The "Merchants of Doubt" of the title were a few scientists who had been productive researchers during the cold war. The book tells the story of how, in their later years, they used their accrued clout and credibility to attack and undermine important scientific discoveries involving tobacco, acid rain, ozone depletion, and especially, climate change. Their motives were both ideological (they considered environmental science a threat to the free market that they venerated) and mercenary (they were on the take from industry groups and conservative foundations).
It's a really impressive piece or research and reporting, and it's easy to admire. But to actually enjoy it, you'd have to have to be willing to get into the weeds. The authors build their case like prosecutors, brick by brick, and they ask the reader to examine each brick up close. Do you want to read about how one of the authors of an IPCC report wrote a chapter with summaries at the beginning and end of the chapter; how he was instructed to have only one summary to make it consistent with the other chapters; and how, after doing this, he was attacked for "removing material?" Do you want to read about how that report was falsely maligned as containing sensationalistic language, when in fact the authors agonized over whether to describe the human effect on observed climate change as "appreciable" or merely "discernible?" If that's what you like, this book is for you. Some people might find it a little dry.
Overall I'm glad I listened to this. It's depressingly common to hear people debate what ought to be a science question by ranting on about socialism, the UN and the enemies of freedom. When you hear that kind of talk, if you've listened to this book, you will know where it comes from, who put it out, and who paid for it-- and it will be easy to envision the ghost of Fred Singer (one of the principal villains), wherever he is, smiling a little.
There's a well-known quote from Michael Lewis about Liar's Poker: how he hoped it it would turn some bright young college kids away from the cesspool of Wall Street and encourage them to pursue something more meaningful-- but instead they all just wanted to know how to get jobs in finance.
If Lewis really wants to steer the up-and-comers toward oceanography or whatever, he should not write books like Flash Boys. For all the talk about how the book will make you blood boil over the outrages of high frequency trading, it is mostly a big fat valentine to a bunch of stock pushers-- guys who were making huge sums of money to begin with, and who seized an opportunity score even bigger by designing an exchange that was supposedly not susceptible to HFT scamniness. I'll take Lewis' word for how bad HFT is (its practitioners don't defend themselves in his pages), but the uncritical hagiography of his plucky band of renegades is just impossible to stomach. These people are not Mother Teresa. They are men on the make (and he never lets you forget just how much they are making, aided by the reader, who lays on the Dr Evil emphasis -- one million dollars-- every time he mentions a salary).
Twenty five years ago, Michael Lewis' idea of the good life was to forswear the world of finance. Now, apparently all he asks is that you make your killing in some way that is arguably less corrupt than the next guy's. I guess the money culture really is unstoppable.
I picked this up because Gary Shteyngart called it one of his favorite books of 2013. Why, Gary Shteyngart, why? It seems like Carl Hiassen just keeps writing the same book. Nature good. Quirky speakers-of-truth-to-power good. Tourists, not so hot, but funny. Henchmen bad. Bosses very bad. Hot women, very very good. Hot women in sexy outfits, got by those quirky guys: words fail.
I suppose if you go to McDonald's you want your next Big Mac to be exactly like your last one, but at some point, you just get tired of the place altogether.
If you like lots of action in exotic locations and are fascinated with weaponry and other guy things (construction, navigation, commando tactics, dotted quads, choo choo trains, WoW, etc.), you might enjoy this book. It???s chock full of that stuff-- but Jane Austen it???s not. The author has a complicated plot to unroll, and he isn???t going to waste time carefully sculpting his prose.
The characters are hokey: a Russian special forces guy so macho that he once survived by drinking his own urine and sucking the blood out of small animals, who spends the entire book dropping, rolling, and chambering a round; a beautiful Eurasian spy; an international band of plucky young hackers and misfits who must save each other (and the world) from the sinister machinations of arch-terrorist Abdallah Jones and his sadistic henchmen. The plot depends on ridiculous coincidences and implausible decisions to keep the action moving. There is also some bloat, as the author just can???t help himself from going on and on about the technical details of this or that: there is a dialogue about great circle flight paths that simply will not end. If the villain is about to entomb Our Heroine in a prison of his own fiendish design, you will be sure to learn about the source of the lumber, the dimensions and spacing of the nails, etc., etc., etc. It???s unnecessary-- just have Mr. Terrorist lock her up, give his arrogant monologue, laugh his evil laugh, and make his grand exit, being sure to forget some key detail that will enable heroine girl to make her ingenious escape. Okay??
That said, there???s no denying that this is a page turner. I'm sure that this rat bastard Jones is going to get what???s coming to him, but I plan to finish the thing, just to see it happen.
The Reader: In general the reader has a pretty good voice for this kind of book and he gives a decent performance, but Lordy, the man cannot do accents. If an American reader is competent at English accents, the character will just seem like a Brit, but a lame accent inevitably makes him sound like a pompous jerk. There is another character, supposedly from Boston, who seems to suffer from some completely arbitrary vowel-distortion syndrome. The Russians sound ok though.
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