mirror neurons and what they mean, contrasts that with how we constantly mentalize our social world and connects some potential dots to autism while never getting ahead of the known data. He presents all the necessary nuances necessary to understand the problem and leaves the listener realizing that the problem is much more complicated than simple a simple yes or no answer.
I know I see the social world and its role in learning much differently than the author. That for me made for a better book. For example, the author at the end of the book would say that he didn't like history as taught in school. He likes the 'how and why' more than the 'what' (objective facts). He would teach by keeping the student more grounded in the narrative of history, for example.
Some people, like me much prefer facts and like history as it was taught in school and like tying them together abstractly and analytically, and it will be people like me who would tend to prefer this nicely written book because he does stick to objective facts while tying them together through abstract relationships.
In the whole, the author does a very good job of defending his thesis that the brain and all of its pieces are wired to make us humans function the most effectively in a social world. Empathy is one of the hallmarks in our humanity.
The author's make-believe take on the East excludes India, barely mentioned, and China and Japan, mentioned even less. By the East he means the Persian Empire and the Islamic middle east. He has a fantasy that the history of the world can be described by the "battle line drawn" between Europe and the East over 2300 years ago.
The author is never at a wont for describing the East in generic negative terms. I'll bet he referred to directly or quoted others that the East is "feminine" more than 10 times. What does it mean when a culture is feminine? He never tells me, but he clearly uses that as a negative trait. Besides, why would it be bad for a culture to be feminine or good if it were masculine? The East, according to him (or the ones he quotes favorably) are lover of boys and are disordered and not for liberty. Even when he talks about the advances made under Islamic civilizations during the West's dark ages, he just dismisses them by saying since they were ruled by such disordered leaders there indigenous populations got to flourish because they were poorly led and got to be themselves because of the poor leadership, whatever.
Western Civilization History is usually told by looking within and very little of the between is told. The author does tell the story by focusing only on the between providing the listener with insights into the development of the West which is not usually told in such great detail in survey of history books. That's the feature of the book I liked and it's why I tolerated the author's comic book characterizations of the "East", but in the end his characterizations of Persia and Islam sounded like the pigs in Animal farm repeating a mantra over and over that "four legs good, two legs bad" or in his case "Western Christians good, East Muslim bad".
Life is too short to read books that have such an obvious silly take on world history and I would recommend a good book on World History instead such as "The History of the World" by Roberts instead of this comic book characterization.
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.
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