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I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

Walnut Creek, CA, United States | Member Since 2015

  • 422 reviews
  • 1412 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 26 purchased in 2015

  • The Warrior's Apprentice: A Miles Vorkosigan Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Lois McMaster Bujold
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner

    Miles Vorkosigan makes his debut in this frenetic coming-of-age tale. At age 17, Miles is allowed to take the entrance exams to the elite military academy; he passes the written but manages, through miscalculation in a moment of anger, to break both his legs on the obstacle course, washing out before he begins. His aged grandfather dies in his sleep shortly after, for which Miles blames himself.

    Readalot says: "What a great character!"
    "One of the Best of a Great Series"

    Warrior’s Apprentice is one of the best of this great series and introduces young Miles Vorksigan, the protagonist of the rest of the series. The characters are surprising and engaging and the story, while full of humor, is also deep enough so you care about the characters. The world is rich with history, social issues, politics, and bureaucracy, as well as technology. The narration is excellent presenting emotion along with the story. If reading the series in the chronological order read at least up to this book before deciding. The first three in the series are quite a bit different from the rest. Once reading the rest, I wanted to go back and read Shards of Honor and Barrayar again, as knowing the characters changes those books greatly.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Interpreter of Maladies

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Jhumpa Lahiri
    • Narrated By Matilda Novak

    With accomplished precision and gentle eloquence, Jhumpa Lahiri traces the crosscurrents set in motion when immigrants, expatriates, and their children arrive, quite literally, at a cultural divide. The nine stories in this stunning debut collection unerringly chart the emotional journeys of characters seeking love beyond the barriers of nations and generations.

    Jennifer says: "Novel-amazing; Audio-mediocre"

    This is a highly touted, award-winning collection of nine short stories and is on several “best” lists.
    I found most of these stories superficial, and the writing quite ordinary.

    I love short stories, but these stories seemed to focus on the shallowest aspects of both Indian and US culture. I liked the last two stories the best, but these were only above average. The rest of the stories did not make me laugh or cry or give me shivers or move me or shock me or surprise me or make me consider deeply. Yet the stories were not bad, and the writing was not bad. I did not find myself liking, or respecting, any of the characters. Yes, real life can be shallow and tedious but I don’t need to read that part in short stories.

    These stories seemed like they could be short scenes in novels, if supported by the structure and story and characters of a novel. On their own, they seemed a bit pointless.

    The audio production was down right annoying. The chapters do not align with the stories and there are discordant musical interludes between and within stories. The tone of the narrator was peppy and light, as if this was a children’s book, and I found the narration clashed sharply with the material. I certainly will not listen to this book again.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Native Son

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Richard Wright
    • Narrated By Peter Francis James
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic.

    Noah says: "Simply a classic"
    "75% Art, 25% Protest"

    Native Son, written in 1940, was ahead of its time, and represented an important voice in an age on the brink of change.

    The first two books of this novel were quite excellent, a personal story that felt honest and impactful, with well-drawn characters and an exciting plot. The book then proceeds into the third book with a long question and answer dialog, and long monologs, reminiscent of Dostoevsky, but seemed too heavy handed to me. The first two books of this novel, through character and story, made the points better than the exposition of the third book.

    Native Son has been criticized as being “protest fiction”, limiting its artistic value. This is true, but only true of the final book of the novel. The first two books are artistically executed and powerful. Somehow I think the novel would have been more powerful if this ended without third book.

    The narration was terrific, clear and subtly powerful. The narration adds greatly to the experience.

    Although I am glad I listened to this, the last book was tedious, reducing the overall experience. Yet, this was an historically important novel and may be worth reading for that reason alone.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • The End of Faith

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Sam Harris
    • Narrated By Brian Emerson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Here is an impassioned plea for reason in a world divided by faith. This important and timely work delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in today's world. Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes.

    William says: "Good book, bad narrator"
    "Too Soon"

    This is not really about the end of faith, but the author’s post 9-11 justification for the preemptive destruction of those he fears.

    I agree with much, if not most, (actually almost everything) of what is presented in The End of Faith, nevertheless I was uncomfortable with a few of the author’s blind spots, allowing him to seriously justify preemptive violence against his “enemies”.

    This is not rationalism, not an author searching for truth, but instead a long rationalization for violence born of fear. The author’s fear is palpable on nearly every page. This may not be noticeable to many just now, as fear saturates much of west post 9-11. This book seems to be a visceral (and understandably human) reaction to 9-11. While it does address the obvious historical atrocities perpetrated by western religions, much of the book explains why we should fear Islam and might need to kill them for their dangerous beliefs.

