I hesitated to buy this one after reading the reviews, so I felt obliged to offer a counter opinion. I thought the book excellent and the narration quite tolerable. While the author centers on the great calculus debate between Newton and Leibniz and tosses in a lot of anecdotal history, the book also functions as a very good primer on the foundations of modern science, treating it as the elaboration and application of mathematics to physical phenomena. The crucial step represented by a mathematics of motion is a central theme. His descriptions of the calculus and the weird conceptual innovation Newton called ???gravity??? are really very good and surprisingly clear in narration without any visual aids. He also paints a vivid picture of the physical and metaphysical worlds of the 17th century, including a welcome insistence on the essential role of religious faith, even mysticism, in the thinking of the early modern scientists. As to the narration, I can see why some people might find it slightly irritating. The reader has a plumy voice that dips into avuncular chuckles at points of irony, which can be a bit annoying. But I found the pace and tone very good for comprehension overall. The lives of Newton and Leibniz make a marvelous story, and unless you are already familiar with them you will probably enjoy this book.
A previous reviewer criticized the overwrought delivery on the part of this lecturer, and I failed to heed the warning, in part because a second reviewer rolled out an enthusiastic defense. From the sample, I thought I could manage. Wrong.
I hate to criticize a man who is obviously a good scholar, an enthusiast, and probably a fine, lively teacher in the flesh. But I'm afraid this venture just didn't work out. Perhaps at the publisher's urging, the material has been way, way over "popularized."
The thespian antics, wry chuckles, and jokiness seem aimed to hold the attention of a room full of six-year-olds. I almost picture the lecturer with hand puppets.I don't mind a bit of oomph and personality in a lecture. But this is so distracting I find it nearly impossible to grasp the content, which may be very good--but I'll never know.
There may be audience for this. If others feel differently, I hope they will write in. Perhaps I'm just old and mean, but I prefer scholarly lectures as I prefer a martini--straight up and dry, thank you.
First, any review of a 35-hour audio tome of essays on Hegel will be tempered by misgivings about the mental state of anyone who would actually purchase such a thing. An obscurantist dialectician with way too much time on his hands? Who can trust such a reviewer?
What can I say? The title doesn't lie. You know what you are getting. You either are a Hegelian or you are not a Hegelian--unless, of course, you are a Hegelian, in which case you are both.
As a matter of fact, I was delighted to find that these essays are relatively clear, quite diverse, and nicely comprehensive. The editor Stephen Houlgate is one of the best and most lucid of contemporary Hegel scholars. The works, so far, are clearer than one might expect, (though I have only started, and have a long ways to go before I approach the Judith Butler essay at the very end, where editor-defying syntactical horrors undoubtedly await).
The reading is clear, well-paced, and manly, seemingly sturdy enough for the 35-hour march. Though to differentiate the Hegel quotes the reader does toss in a German accent that to my ear sounds a bit odd. Of course, there are no recordings of Hegel himself, so perhaps he really did sound like Gandhi attempting Yiddish. (Though if he had, I suspect Schelling would have noted that for posterity.)
And then there are the publishers! It it is really very admirable that they would actually produce such an audiobook for the three individuals in the world who might be enticed to purchase it. A noble work. But...!
But why no chapter titles and a mismatch between the book chapters and the audio chapters, which renumber with each audio "part." So you have 35 essays and no way to find them by title or even by counting. Why do so many publishers do this? I mean, here we are with Google glasses and 3D printers. Is it really so hard just to divide and label the digital chapters? Am I missing something?
One of Hegel's contemporaries, I forget who, explained Hegel by noting that he was a Schwabian and Schwabians hate to be understood. Evidently his audio publishers are Schwabians as well. Aside from that, if you actually want to hear some good, clear Hegel commentaries--in shuffle mode--next time you're out jogging, this is the audiobook you've been waiting for!
Relative to the two previous, seemingly conflicting reviews, I'll be a good dialectician and side with both. This book does function well as a concise beginner's overview of the main developments in physics. Nothing original, but clear and brief, well written and nicely read.
