Shermer's approach obviously is personal. While during the first half of the book he sums up current brain science/mind theory's point of view quite fascinatingly, in the second half he more or less concentrates on a "kind of vendetta" against personal critics towards his person or position.
So five stars for about 50-60 percent of the book, 2 stars for the rest. I would rate it four stars, but Shemer only repeats the same old experiments and studies that have been ridden to death by so many other books, articles and discussions before, without bringing anything new to the table, that - even though his performance, his to-the-point style are great to listen to and "do make you think" (if you didn't do so before) - in the end you ask yourself: What's new about it? That's all kind of all day knowledge for an educated grown up.
I guess this book has been wrongly categorized by Audible, since there is no "character" (except, maybe, for some "Gods" that ever now and then pop up and whom I find to be quite silly).
Shermer's performance is good, professional and convincing. If he had left out all those pokes towards his personal issues with readers or colleagues in the "scientific" community, it might have been great.
I am not going to believe in that any scientist who calls himself a scientist knows ANYTHING for sure. Shermer wants me to believe he does, but this book is a good base for being a skeptic :-)
There are quite a lot of passages that make you go "huh?". It really isn't of much interest to an European reader/listener, what the American politics system looks like, but if the author insists in this (the US system) being the ONLY ONE in the world, it's quite funny to listen to. You even laugh out loud when the author explains that you just cannot take anything for granted that other people just tell you, and in the next sentence states "this and that, of course, is a fact that everyone knows".
In general you get the most out of this book by listen closely and finding all the moments in which the author directly contradicts himself.
Since I do not know the printed version of the course I cannot say much about such a comparison. Yet, I would think that for a printed version there's not enough background information (that one could skip over if not interested) in the lectures, which seem to be tailored just right for listening experiences.
What I really enjoyed was the open approach to how heroes, legends and reception of them change over time. This could have even be stretched more, the definition of a hero being an "archetypal muscle muppet", that is repeated a lot, seems too limited to me. I cannot imagine people from 2000 years ago being that hollywood-cliche-addicted.
You clearly get the impression of a tutor loving his topic. Sure, Mr. Shippey's pronunciation of "Don Quixote" is more than disturbing (if I, being German, would pronounce American heroes like "Darth Vader" the way they are written, the result would be, as Americans might "hear" it, something like "that daddy").
But funny "English-is-the-center-of-the-world-all-other-languages-are-obsolete" escapades aside, the energy and warmth-from-the-heart these lectures transport makes you accept the few passages easily, where Mr. Shippey stretches the content a bit to fill the time :)
On a side note: I did have to speed up the playback, because his many pauses between words, more often than not interrupting the line of thoughts, made following Mr. Shippey a bit difficult at times.
If you love literature and want to get some new ideas about how to understand older (and even new) stories, Mr. Shippeys course is a wonderful overview over different types of texts, story telling, dependencies of characters on their historic background, expectations and fears of audience.
It does help to KNOW the texts, but I think that Mr. Shippey has chosen a good canon of literature work that most listeners should be familiar enough with to have their own ideas of what makes the "hero character" a "hero" - or, in some cases, NOT.
Yes, I would have loved some more historic background in some lectures. Yes, I would have loved some critical comments on the "quality" of certain texts (I am not going to name one here). There's a lot more to "understanding" what a literature hero is versus a "real world" hero, I think, but, after all, this is a spare-time hobby course, not some university study :-)
This is a tricky review, since neither topic nor text, reading-performance nor audio technique are "all bad" (or "good"). It has been a mixed experience.
As for content: It's all old wine. Sure, this book is rather old (more than 10 years), so I should not have expected anything surprisingly fresh, still, it's just the same thoughts chewed over. On the other hand, the author makes some astounding claims that, even if you consider them naive, are worth thinking about.
I chose the headline I set, because the author keeps contradicting himself. A simple example: He makes it very clear, that "genes" are not "on or off" values for specific functions or features, but have to be seen as tiny bits of a larger matrix, changing a singe gene may very well lead to hundreds, thousands or more of varying results. Yet, he also claims that some banal tests on "genetically altered food" are good enough to state, once and for all, that no harm can ever arise from such "gene-food".
