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John Mertus

Radical Skeptic

Rumford, RI USA | Member Since 2001

182
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 16 reviews
  • 19 ratings
  • 586 titles in library
  • 40 purchased in 2014
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FOLLOWERS
6

  • Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Bart D. Ehrman
    • Narrated By Bart D. Ehrman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (217)
    Performance
    (36)
    Story
    (35)

    Dan Brown's immensely popular New York Times best-selling The Da Vinci Code is one of the most successful books of recent history. It has captivated millions the world over with its enthralling suspense and its provocative questions about the true nature of Jesus' life.

    John Mertus says: "A historian's approach to the Da Vinci code"
    "A historian's approach to the Da Vinci code"
    Overall

    I choose to read this book about the Da Vinci code because of Dr. Ehrman's credentials as a historian and I was not disappointed.

    This book is not about rigid thinking but about how one can evaluate the surviving gospel texts and reach likely conclusions about who Jesus really was. For example, Dr. Ehrman discounts the premise of the Da Vinci code that Jesus was married by painstakingly looking at what the writings say and what is reasonable in the context of the 1st century.

    His conclusion is that it is highly unlikely Jesus was married but not impossible. This might throw people off who want a definite answer of yes or no, or do not want to examine the evidence in detail in order to reach one's own conclusion.

    If you believe you have a scholars approach to thinking, or have a mind that wants to learn how a historian approaches history, then I believe you will find this book excellent. I highly recommend it. But if you want to be told what is right or wrong, look somewhere else.

    Lastly, if you are a Christian who believes in the divine nature of bibical writings, then this book is not for you because its premise is that the gospels must be looked at with a critical eye, not accepted blindly.

    45 of 46 people found this review helpful
  • The Camel Club

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By David Baldacci
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis
    Overall
    (3133)
    Performance
    (1292)
    Story
    (1296)

    It exists at the fringes of Washington, D.C., has no power, and consists solely of four eccentric and downtrodden members whom society has forgotten. Their simple goal is to find the "truth" behind their country's actions.

    Alex says: "The Good, Bad, and the So-So"
    "Boring, more boring and unrealistic"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I read "Zero Day" and found it a great book so I was expecting something pretty good. But the story starts bad, goes to worse, and ends poorly. Spoiler alert. Do not read further unless you want to be warned away from a terrible book.

    The camel club see a man executed and then made to look like a suicide. Ok, what would anyone with half a brain do? Take the gun, the suicide note and throw them in the woods or river. Now it is invested as a murder and they don't get involved. Duh. A terrorist kills his companions and commits suicide? And the CIA doesn't get suspicious? They don't run DNA? Then the kidnapping? Come on. Five seconds after the shooting started not a single terrorist would have been left alive even if that required some civilian causalities. Most of the terrorists would be dead before the guns were half way out. That's why they use bombs! Duh. And after the kidnapping? The US borders would be shut down. Nothing would get out.

    A story does not have to be realistic to be good, witness James Patterson's stories, it just has to feel plausible. However, if you are dealing with well know events there has to be major element of realism. Nothing in this story, not the character's reactions, not the CIA's intelligence gathering, not the secret service protection are believable.

    Basically I listened to most of the story at 3x speed and was bored by it. Want a good story, read Lee Child, this is what Baldacci before he created Zero Day. Rent that book. Not this one. 6 hours out of my life I'll never get back, nor my audible credit.

    As far as the performance. I hate sound effects on my books, music is bad enough. My major regret is I can't give a zero rating, or even a -5 rating, to this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Devotion of Suspect X

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Keigo Higashino, Alexander O. Smith
    • Narrated By David Pittu
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (561)
    Performance
    (274)
    Story
    (275)

    Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced, single mother who thought she had finally escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day to extort money from her, threatening both her and her teenaged daughter Misato, the situation quickly escalates into violence and Togashi ends up dead on her apartment floor.

    Howard says: "Devoted tale of kindness and unknown friendship."
    "Japanese Agatha Christie"
    Overall

    A great story starts strongly, builds through a believable plot until it reaches a climax, and a few pages of well deserved repose.

    This book starts out with a non-crime; something that I felt was justified. Thus, for the rest of the entire book, I wasn???t wishing for the bad guy to get caught but rather awaiting the inevitable fate that must come. I like good guys to beat the bad guys and from the beginning it was clear it wasn???t about that.

    Next, like Agatha Christie, the story deliberately hides information, for example the actual time so it becomes impossible to actually figure out what was going on. It was to be a story about two geniuses going at one another but, alas, apparently neither of these ???geniuses??? ever heard of Ockham???s Razor: inside the incredibly contorted plot that could have gone wrong for many reasons was a simple solution that had a higher probability of working.