It is not, however, the more ambitious work implied in its title, the one I had hoped to get for my money. The book really does not deal with the philosophical issues entailed in a "theory of everything," a topic that might include the possibility of a metaphysics, the justification of Occam's Razor, the "peculiar efficacy" of mathematical equations, or the general role of reductionism in science. The "Universe on a T-Shirt" is little more than a heuristic gimmick.
The book also indulges, here and there, in the standard swipes at modern philosophy that seem so irresistible to science writers, the more so the less philosophy they have actually read. Buy it if you want a good, brief introduction. Just don't expect more intellectual sweat than you could soak up with a T-shirt.
I may regret this hasty review, since I am only halfway through the book. But considering the enthusiastic review preceding (by which I was lured), I felt others should be warned. There is nothing wrong with this heartfelt, humane view of Plato, provided you are studying for a Jesuit ministry.
Christianity has been described as Plato for the masses, and in this lecture series Platonism is massively proto-Catholic. The strangeness of Greek thought is entirely sanitized. There is almost nothing about Plato's relationship to the Pythagoreans, the so-called pre-Socratics, the Sophists, the mystery cults, or the dramatists. Little about Whitehead or the Platonic strain in modern mathematics and physics. Indeed, little of what I would call philosophy.
The heroes of the story are Augustine, Saint Paul, C.S. Lewis, et al., the implied villains are the "modern" skeptics, relativists, reductionists, empiricist, nihilists, etc., who are dismissed with avuncular appeals to common sense and humanity. Behind the alluring humanism is deeply conservative, intolerant agenda, in my view. Buckley, Gingrich, Scalia, and the Straussians, would be on familiar intellectual terrain here.
Still, this is in some ways, a perfectly good introduction to the conservative, Christian line of Plato interpretation. I do not mean to sneer. But sometimes true believers are not the best teachers. Jaspers notwithstanding, Christ, Buddha, and Socrates had less in common than many seekers of inner stability would like to believe.
I am offering this mainly as a quick, dissenting opinion. Having finished the book a week ago, I find that surprisingly little lingers in my mind. Undoubtedly Kurzweil (such an ironic name, given his passion for immortality) has an explanation for this in units of Shannon entropy. I am actually sympathetic to Kurzweil's post-humanist ambitions and mechanical modeling. It's nice to have a stream of books by such an ambitious techno-provocateur. But unless you are planning to tinker together a mind in your garage workshop, the book can be a little tedious. There is a lot about "pattern recognition" in the neocortex, which is not exactly news. We hear about "neuron firing" speeds and networks, about exponential rates of change and phase shifts, which again did not generate any "Aha" moments in this listener's mind. While Kurzweil trots out a few philosophers for refutation, the many philosophical and common-sensical objections against a physical analysis of consciousness are largely swept under the rug. As a visionary technologist with many knowledgeable admirers, Kurzweil has perhaps earned the right to tout (once again) his many correct predictions, though I don't know if anyone is keeping track of the hindsight factor. Still, his confidence reminds me of those brief, brilliant historical moments (the Vienna logical positivists; particle physics just prior to quantum theory) when thinkers felt certain they had finally drained the bogs of metaphysics, only to find paradoxes bubbling back up and themselves sucked back down. If you are a Kurzweil fan, by all means, enjoy. If you are building a brain in the basement, you may prefer the printed text. If you want an audiobook with fresh insights into the philosophy of mind or an ingenious new model of consciousness, you may find this disappointingly dry, bogless, and shallow. But easy on the ears: the reading is very good.
