I have really enjoyed Pollan's other books and gave this a try. There are lots of good sections, but the book as a whole whole was not as good as I would have liked. I do not know if it has not aged well or if living in Southern California is so different than the world he describes. Fortunately, I grew up in the Midwest so some of his world made sense to me. Between the plant names and the prose, there were lots of new words and it would have been good to have the text and a thesaurus. I felt like he worked really hard to add the philosophy because it was the driver of the plot, but it did not all hold up. It is not bad and it is an OK listen, but I would not put it with his other works.
The book is about a manned mission to Mars in the near future, so it is definitely science fiction, but it is not far out stuff. That being said, I find many science fiction books to be more about the characters and interactions where the science fiction parts are back story. That is not the case here. This is a geek book. There was lots of engineering and detailed description of Rube Goldberg hacks. I am an engineer, but not a space expert and there was only one section did not seem to make sense to me technically, but that part was still fine.
This book is also full of sarcastic and flippant humor, which appeals to me. As you would expect, there are sections that were quite predictable, but the author did a far job of keeping the contrivances to a minimum and balancing the bad luck and superhuman talent. I felt that the narrator did a really good job of matching the books tone and I could envision him as the characters. The only negative to the narration was the use of accents for different characters rather than different voices, which did not always work for me, but this was minor. It is an entertaining book for me.
I am only half way through the book, but feel compelled to write the review now. It is at best OK for what it is trying to do which is explain the problems with the US university system and layout a plan for the future to fix it, but it is interesting enough that I will complete the book soon. The author gives a lot of anecdotes and states that there are a bunch of problems. I do not think that he does a good job of demonstrating a correlation let alone proving a causation. For example, I learned that some university faculty make good salaries, and that many universities did a lot of construction in recent years, have set up research labs and provide students with many more amenities than in my day, etc. He also points out that college is getting very expensive. To my position in the book (and he has moved on to future innovations), he never broke down a single college budget to understand where the tuition goes.
He intermixes cause and effects from top tier private schools, premier statue universities, 2nd tier colleges and community colleges, but the various schools do not all have the same problems. Some consistency when trying to explain something would greatly add to the credibility. Judging by how the author describes gaining his insights by attending various conferences, visiting different schools and talking to a variety of interested parties for his job, the book feels like opinions versus a well researched topic.
The conclusions all pretty much seem intuitive and obvious. In my case, I feel like he is preaching to the choir. However, instead of further convincing me, this book makes me want to really dig into the detail to see what I am missing because it is all to obvious, and that detail is not in the book. I graduated almost 30 years ago, do not have kids and education is very much a 2nd tier interest, yet I have not learned anything that I did not really know. There are many specific examples which were totally new and that is the strength of the book. I was even familiar with many of the examples and descriptions of new and future technology. Maybe what I feel is that this book does an excellent job of pulling all these different topics that have hit either the mainstream or fringe media and describing them in detail, but does not attempt to quantitatively tie them all together.
There also feels like an "I am smarter than all these university presidents, parents, students and governments" vibe that I attribute mostly to the writing. However, there is something in the tone of the narrator that also makes that feeling stand out.
All that being said, the book is interesting and I recommend it. I suggest keeping your mind open and contemplate what it is not telling you.
The history is interesting, but the premise does not hold up. It is probably worth it to listen to the book to learn about different things in history. However, the premise and even most of the stories are over sold. The author presents these drinks are made the center of civilization rather than an interesting part of periods.
As other reviewers have noted, this book is geared to the 18-30 male. He has a few interesting insights. Given the shortness of the books, those insights are still too few and far between. Much of it is simply ramblings of a blogger with all the negative connotations intended. The author is way too concerned about sex and does expound crudely for no apparent reason. Mr Manson is clearly confident and happy with his sexual prowess, but I do not think he will really help anyone gain confidence and is not even funny.
I recently got interested in this era, but knew little about it. This was a good overview of the political and governmental issues of the time. In that context it is biased towards the activists. With respect to Taft and Roosevelt, it seemed fairly even handed and fair. This was a good book, interesting, entertaining and educational and worth it. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or the subject.
That being said, it was not a perfect book. While the book was almost always interesting, it was not exciting. There are some books, long and short, that I want to listen to all the time. This was not one of them. I found that I got drowsy at times when I was driving with the book as my soundtrack. I cannot say where to cut, but it seemed too long. The book started with a detailed account of the former presidents early years, but then seemed to end quite quickly after Taft lost the election 1912 election. Ms. Goodwin also seems to like her thesis and tried to tie a few too many loosely related things tightly together. It probably would have been even better as a couple of smaller books, but do not let that stop you from listening to it.
Much of the book was interesting, but it was overly long. This is one that I would recommend reading so you can skim very quickly. Aside from having way too much detail in some places, it was hard to get a feel for Jobs. Clearly, he was not a particularly nice person, but he had some very loyal friends even after he screwed them. He was described as having a great deal of charisma, but that primarily came across as words as opposed to feeling it. The style of the book was to intermix chronological with details of certain aspects of his life such as his illness. The transitions seemed located to build excitement rather than for the ease of understanding the narrative. Finally, the tone of the book changed when Jobs returned to Apple. Before that, very few of the stories gave me a positive feel for him. After the return, much more of the story was in a positive light. It felt like a switch was flipped for a rebirth and growth as a human. It was not until the last couple of chapters that I felt drawn into the feelings of the people in the book.
I am not opposed to long books, such as a recently completed 50 hour history, but this one dragged. The author clearly needed a better editor. As noted, there is a lot of interesting material, but it could have been much tighter.
In the Ender and Shadow world, I have found that 1/2 or 2/3 of the books are good and the rest adequate and entertaining. This falls in the latter category. It started slow, but picked up steam in the middle and I was listening to it in all my spare moments. The audio contains an afterward by the author that mentions an additional book soon. Hopefully, this comparatively weak fare is setting up something stronger.
I am often not a fan of true comedy novels, but Lamb seldom goes too far over the top. It even seems to intersperse real historical research and knowledge and an overall plausible implausibility. Fisher Stevens is the perfect narrator for this story. If you do not mind jokes about sex and religion, give it a try.
You are taken through the full life of John Quincy Adams. The strength and weakness is that if feels like it is strictly from his point of view. The author often states that information is drawn from Mr. Adams private journal. As such, there is no great perspective on the former President's actions and achievements. That being said, it is well written and tells a great story. It is a great way to learn about a distinguished gentleman that lived an amazing life, but does not suffice as the definitive summary.
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