    Finally the long draw out ending that explained in gory detail what happened. A great plot revels the solution and your mind snaps it into place with an Ah Ha, it all fits. All in all, this is a contrived book with little to recommend it. Agatha Christie was great in her time but she is dated now like this book

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Nineteen Seventy Four: Red Riding Quartet

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By David Peace
    • Narrated By Saul Reichlin
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (253)
    Performance
    (62)
    Story
    (65)

    Jeanette Garland, missing Castleford, July 1969. Susan Ridyard, missing Rochdale, March 1972. Claire Kemplay, missing Morley, since yesterday. It’s winter, 1974, Yorkshire, Christmas bombs, Lord Lucan on the run, the Bay City Rollers, and Eddie Dunford’s got the job he wanted – crime correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. He didn’t know it was going to be a season in hell. A dead little girl with a swan’s wings stitched into her back. A gypsy camp in a ring of fire. Corruption everywhere you look.

    Lori says: "Disturbing, Uncomfortable - Real Crime Fiction"
    "Proust meets Chandler"
    Overall

    David Peace clearly decided to write a Raymond Chandler novel in the style of Marcel Proust and failed miserably at both.

    ???I???ve driven all night and come back here, as if it all came back here???, ???It came out of the dark at me as if I had been asleep my whole life???, ???I ate toast with jam??? This is the style of writing that permeates this book as if the author decided he liked the sound of lines and stuck them in anywhere even if the context belied the lines. Mixed metaphors abound.

    As all bad writers do, he tells you what the main character is feeling rather than making you experience what the main character is feeling. I hesitate to use protagonist for main character here because that would mean he is a likeable person, not a weak, confused lout who couldn???t reason himself out of a grade school debate.

    As far as plot, there is none that I can decipher, just random vignettes poorly linked together. If you liked the Shield TV show, and the use of curse words, you might like this book, but if you like well drawn characters, good writing, and a well thought out plot that builds to an strong conclusion, don???t waste your audible credits.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Demon Under The Microscope

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 18 mins)
    • By Thomas Hager
    • Narrated By Stephen Hoye
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1867)
    Performance
    (1132)
    Story
    (1131)

    The Nazis discovered it. The Allies won the war with it. It conquered diseases, changed laws, and single-handedly launched the era of antibiotics. This incredible discovery was sulfa, the first antibiotic medication. In The Demon Under the Microscope, Thomas Hager chronicles the dramatic history of the drug that shaped modern medicine.

    Sara says: "A fantastic book"
    "A pleasure in listening"
    Overall

    It is a great pleasure to read a science author who knows both how to write and understands the subject. Thomas Hager is one such author. His manages to take both well know discoveries and little know episodes and weave them together into a story that is informative and entertaining. His descriptive writing is excellent, a rare talent in a writer who understands science.

    The first part of the book does some jumping back and forth in time mostly to great effect as he reacquaints us with the discovery of the germ theory and early serum medicine. (Although I found that every once in a while he gives away the punch line before he tells the story.)

    The second half of the book gives a fascinating and unique glimpse into Germany from before WWI to after WWII when the discovery of the magic bullet sulfa revolutionized the foundations of modern medicine.

    If you, like me, enjoy both history and science, this is an exciting story that is well worth reading or listening.

    38 of 40 people found this review helpful
  • Nature Girl

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Carl Hiaasen
    • Narrated By Lee Adams
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (637)
    Performance
    (143)
    Story
    (146)

    Honey Santana, impassioned, willful, possibly bipolar, self-proclaimed "queen of lost causes", has a scheme to help rid the world of irresponsibility, indifference, and dinnertime sales calls. She's taking rude, gullible Relentless, Inc., telemarketer Boyd Shreave and his less-than-enthusiastic mistress, Eugenie, into the wilderness of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands for a gentle lesson in civility. What she doesn't know is that she's being followed by her Honey-obsessed former employer.

    Pamela Faber says: "Well worth the wait!"
    "Throws an 11.."
    Overall

    What makes Hiaasen such a wonderful writer? Absurdity, main characters that are flawed but decent, incongruous minor characters, and entertaining plots are the reason I read him. The problem is that after fifteen years of what started as new bizarre type of writing now sounds almost normal. Hiaasen’s obsession with replacing hands with other objects continues here; but alas, it is weak and never really helps the story. Hiaasen is actually too sane to portray Honey as crazy. Honey acts and reacts rationally through out the book. The plot is very weak with too many characters, none of which are very powerfully drawn.

    The book does has its good moments, the fire ants paragraph and the obsessed Lilly. Nonetheless, Hiaasen has fallen victim to his own success. Buy it, and enjoy a few hours of fun; it is well worth some smiles, but contains none of the outright belly laughs of his earlier books. Also remember that Hiaasen at 3 is better than most writers at 5.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By David Bodanis
    • Narrated By Del Roy
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (397)
    Performance
    (79)
    Story
    (81)

    From the author of the bestselling E=MC2 comes a mesmerizing journey of discovery illuminating the wondrous yet unseen force that permeates our world and the scientists who've probed its secrets. Before 1790, when Alessandro Volta began the scientific investigation that spurred an explosion of knowledge and invention, electricity was perceived as little more than a property of certain substances that sparked when rubbed.

    Michael says: "Electric Electricity"
    "Well written but wrong"
    Overall

    The author can write. The telling is quite fast paced and random topics are woven together by the universal thread of electricity. On writing and telling, the book is five star. Alas, the author is neither a scientist nor understands how to check historical facts.