It is a well accepted rule in science, that you cannot prove a negative. You cannot prove that something does NOT exist (like God). Even if the author claims so, you just cannot prove that genetically altered food is harmless. You can only say "we haven't found any issues so far, but we haven't tested all possible billions and billions of combinations of genes".
Nuff said, that's really just one thing - the author is convinced that he knows all and everything, that he is never mistaken and that everyone thinking otherwise is kind of stupid. He makes this point very clear and that makes BELIEVING him quite hard.
Like I said some ideas or thoughts are worth considering. Pinker's ideas of "discrimination schemes" are "nice", but not necessarily reality-proof, for example.
Unfortunately the author keeps reiterating on ideas over and over again. Once he said something that the reader/listener has to think about and "digest", the author says the same thing again with other words. And then he says something similar. Then he jumps to a different topic, forgets about the previous one - and returns, only to say the same again in new, different words. It is HARD to follow your ow thoughts and understandings if an author thinks he is so all-knowing that he can do the thinking for you!
Three words? Ha!
I did not find the performance of Mr. Bevine very helpful to follow the book. He starts chapters very slow, at a low tone, with very even intonation. Over the run of a chapter his voice gets louder and more dramatic, till he ends chapters with energy, faster pace and sometimes "breathless", only to fall back to a dramatic flatline at the next chapter's start.
I am not sure Mr. Bevine really understood everything he read. Quite often his intonation made understanding the content unnecessarily difficult. A more "to-the-text" performance would have been nice.
The content has been too well known and widely discussed to really inspire me to more than a good espresso.
I was doubting if buying another old "book" with a narration that did not convince me in the sample audio was a good choice.
Now I know I will not do that again. After all, READING the book myself would have been a lot better, being able to skip half of the pages for their repetitions ...
My headline above should make sense if you read or listened to this book/performance. Mr. Crystal gives some good performances (and some not so great), demonstrating what his success is based on. The live performance parts indeed are the better ones, the studio-read ones ... not so much (and the changing quality of recording at times is distracting).
A good book lives on a a good story. You may think that what better story could there be than the life of the author telling it himself? Unfortunately Mr. Crystal cannot make up his mind whether to bring up an anecdote to present a punch line OR to tell you something about himself, his life, "where he's been and where he's going to". When in doubt, he'll always choose the laugh.
That may be what his FANs are after.
I personally love the films I saw him working in, so I admire Mr. Crystal's work. I see how great he is as a stand up comedian. I get a glimpse of how he may be as a family man (although this somehow slips through my fingers in this book). But what do I REMEMBER of the story after I finished listening to the book?
Not much. In fact, I only remember a few good one liners.
For a biography that isn't enough, be it presented as congenially as it is.
I would actually like to listen to Mr. Crystal reading good books that tell a great story. Are there any? Please let me know.
As I said above: Mr. Crystal is a great stand up comedian. So the life performances recorded here live and breath, his interaction with the audience, the TIMING you get there, are just great.
Well, if Mr. Crystal was plaid by, let's say, Mr. Crystal, I surely would love to see a move starring Mr. Crystal performing as Mr. Crystal. I fear it would need a good screen writer to work at the dramatics :)
The good thing about Great-Courses audio versions is that most of the tutors are able to show their own enthusiasm about the topic they talk about. This is true for this course as well, for sure Mr. McWhorter loves his theories and his perspective on the history of language.
There is a lot I would discuss in depth in terms of "believability" (or call it "proof") when Mr. McWhorter just states that something "is". Where other scientists understand that seeing flaws in a theory or simply expressing doubts, these lectures have a touch of "religion" to them. I really missed the more open minded approach of other Great-Courses I listened to.
Performance-wise I have had some problems following the narration. This is the first course that made me wish that the next break would come so that I could CONCENTRATE on something. Mr. McWhorter loves to stray from a line of thoughts (many times just in order to laugh about jokes on torturing dogs, which he finds quite funny - being a "cat person") and the way the lectures have been recorded (with him obviously just loosely following notes and vividly interacting with an audience) were distracting me. There are some sound issues when Mr. McWhorter turned his mouth away from the mike, but these weren't that hard to ignore.