When I take the hatchet to a book I’m usually happy if others offer a second opinion. After all, writing books is hard work and books are usually harmless artifacts at worst. In this instance I find myself in strong disagreement with the previous reviewer, though I can appreciate what he’s saying. The title is indeed misleading, and some parts of the book can strike you at first as pseudoscientific mumbling. But that is a mistaken assessment. This is not a book of science or explanation of quantum theory. It is best described as a series of philosophical essays on aspects of quantum theory with a distinctly phenomenological slant. The chief influence is the French existentialist Merleau-Ponty, along with some (largely unacknowledged) points from Husserl on music. This sounds unfathomable, but it is fairly straightforward. The best sections of the book explore the paradoxes of light and visibility, Goethe’s theory of color, and a very interesting, to me, discussion of the paradoxes entailed in geometric concepts of points and lines. It is true that the author can sound a tad cosmic here and there as he dwells on duality and the ineffable. At times he sounds like he is taking Western Science and Cold Cartesians to task. But many card-carrying quantum physicists and cosmologists are not far behind him in that respect. At its best the book can be (the pun seems inevitable) an illuminating discourse on the mysterious nature of light. I enjoyed most of it and have listened to a few sections over again with intellectual pleasure. It isn’t for everyone, as the other reviewer makes clear. But for those with a speculative bent, I recommend it as an interesting accompaniment to one of the standard audiobooks on quantum theory. The reading is easy on the ears, rather pleasantly quiet and meditative.
Even if you have read every previous book about the financial crisis, you should (actually, it is your patriotic duty to) read this one and then tell your friends to. Ferguson, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the producer of the Academy-Award-winning movie "Inside Job" has massive credibility, an even-handed, deadly serious temperament, and an overwhelmingly convincing argument. It is very simple. For the last thirty years, in the lead up to the 2008 financial crisis, America's financial industry has become systematically criminal. Not just greedy, not just unethical. Criminal.
Ferguson marshals overwhelming evidence of repeated criminal violations by the banks and others. Fraud, insider trading, money laundering, bribery, perjury, assisting drug gangs and other criminals, tax evasion, on and on. Day in and day out. A basic business model. He provides evidence that the same violations committed twenty years ago or by people outside of banking have produced serious criminal charges and convictions (remember Michael Milken and Martha Stuart?). Yet even after the financial collapse that has wrecked millions of lives and is now toppling Western democracies, there have been zero criminal prosecutions of major bankers, ratings agencies, hedge fund managers, or other financial players. None. At most the banks have paid trifling fines, admitted nothing, and then repeated the same crimes over and over.
Why? Because they pay off both political parties and because they now belong to a corrupt, entrenched American oligarchy similar to those in Russia or Mexico. They are quite literally too big to prosecute. The banks have succeeded in gutting the regulatory agencies, intimidating opponents, and buying political influence. As in Zola's famous book, "J'accuse," Ferguson does not so much raise new evidence as simply state the obvious. He provides an excellent overview of the financial industry since 1980 and the 2008 crisis. But his main contribution is to simply point out that all this was, in fact, criminal. And nothing has been done. The same large-scale criminality simply continues, the same crimes committed, the same apologies, the same fines, the same promises, then back to business. As long as the actors themselves are not convicted and can retire wealthy in good social standing, nothing will change.
Ferguson goes so far as to name names and provide the government with the evidence and the laws violated. He hands it to the Justice Department on a silver platter, as have many others. Yet nothing happens. Being more of a leftist, I would go further than Ferguson and say that, under a fiat money system, the banks have effectively privatized tax collection. By a complex, yet blatant three-step process, our tax money that should be going to social security, for example, is going to a tiny, wealthy, criminal elite and their inside "shareholders." Ferguson argues for mass criminal prosecutions of the sort that happens outside of banking. I would also argue for nationalization of major banking functions. Either we nationalize banks or the banks continue to privatize national fiscal policy. In any case, this book is lucid, illuminating, important. No "vampire squids" or screechy moralizing. Just a serious civic polemic. And by the way, the reading is also excellent.