    One minor example is when he talks about Lord Kelvin and the age of the earth, he takes a quote out of context, “assuming no other source of heat”, and weaves a fantasy about how Lord Kelvin anticipated radioactivity. This story is well known, Lord Kelvin, one of the great thinkers of all time, refused publicly to add radioactivity into his calculations even when his private letters showed he began to doubt his previous arguments.

    I can forgive a great old man for not wanting to admit to a failing, but I cannot forgive an author who reads some scientific fact or historical bit and weaves a tale that does not reflect the known historical interpretation.

    Another example is when he talks about Turing but completely ignores Dr. John W. Mauchly and J. P. Eckert, Jr who built the first completly electronic computer (ENIAC). Turing’s lasting contributions were theoretical not practical, he actually failed in his attempt to develop a programable computer. But no reader would know Mauchly and Eckert ever existed fromt his book nor that Turing did not invent software!

    Time and time again the author regurgitates science with the wrong slant: the words are all correct but the overall impression is slewed.

    So the book is a fun read, use the book as a jumping off point to learn more, just don’t use the book as a reference on how electricity, or scientists, work.

    11 of 14 people found this review helpful
  • Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Stephen Jay Gould
    • Narrated By Richard McGonagle
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (66)
    Performance
    (19)
    Story
    (19)

    In this fascinating history of the age-old battle between Science and Religion, evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould argues that part of living the full human experience is achieving a balance between the spiritual and the rational."

    John Mertus says: "Tame and bland compared to his other books"
    "Tame and bland compared to his other books"
    Overall

    I love Gould's insights, read almost all his books and mourned his passing. This book is different, rather than letting the data and drive conclusion, Gould decided on the conclusion and presented little that opposed this.

    For example, Gould is correct that Galileo's problems were more political then scientific. But he never explores the damage to popular science that the Catholic Church did by Galileo's public trial. If you inadvertently knock a flowerpot off a 22 story building and the impact destroys a pedestrian's head; there may be a legal difference if it was intentional or accidential, but to the poor walker it matters not, nor if the flower was an almost dead marigold or a prize winning orchid. Gould basically talks about how wonderfully you grew orchid and not the consequences as he expounds upon how the higher ups in the Church discuss and debate all sorts of scientific and philosophical ideas. He ignores that these discussions do not lead to any ground-breaking policies or reforms.

    Still this is Gould and as always he has unique ways of looking at science and religion that exposed some of my own prejudices about science and religion.

    15 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Steven Johnson
    • Narrated By Alan Sklar
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (487)
    Performance
    (72)
    Story
    (73)

    Brilliantly exploring today's cutting edge brain research, Mind Wide Open allows readers to understand themselves and the people in their lives as never before. Using a mix of experiential reportage, personal storytelling, and fresh scientific discovery, Steven Johnson describes how the brain works and how its systems connect to the day-to-day realities of individual lives.

    Chris says: "Fascinating, fascinating... but short"
    "Lightweight and Repetitive"
    Overall

    Sol Stein has an equation for writing, 2+2 = 1. It means that more is less. He pounds this advice into authors. Too bad Steven Johnston was not one of Stein's students. Rather than a book about the brain, this work is a collection of antidotal observations about how Johnston perceives his brain works. As Stein preaches, some is very good too much detracts and this book distracts.

    Unlike good science writers, Johnston misses interesting points. For example, he writes about the failure when playing a one computer game that was driven by his mind because the calibration was wrong. The main question here is not that the equipment was badly calibrated, but that calibration is necessary each time the game is played. Why does the brain need this while some other physiological measurements do not? Perhaps a deep idea here? But the book ignores this and drones on, repeating the obvious with little insight.

    To be fair, there were a few bright spots; for example, when he compares the old Freudian approaches to the Ego and Id with modern understand of the brain workings, but these gems are very few, very far between and quit unpolished, almost afterthoughts.

    All in all, a book only for insomniacs..

    30 of 41 people found this review helpful
  • The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

    • ABRIDGED (9 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By David McCullough
    • Narrated By Edward Herrmann
    Overall
    (364)
    Performance
    (123)
    Story
    (124)

    In the years around 1870, the concept of building a great bridge to span the East River between the cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn required a vision and determination comparable to that which went into the building of the pyramids. Throughout the fourteen years of the bridge's construction, the odds against its successful completion seemed staggering. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives were lost, political empires fell, and surges of public emotion constantly threatened the project.

    Greg says: "Very Poorly Abridged"
    "Typical McCullough"
    Overall

    A good author can make the most boring story exciting. McCullough is a great author and the actual story of the bridge is not very interesting. That said, this is an interesting read because McCullough can fit the story into the times and into the people who built the bridge. The only reason I did not give this a 5 rating is because the book fails to explain the interesting technical details of bridge building. For example, in House, when the author talks about nails, he does a interesting technical history of nails, but here, when McCullough talks about wire, there is NO historical perspective, nor is there any about the engineering that goes into the bridge. Remember, this was at a time there was no computers or other mechanical aids to make bridges. That aside, the book is worth the read

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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