What was talked about (and I said I would like to DISCUSS rather than just "believe") basically is the "standard introduction" into the one-language-theory (that has never really convinced me and this course didn't succeed in doing so either). "How have different language evolved", "why do languages change", "how can we trace back languages to common ancestors". I don't think there was much missing from the "rough overview" and Mr. McWhorter had quite some anecdotes to tell (although his humor isn't mine, so he had to laugh on his jokes without me - that's ok). But anyone having read anything about language history won't find much "new" in here.
Other "Great Courses" did better in giving glimpses of "there is more to this, if you liked this, you might want to look into ..."
I love The Great Courses, but I doubt that I would like to passively listen to another McWhorter-Lecture. I would rather have a good cup of coffee with him and talk about some of the principles of his language-religion :-D
vivid, understandable, friendly
As said above: If you have never ever heard anything about how language develops and changes (and dies), this is a GOOD overview (just don't think that those linguists have the final knowledge - they just pretend). If you actively read newspapers, magazines and have a somewhat normal connection to the world you live in (and didn't sleep all the time in history at school) the bits of this course that are "new" are some anecdotes, semi-funny incidents with dogs being kicked from a ship and the repeated fact that a 38years-old man (this course is VERY old, it must have been recorded in 2003/2004) cannot tell a 1-year old child from a 9-year old one (and finds that quite normal).
Sorry - Mr. McWhorter started that, I am just quoting.
It is STILL worth the money, because WHAT is told is interesting, good to know and MAY help understanding people better.
That's great music?
(does that count as three?)
When I was a very young being (yes, before the war ...) I was convinced that, one day, within the span of my lifetime, I would be able to understand why "that guy in the orchestra is threatening the girl with a stick - and if he is not, why the heck she doesn't stop screaming".
This course has fulfilled one of my great wishes: To understand what some people consider "great" with that "old" music. For this I am grateful. Really, deeply, honestly grateful. I found an approach to Mozart (and more important composers) that I would not have considered possible (since I don't find Mozart's music that impressive - although I LOVE orchestral music).
What I still do not get is: Why this music types should be considered "greater" than any (and I mean: ANY) other type of professionally composed, orchestrated, conducted and played music. While I do "understand" now, what some people find interesting in Mozart, Wagner(?!) or Schönberg, the examples provided in the course weren't able to demonstrate the "greatness" of the music (or their composers) to me. Sorry. I like some stuff of it, I dislike others - but I frankly don't care if it is "great" music or just "good" music, if it tells me something and moves me.
Ok: Just take "great" out of the title and this course is a "no-brainer" (how strange that expression seems ...). Get it. Listen to it. I did - I did not skip a singe minute.
I would, can and already have done several times: Recommend this course to ANYONE who feels even the slightest interest in "understanding that kind of music". The course is approachable, understandable, moving, pulls you with it, gives ideas and inspirations for "further listening" and, not the least point, each lecture ends before it gets too hard to keep up with the enthusiasm of Prof. Greenberg!
I really loved the ideas about how Mozart might have reacted to later music compositions, although I somewhat doubt he would have done it the way presented here. Still, the idea of how he might have felt is very believable.
The sheer length of the course doesn't make listening to it in one "tour de force" unlikely. Besides, you need time to think through, iterate over and "try out" what you heard. You have to listen to different (in many cases: better) recordings of the music excerpts presented.
This book is for people interested in the matter - not for people wanting to get "smart" by listening to a course and "be done".
A complex course and shortened overview over such a huge matter as it is presented in this course cries for discussion. There are many, many things that I can not agree on with Prof. Greenberg (having some historical education myself). Examples would be the role the (Christian) Church has played according to Mr. Greenberg in regards to preserving art (his point of view) instead of actively destroying it or concentrating it on a minimalistic "mainstream" (mine).