I might have given this work four stars, if others hadn't. The author has done an enormous amount of valuable reporting and brought together a big picture of many critical technical issues affecting the future of war, focusing mainly but not exclusively on robotics. I share his pessimism about the trends, and appreciate his willingness to examine the moral issues from many different sides. His description of the "cubicle warriors" who now operated our growing drone fleets is very eye-opening. However, the book sprawls. Many sections might have been better at half the length. Some begin to sound like a laundry list of projects, machines, and acronyms. Themes repeat or overlap. No merciless editor sat at his elbow. For example, his analysis of how information technology allows generals to micromanage tactics at a distance is very interesting. But we get it. The section goes on, largely repeating the same idea and the word "micromanage" in various ways, while adding little. More seriously, I felt there was a missing level of analysis, though knowing little about the topic, I'm not sure what it is. There is, for example, little or nothing about the early use of computers and cybernetics, which become necessary for antiaircraft tracking. And little about the revolutionary effects of cell phones and laptops on guerilla war. Or on cyberwar, though that is perhaps a separate topic. The author is a war historian and journalist, and does not seem to be developing his ideas out of any underlying theory of technology or science. (American historians and journalists are largely trained to eschew "big theory.") I am not sure that he even clearly defines information theory, AI, and robotics as subsets of technology. One of the interesting scientific asides that never really goes anywhere is the battery as weak link, something every laptop user knows. He mentions it in the context of the Iraq War, but then does not really develop the implications. His coverage of media and "interface" technologies is weak. You can't do everything. But if human beings have a role in our new data-driven world, it really ought to be to reduce bins of information through critical abstraction, we need a few less colorful factoids and a little more theory.
I remember reading in the New York Times not long ago about a Russian charged with stealing computer code from Goldman Sachs. To dramatize the crime, the U.S. authorities charged that the code could be used ???to manipulate world financial markets.??? My immediate thought: So, what the hell was Goldman Sachs doing with it in the first place! I was gratified to hear this mysterious little incident described again in this eye-opening work. This audiobook isn???t perfect. The writing is standard-issue, people-centered journalism, there is little critical analysis or theory, and the otherwise fine reading can hit a slightly silly note here and there. But overall I found it excellent, extremely informative, easy to listen to. The author develops a detailed history of the rise of unregulated, computerized market trading, from its earliest, nerd-driven origins to the flash crash. He focuses on key individuals (often unheralded innovators), at times to the detriment of clear chronology and critical judgment. There isn???t a lot of technical depth, but enough for me. I knew practically nothing, and had all my darkest suspicions amply confirmed. I only hope the author, or perhaps someone slightly more analytical, is working on the sequel. This is really a brave new world that no one seems able to fully grasp, let alone manage or regulate. I agree with the author???s sense that, yes, the other shoe will definitely drop. You might want to keep a few dollars under the mattress.
The material structure of the internet is a fascinating topic on many levels, from the environmental to the sociological, architectural, and philosophical. The sheer impact on world commodities and labor, the acceleration of disposable parts, and the massive amounts of energy drawn by server farms... all these belie such ethereal metaphors as "the cloud," our popular sense of speed and lightness. (I read somewhere, not in this book, that China is building half a dozen new nuclear power plants mainly to cool server farms.) In addition, the physicality of the internet begs analysis in many venerable philosophical traditions, from a Marxist framing of "superstructure and base" to the ancient questions of mind-body paradox (of which the net seems a vast embodiment). Unfortunately, the author barely touches on these issues. His approach is first-person narrative journalism and the romantically descriptive travelogue, closer in tone to Isabella Bird than critical theory. He visits several historically important sites in the development of the net, describes in colorful detail people he meets and places he sees, then describes his descriptions, no possible metaphor spared. To be fair, he is a good writer, intelligent observer, and does a very good job of reading his own book. On his own terms, he produces a good piece of narrative writing. There are a few good details, like the fact that Google data centers are blurred out on Google maps--shades of Foucault's panopticon! But the level of visual description is swooningly pre-photographic, perhaps a writer's reaction to digital hegemony, but perversely unsuitable to the subject. Those who like descriptive travelogues may enjoy the book. If so, I hope they will write in with more positive reviews. It is hard work to write a book, and some people are bound to like this one. I found it over-described and woefully under-theorized, and it left me still looking for a good book on the obscure materiality of the internet.
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