I travel to China often, and the original Chinese version of this book is incredibly influential there. Even though it's been banned, illegal copies of it are sold all over and practically everyone has read it or at least knows it. Too many books in English on China just tell Americans what they want to hear, and this is a rare chance to hear what people there really think is going wrong. Most American listeners will find that it's not to their taste. . . but that's exactly the point. It's not written for you. By listening to this book, you're eavesdropping on what people in China are saying to each other.
It's also one of the few audiobooks where the reader pronounces Chinese names and words correctly. Usually.
A two-dimensional portrait. Seeks simple explanations for each of his actions.
Not a minute goes by without hearing "passion," "desire for control," or "hardware and software should be closely integrated."
First of all, Simon Vance does an amazing job with this book. All kinds of British accents, and he nails each of them. The perfect ideal of expressiveness without melodrama from start to finish. So this is what a professional sounds like. If only I could get serious nonfiction books narrated with this level of talent.
The novel: written by two people, and it shows. It gives the impression that they worked together for a while, agreed to work separately on the rest, and then both mailed in half-baked work when they ran out of time. The first 1/3 is absolutely gripping and fascinating. The next 1/3 is a mediocre action story climaxing with a gunfight in a burning warehouse (the ultimate action cliche). The last 1/3 is told as a series of disjointed fragments revealing large chunks of leftover plot, as though the writer didn't have time to weave them together to give pacing and complexity.
I felt the book was worth my time, but ended up mourning the much better novel that could have been if the high standard of the first section had been kept up.
It would be much better to have the entire book. They cut out one of the parts I had most wanted to hear; apparently he discusses the reasons why thermonuclear bombs aren't made as destructive as technologically feasible. Who knows what else is missing from this version.
Otherwise the book is quite good, a nice balance of technology, biography, and politics. And a good reality check on what nuclear stockpiles really entail for society.
Rhodes is not the smoothest reader in the world, but I enjoyed hearing the author reading his own writing.
In the academic world, this book has become well-known and influential that a realistic estimate of its impact has the sound of hyperbole. That makes it worth reading in the same way as Plato's _Republic_ or Machiavelli's _The Prince_; you may not agree with all or even much of its arguments, but there's much value simply in knowing what these ideas are that so many people are thinking and talking about.
For those who don't know the book, it describes the connections between how European empires (and the US, somewhat) controlled the Middle East politically, fantasized about it, and studied it, arguing that these were all aspects of the same structures and processes. It suffers from a certain amount of contradiction and one-sided argument, but I think that when Said was writing in the 1970s the other side of the argument--the pro-colonialist side--was more frequently heard than it is now.
Another reviewer complained that he quit after listening for 45 minutes and finding that it was all generic political arguments. I think that reviewer never got past the new preface, which does go on for something like 45 minutes. The preface was added around 2004 and is mainly a fairly standard critique of the US invasion of Iraq from the perspective of its early years. There's no solution but to be patient and wait for the book itself to begin.
I've had a print copy for years and never got around to reading it, but am finding the audio version pleasant going. Said's writing is much clearer and jargon-free than many of his admirers--he is a scholar of literature, after all. The reader does well enough to keep my attention, and handles fairly well the French words that show up regularly. There are times when he sounds exactly like a computer-generated voice reading text, but his reading doesn't put me to sleep.
I don't regret the time or money I spent on this book, but I can certainly see why it's not as famous as his _Collapse_ or _Guns, Germs and Steel_. Part of the problem is that some of his points here are also made, more convincingly and intriguingly, in those other books.
Another problem is that some of his arguments here seem shaky even to a non-expert like me. For example, Diamond suggests that menopause evolved to help women survive to care for their first few children by preventing death in childbirth later on. If so, why does menopause not occur until AFTER most of a women's children are old enough not to need care by the mother? He also argues that the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances arose from the desire to show off one's strength and health by poisoning oneself and surviving. This is not convincing either: why wouldn't most societies use more toxic and less enjoyable chemicals if showing toughness was the main result?
His chapters that focus on comparing humans to other animals are much stronger, and the sections on language and art are the high points of the book. The section on the advantages of hunter-gatherer over agricultural societies will be nothing new to anyone who knows ancient archaeology or the "paleo diet", but is still enjoyable.
Bottom line: If you haven't read or heard Diamond's other books first, start with _Collapse_ (the unabridged version) and then _Guns, Germs, and Steel_. They're much, much better. But this one is still better than most of what's out there.
This is a classic textbook on early modern and modern Chinese history. I've very happy to see it finally appearing in audio form, and I hope there are more on the way.
I have one complaint: The pronunciation of most of the Chinese names is so wrong that the reader might as well be making up random noises. For example, "zhou" is pronounced "joe," not "zoo," and it matters because "zhou" appears in the names of most Chinese geographic locations outside Beijing and Shanghai. It would take 10 minutes for the reader to learn the absolute basics of how to pronounce Chinese names. By being too lazy to take those 10 minutes, the next 20? 30? hours of audio lose much of their value for any listener who hopes actually to learn something.
This book gives the feeling of repeating over and over the message that statistical analysis is more accurate than the judgment of an individual expert. What's missing are specific examples of what kinds of information are being collected, how they are analyzed, and what has been learned from them. There are some examples, but it feels like for every one minute of specifics there are ten minutes of the book's main idea being repeated yet again. I kept checking to see if this was the abridged version, but it's not. The whole thing feels like an advertisement telling business executives, "Hire a lot of quantitative analysts, trust that they're more accurate than anyone else, and don't try to understand what they're doing." Perhaps the author was told to produce something dumbed-down.
I keep wanting to hear more, which is unexpected for a story about dysfunctional middle-class people. Part of it is good writing, and part is a reader who manages to stay interesting without ever being overly dramatic.
Book is a mix of science and the author's personal experience. The science is unsurprising. Description of the author's personal experiences is vague and self-indulgent. And there is absolutely nothing that would help with learning the guitar.
If you want to learn about the human mind, learning, and the role of practice, listen to _Moonwalking with Einstein_. If you want to learn the guitar, buy a guitar book and maybe some lessons. Either way, skip this book.
This has long been a highly regarded book summarizing the history of the Middle Ages. I've had a print copy for a long time but never had the time to read most of it, so I was very happy to see this audio version.
This is NOT entertainment. If you're looking for thrilling stories, titillating facts, and hero-worship, this is not the book for you. But if you want to learn the basic nitty-gritty details of medieval history -- who did what when, and why it mattered -- this book is perfect. The narrator does a convincing job with the French and German words, and gives it enough life to hold your attention without trying to overly dramatize a book that isn't really dramatic. I've found it worthwhile to listen to each section over and over to absorb all the information.
The main criticisms I have are that it's a bit narrow and conservative. By conservative, I mean that the author largely dismisses or ignores popular and non-mainstream cultures, despite the large amount that is known about them from historians' research. Also, his focus on England, France, Germany, and Italy means that we learn almost nothing about Eastern Europe and very little about Spain. But this is normal for books on "European History" or "Western Civilization," so one can't complain too much.
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