A point that Prof. Greenberg seems to love is "musical typology is driven by spoken language", which does make sense to some extend. The examples of (German) spoken language he presents don't resemble typical "German" to me, though. One could be mean and counter with "Well, if what Prof. Greenberg says is true, then typical contemporary American music must be ugly, arhythmic, stuttering - because that is the way that I speak American". German does have variations (dialects) and even sub-types. German has not been the "language of art" through all centuries, so basing musical typology on "German" as an American speaks it today is irritating at best.
Sure - nitpicking I am. These are just examples of topics I would like to discuss, which, unfortunately, does not work in a one-way-communication like this course. There are many hickups begging to be pointed out, yet, none of these render the course any less worthy.
Get it. Listen to it. Open up a world you did not think interesting or worth examining ever before!
(Well, if you DID understand classic, romantic and whatsnotic music before, you probably bought the course for the fun of being doped with ecstasy for the topic by the tutor, didn't you?)
This is one of the very few books that take an honest, self-critic point of view on what the Darwin (or Wallace!) theory of evolution puts on the table to explain human (and animal) behavior. By doing so it offers some revealing and quite intriguing ideas about why we love, why we hate and why, the heck, that guy over there is getting away with my coffee.
Other than religiously colored books - which includes the "New Atheists" pamphlets with their own religion-like uberpowered self-confidence - the author takes a step back and tries to keep perspective: He knows that he is presenting theories and theories can be wrong. He takes the SCIENCE approach by trying to falsify claims, looking for gaps in arguments - and in this brings the matter to the reader/listener in a much more comprehensible way than any "I know what I am talking about, just listen, you dumb-ass"-book.
Aside from that the books has humor. You have to have some background knowledge to get every joke the author makes, but it _is_ funny.
For me there wasn't a climax, a most memorable moment (mmm), but the whole idea of being able to EXPLAIN emotional behavior and still accepting and even appreciating it (like "love") is something not that easily achievable by a completely scientific view on the emotional world.
Yes, this book does offer an idea of a religion-free common base for moral. Yet, that approach may not be acceptable to all humans, as it does not place humans at the top of the "moral landscape". In fact, it does not place humans on any top anywhere. It puts us back into a place where we belong. THAT may be an unwanted feeling for some.
Unfortunately the reading performance was quite distracting. At times it seemed like the narrator was completely uninterested in what he was reading, as if he just read it from paper and be done with it (which probably was the case). I had to speed playback up to 1.25 or even 1.5 to get SOME dramatic tone into it and not fall asleep (I am listening to audio books when taking my daily walk).
There are some narrative "gags" in the book which Mr Thornton (the voice actor) didn't seem to get.
I was tempted to give the performance a 1 star rating, but that would have been unfair. He still did a good job by speaking very clearly, perfectly understandably, easy to follow.
The content COULD have been stripped down to a 2-hour session without loosing too much of its information. But since the author follows Darwin's life and takes this as an example to illustrate evolution theory, he would have had to delete most of the "aha moments", which make this book so worthwhile.
So, no, I prefer listening to books like this in turns, even with other books in alternation.
I hope that what I was able to say what I wanted to in the comments above. This book really is worth some time of your life, either in printed form or as an audio book. One of the very few books I would actually recommend to people. And that's for the upright, honest and fair point of view taken in it, the acceptance of even the most weird (religious or not) perspective as "human" and "understandable" and even explaining why that is.
Let me put it this way: If someone is able to explain to the point what LOVE is and how it works and leaves you still being able and even wanting to love afterwards, he did a good job.
I haven't read the print edition (otherwise I obviously wouldn't have bought the audio edition), so I cannot compare them. Yet, I believe that I would not have had the issues with the print version that I had with the audio version, so ... maybe I'd preferred the printed book. Again.
What I did not expect from a collection of anecdotes (a "biography" in my understanding would be a bit more "to the point", not just jumping from story to story) is this: I hear a lot of people getting all emotional about whether they hate or adore Mr. Shatner. I never understood this, as for me he was always "just an actor", I never bothered to know anything personal about him. I found it quite nice to see, that to Mr. Shatner Mr. Shatner actually is "just an actor" and that he, Mr. Shatner, never bothered to have the audience know anything personal about him.
