This is a really solid introduction to a topic I knew almost nothing about. If you want to learn something substantive about Signals Intelligence (electronic evesdropping) in an utterly painless way, this is a great download.
It's pretty well-written, and although it meanders about at times, by the time it's all done, you've had a very broad exposure to the topic.
The author here is not some privacy zealot out to do a hatchet job on the NSA. Rather, he seems to approach his topic with a genuine sense of intellectual curiousity and an understanding of the inherent trade-offs between privacy and security interests. But what emerges from this fair and frank analysis of the available information is no less troubling.
If you are concerned about your personal privacy, this book shows you have every reason to be justified in those concerns. If you aren't particularly concerned about privacy and just hope our spys manage to find a way to stay ahead of the bad guys and head off the next 9/11, you should also be very concerned about what this book has to say about the effectiveness of U.S. evesdropping capabilities.
The picture that emerges here is that of a traditional, hide-bound government bureaucracy, unable to adapt to the changes in modern communication, rather than the all-seeing, all powerful, Great Eye of the U.S. that some would have us fear.
Yet at the same time, this very bureaucracy is almost completely shielded by secrecy, and still possesses incredible power to invade our privacy, both at home and overseas.
We may have the worst of all possible worlds: an ineffective NSA that often can't actually find the bad guys, spends billions of our dollars, possesses powerful tools for the invasion of our privacy, and has been basically left to its own devices.
The book not only shows you these problems, it also gives you enough exposure to the field to understand why they all are going to be very difficult to solve.
This is kind of an odd book. As usual, Burke's eloquent descriptive prose is here, along with his frequent, thoughtful meditations on the human condition. But there really isn't much of a coherent plot here. A recently released ex-convict and gifted musician tries to navigate his way to a meaningful life, all while watching the lives of everybody around him crash and burn due to their various character defects and the inherent brutality and cruelty of the world. That really does capture the entire plot here. It seems like Burke is trying to write more of a character-driven novel here instead of his more usual, exciting dramas. Yet somehow the characters here just aren't drawn with as much vitality and fine detail as in Burke's other works. That said, Will Patten reading James Lee Burke is never exactly a bad time - just listening to him describe the mountains and the wilderness is something amazing. So if you go into it not expecting much - it will exceed your expectations. If you expect this to be another Neon Rain, you will be disappointed.
This is an interesting, thoughtful meditation on psychology, ethics, religion all wound up in a pretty engaging adventure story. At points it comes across as hopelessly Victorian, but if you can overlook that, there is still a lot to recommend it. The main characters are exceptionally well-crafted and complex, the descriptions of the life at sea are penetrating and well-crafted. There is a reason why this is a classic, it's really quite good. The narration is fine.
This is a very creative book. It doesn't really fit into any genre easily. It is a detective story, it is a political thriller, it is a bit of science fiction. It is actually none of those things and all of them at the same time. Imagine two peoples sharing the same physical space (a former eastern bloc city) yet living entirely apart - ignoring each other, pretending that the other does not exist. Then imagine a murder that seems to cross these carefully defended boundaries. That is the premise of The City & The City and it is extremely well-executed.
An audiobook is a combination of literature and performance. As we all know, even an excellent book can be ruined by a poor narration. But in the best audiobooks, the underlying source material is excellent and the narrator takes that material and wrings every ounce from it. These James Lee Burke novels read by Will Patton are simply outstanding. Patton does different voices for the different characters and the voices capture the tone of the characters perfectly. The rich, descriptive & lyrical prose of Burke just blends perfectly with Patton's subtle and excellent narration. These are entertaining books written by a thoughtful, sophisticated guy - they take the genre crime novel up a notch. These are violent books for a mature audience - Burke doesn't shy away from the dark realities of his subject matter - but if you want a good, entertaining download, I'd start with Neon Rain and then work through this series.
The pundits and the politicians have talked the Iraq situation into the ground. Everybody seems to know what the solution is and proclaims their conclusions boldly. Unfortunately, the chattering class is not deeply schooled in the history and culture of the country and most have never even been there. Rory Stuart probably didn't know much more than the pundits when he parachuted into the country and attempted to build something resembling a civil society in one southern province. But Rory Stuart is a quick study with an eye for the details that really matter. His story reveals a deeply complex and sophisticated society with political norms almost entirely foreign from our own.
No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this book will challenge your assumptions on Iraq. It should be required reading for anybody who has a role in formulating U.S. policy there.
This book provides a glimpse into a deeply foreign culture almost all of us will never see or penetrate otherwise. Afghanistan may be a desperately poor, largely illiterate country, but that doesn't tell the whole story. If you want to learn a little more about the complexity of modern Afghanistan, Rory Stuart is a good guide. He's not an apologist for the Taliban or some kind of latter day neo-colonialist, he generally just tells his story straight and lets you draw your own conclusions. Nor is this some incredible adventure story filled with narrow escapes and tales of daring do. Stuart knows he is doing something incredibly dangerous but is very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, even when he comes close to getting killed.
The perspective is somewhat unusual, in that he's walking from village to village, and in each spot he picks up little bits of the culture and the people and shares them as he goes. So the picture that emerges is never fully formed, not completely linear or organized. He doesn't pre-digest and organize everything for you. Yet somehow by the end of the book, you feel as though you've learned something of the place and its people, something you could have only learned through his unique perspective.
Read by the author himself and he does a nice job with it.
While this book did teach me a few things I didn't know about Wal-Mart, ultimately, the analysis is largely superficial, and occasionally laughably wrong-headed. I particularly liked his view that if an economic analysis appears in a peer-reviewed journal than its conclusions are equivalent to scientific truths, or that a market where 80 % of the product isn't sold at Wal-Mart is unquestionably under Wal-Mart's control. If you are looking for a sophisticated economic analysis of Wal-Mart, this isn't it. He does level some valid criticisms at the company, but an equal number of his arguments fall well short of the mark.
It's not even very well-written. It rambles and repeats itself, and there is a strained sort of muckraking/yellow journalism quality to the language which further undermines the credibility of the author.
Spend your credits elsewhere.
This is a highly entertaining download. It is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but also is filled with searingly sharp observations of American culture. Thompson is writer of rare skill, his mastery of the craft sometimes takes your breath away, he's that good.
The book is occasionally a little disjointed (not surprising given the drug use it chronicles in great detail) and will certainly offend those who tend to very straight-laced, conservative Republican views, but it richly deserves its status as an American classic. It translates well into an audiobook format and the quality of the narration is very high. Recommended.
This is, all and all, a pretty solid book, particularly if you already have some interest in the field. It explains both current state of modern neuroscience as well as the author's theory of the basis for intelligence. If you are interested in this topic it's probably worth the download. You will have to put up with a few minor irritations, such as (1) the author's ego occasionally bleeds through with little snotty asides. He's fairly arrogant and quickly dismissive of alternative views, (2) his theory seems internally consistent but is ultimately a little reductionist. The brain almost certainly does work, at some level, just as he describes it. But when he pushes the model into describing the creative process, the basis of consciousness and some other areas, it feels a little thin. It's an engineer's view of the essence of these aspects of human behavior, overly wedded to a simplistic structure, ignoring nuances which are clearly important. (3) There is one chapter in the book which doesn't translate into a book tape very well, because it's fairly technical and relies on diagrams. But even if you don't entirely drink his Kool-Aid, this is still an interesting, thought-provoking way to spend a few hours.
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