This is a book that has 5 star segments and 1 star segments. A better title is "Dershowitz talks about cases he finds interesting," but that's not bad in and of itself. Any legal scholar does that to some extent. And when he stops to talk actually about law, he offers some really interesting points, what I think of as the best kind of ideas, the ones that give you new ways to think about things, or help you focus why you disagree. However, a considerable portion of the lecture is also dedicated to "Dershowitz retries cases," which is at best dull, and at worst a cheap act of dirty pool, specifically at the points where it's plain he's just trying to win a lost case by turning around public opinion. The historical parts are about average, where his analysis is solid if a bit unremarkable. So, listen, but feel free to skip parts.
There's bound to be reviewers who claim that the author's picking on Republicans, but disregard that - it's more that Republicans bear the brunt of an accident of history. The book chronicles the change in the culture of government, and specifically as it has to do not with money per se, but with spending, with the arms race that develops from pols realizing that spending on races wins, as well as the culture of lobbyists who (even with honorable intentions at times) nurtured the culture where this was possible. I'm a little hesitant to draw the picture as broadly as the author does, where money is the sole cause and the sole sustaining reason, but it's a very, very scary picture. The book does have some flaws, though. The framing story - the narrative of one important lobbyist - isn't as interesting as the author thinks it is, and the book has a tendency to get stuck in some dry, unimportant tangent for what seems like hours. The opening and closing music is also a bit excessively melodramatic. But when it's good, it's on fire.
...this ain't it. Silly accents by the narrator (!!!) not withstanding, the story of science at the time of the French revolution, and the study and later transformation of the meter is really cool. But instead of trying to let that stand on its own, the author looks to draw a much greater sort of story that tries to wrestle with the meaning of error. It doesn't work. It doesn't work because the two stories are sort of footnotes to one another, and an exploration of the idea the book purports to would take much more than a disinterested chapter at the end. It's a shame, really, because there are so many neat-o components to this topic.
The author's message - that history can be abused - is a bit self-obvious to any educated person. Some of the author's particular understandings of abuse aren't obvious, and are interesting, even if some might be objectionable...or rather not objectionable, but if the point is that history can be misused, and you show an example of misuse, there's often at least a germ of an argument as to whether that use is the right use. (I can't entirely fault the book for that, because each of those discussions would likely prove exhausting, and this is more of a survey.) There are big problems, however. The general thesis is that professional historians have a duty to correct the mistakes of people who get the wrong messages of history. It's not happening, especially in the U.S. with the current anti-intellectual fervor. Similarly, the sorts of people who might be challenged by this book are the least likely to read it, and the most likely to dismiss it outright once it starts to challenge an opinion.So, the book's not bad, it's just stuck out in a sort of range that really doesn't speak to anyone. Subpar narration does not help.
It's not a history of the Supreme Court. Rather it's the Lecturer's use of ten(IIRC) cases to create an intellectual history of American Jurisprudence. It's very rhetorical. The Lecturer is looking to make his own point about the Court, so he picks cases and marshals appropriate facts (like any good lawyer) to support his view about the Court as an "ongoing Constitutional Convention." I was originally leaning towards three stars, but - while the lecturer's position is well-argued - occasionally he cuts far too sharp a read on the facts to make me wholly comfortable.
Basically, it's "Freaknomics" with pirates - trying to explain piracy in terms of economic rationalism. Sounds fun, right? Somewhere early on in the book, something goes horribly, horribly wrong. The book is generally unhistorical, and armed with a few facts, the author goes on to make many conclusions. Some of those conclusions are just plain strange, and a few verge into offensive territory. Most of the conclusions serve a subtext of the book, namely that the pirates created something of a perfect Libertarian society. Even I, who arcs Libertarian in thought, call B.S. on this. There's just not enough to support the claims. The picture is over the top. As such, the book is pretty well a wasted opportunity. There's not enough untainted pirate information to make it a worthwhile read on that account, and there's plenty of better writers on economic philosophy to make it a good read on that account.
The substance here is a little fluffy. It sounds more like the material from a professor's attempt at keeping a group of unwilling undergrads fulfilling a gen-ed requirement, which is a step down from a lot of the other Modern Scholar series. There's a LOT of unnecessary "but I'll talk about that in lecture X" and two distinct times where the lecturer goes into two different extended metaphors to explain geologic time. The chapter divisions are a bit unusual as well, feeling more like something chosen for effect rather than by logic. However, I can't really fault it for not going that deep, and it certainly succeeds as a very broad overview.
The title gets one star just for its iconoclasm. The biggest flaw is obvious. The lecture is looking to do a rewrite of American history starting with prehistory and the introduction of H. Sapiens to the continent. There's just no way that the lecture can provide sufficient detail on any one point. But this is information you (probably) don't know, and these are ideas you need to be thinking about. It's an important rewrite, and if you don't think you need it, the more likely it is that you do.I greatly disagree with some of the author's larger conclusions, but there are some vitally interesting facts in there that every good citizen should know.
Let's get this straight - this book isn't about how pleasure works. It's about the author's attempt to research and explain 'essentialism,' which itself often seems like an attempt at a sort of Grand Unification Theory for a lot of environmental psych, behavorial economics, moral philosophy, et cetera, all of which are experiencing a bit of a heyday. Often, the book reads like a survey, which isn't bad, just don't expect a deep focus on any one topic. With that caveat, though, it's a good read.
No, it isn't high literature, but it sure is fun. While the author's knowledge of Chicago sometimes comes off a bit tin, it's a great listen. It's perfectly within that two-fisted, hard-boiled, modern pulp genre, and a wonderful exemplar of it. The narration is top notch. The crime's solution and ending is almost hilariously improbable, but along the way you've just had too much fun to care.
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