After listening to his - subjective, biased and in many occasions obviously not "well thought through" - stories I kind of sympathize with the man. Both the actor and the human being. It seems that some people expect "role model qualities" from someone, who, at the end of the day, always wanted to be "just an actor".
Actually I found the narration the most irritating part of the book. Sure, Shatner has a nice voice to listen to, is easy to follow - but the production allowed him to drop into mumbling and get away with far too many "volume issues" that my listening experience wasn't very positive. More often than not I found it hard to understand his "into the beard"-passages, which, for an audio book you listen to while walking the woods, isn't that cool.
There's too much jumping from story to story, too much sidekicks, too many "thought-to-be-funny" self-advertisements (I believe those are meant as a running gag, performed in the "Shatner wit" of humor) to listen to the narration for more than 1-2 hours in a sitting. That's for me, naturally. I guess, if you are a ShatFanBoy, you probably would consider this point of view invalid.
I sometimes think that audio book productions should consider "famous" narrators less god-like (which turns out into letting them "perform" the reading no matter of that performance fits the purpose of the production). Sometimes those "celebrities" are JUST ACTORS and need someone to guide them through a performance, asking them to "speak clearly" and "could you do that part again".
Sure. Fans want to have all the "funny bits". But funny bits can be handled in ways that make them fun for (nearly) everyone, if production treats actors as actors, not as "he knows what he's doin'"-wonders.
I haven't read the print version, so I am not able to compare.
Wolke does not hide that he falls for sales pitches himself and has to remind himself of simple things from time to time - like salt being generally SALT, not some magic powder that can solve problems or sugar being everywhere, often in disguise ...
I am a skeptic food buyer, trying to prepare as much as possible on his own, not relying on "convenience food" from the super market. Yet, this book has reminded me to be even more open eyed ...
The book consists of several, not necessarily connected, articles or columns that deal with separate topics. This makes it a good mix of various topics, but lacks a bit of a "red line".
Most of the facts and ideas presented in this course are well known to everyone who has read a bit about or heard from modern "mind science" or "how our brain works" talks. Yet, Novella's roundup is great to listen to, well paced, always interesting and well worth both time and energy spent.
I really enjoyed, for once, a scientist to remind the listener that he, the scientist, does not know it all and will probably not be right all the time. For one time a tutor explains, in detail, that using your own brain and mind means to check the facts and not just play along. A fair approach.
M. Shermer's "The Believing Brain" is quite similar in general approach, but concentrates too much on personal vendetta of the author and/or believe system. There are more comparable titles, but most, in my eyes (ears), suffer from the same basic problem: Scientists that want to make you BELIEVE that they do not need to believe, because they know all the facts for fact, are ... wretched(?).
Most comparable books start of with or repeat sentences like "well, we know for a fact that ..." - and that, exactly, is not scientific thinking. It's religion.
Novella does not fall for this.
Most books that cover the same topic come up with the ever repeating "experiments" that "scientists" have done, some of which date back to the 1930s or whatever. These experiments as well as the conclusions drawn from them are not that convincing, in setup, target and evidence. Yet, "science" seems unable to come up with new studies, new experiments and new approaches, so most books chew through the same data over and over again, almost in religious circles.
Novella gets around this quite well by just shortly pointing towards those experiments, but explaining thought processes and prejudices in more "today's" contexts, seemingly being still in contact with the real world and not lost in "scientist's drinking clubs". His narration, wit, pointyness (does that word exist?) and personal involvement make you believe he actually means what he says, yet has the distance to always remember you: He might be wrong.
There are a few "funny" side notes that are funny enough to make you giggle or even laugh for a moment, but overall the pace (30 minute lectures) and dedication is just about right to not NEED jokes or horror stories.
Can you expect "new insights"? No, if you have ever read anything about modern brain science or mind theory. Are you looking for a sumup of the current "believe" in why we believe and how we err in making up our minds: This is a great approach that won't even harm a religious listener (and those are often the targets of pity for so many other authors/teachers).
Not that I am of that kind anyway :-)
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