    The author seems to show no interest in understanding the nature of his enemy, merely repeatedly justifying his fear of them. Harris indicates he does not know how we might win the war on terrorism. The answer is simple to anyone who has studied military history, you win when your advisory loses the will to fight. Loses the will to fight. This seems to be the bases of his fear. That his enemy will never lose the will to fight.

    The author fails address some key questions:

    If religion is such a hindrance to human happiness, why is it ubiquitous in successful societies? I am not at all religious, but, without fully understanding the purpose of religion I hesitate to declare the end of faith.

    The author spends much of the book pointing out the violence intrinsic to Islam, yet he clearly knows western religious underpinnings are every bit as violent. This raises another question; why have western religions recently become less overtly violent? The author seems to claim western societies are “ahead of” (more civilized than, more advanced than, better than) Islamic societies. But the author does not seem to seriously consider why this is the case.

    This is not a bad book, but the best parts have been done better elsewhere, and the fear based parts are sad.

    The narration is not at all bad, but the emphasis seemed a bit exaggerated for the material.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By Junot Diaz
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis, Staci Snell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku: the curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

    Robert says: "Wondrous Book!!!"
    "Nearly F-ing Perfect Modern Masterpiece"

    Talent hits a target no one else can hit, Genius hits a target no one else can see. This novel hits the target of genius. When I rate stars, 3=good, 4=very good, 5=great. This is one of those rare books that I can’t rate highly enough.

    Within the first few minutes I was hooked and finished this book in a day. Wao has great writing and great narration. There are a lot of award winning novels that leave me totally flat. Most highly touted books in the Magical Realism genre don’t impress me at all. This is superb magical realism! I love the writer’s narration style and the beautiful non-temporal character development. I am an ubergeek and enjoyed the many geek references. I am not Dominican and enjoyed the Dominican slang and references.

    This book has adult themes and language including F, S, and lots of N. If this might disturb you, you may want to get over it, or skip this wonderful book.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 27 mins)
    • By Carson McCullers
    • Narrated By Cherry Jones
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Carson McCullers was all of 23 when she published her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. She became an overnight literary sensation, and soon such authors as Tennessee Williams were calling her "the greatest prose writer that the South [has] produced." The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter tells an unforgettable tale of moral isolation in a small southern mill town in the 1930s.

    Connie says: "Cherry Jones - 10"
    "Beautiful Prose and Perfect Narration"

    This is a much overlooked classic with excellent prose and deeply interesting characters. There is little external story, instead the internal stories of the characters, all misfits, all dreamers, all lovers, are juxtaposed and explored. The narration is perfect with superb pacing, expressing each characters’ internal dialogs distinctly and with emotion.

    I loved this book, and particularly liked this audible addition. I finished it in one day, and will happy listen to this again.

    Some of the reviews describe this as book as depressing. The book demonstrates the essential importance of not allowing your dreams to slip away, thus I found it uplifting, in its own way.

    This book is not for everyone as there is virtually no action or story.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Meaning of Human Existence

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Edward O. Wilson
    • Narrated By Jonathan Hogan
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called “the rainbow colors” around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Edward O. Wilson bridges science and philosophy to create a 21st century treatise on human existence. Once criticized for his over-reliance on genetics, Wilson unfurls here his most expansive and advanced theories on human behavior, recognizing that, even though the human and spider evolved similarly, the poet’s sonnet is wholly different than the spider’s web.

    Michael says: "Pleasant Humble Simple Rationalism"
    "Pleasant Humble Simple Rationalism"

    This book has a really pleasant humble tone of simple, non-confrontational, rationalism. He simply treats religion as silly stories that should no longer be believed. He points out humans as having amazingly poorly equipped senses compared with animals. Some religious folks might find Wilson’s unassuming dismissal of religion more annoying than Dawkin’s bellicose tirades.

    Largely the purpose of this book seems to be to make a pointed attack on the theory of “inclusive fitness” and, less so, suggest arguments in favor of “multi-level selection” theory. About half the book and an appendix focuses on this debate, while the other half is somewhat wide ranging ideas very loosely tied to the title. Notice this is not your fathers “Meaning of Human Existence”! This is not “meaning” like that endowed by a creator, but instead straightforward meaning like; the meaning of a spider’s web is to catch food. For Wilson our meaning is associated with our culture and our humanities and arts.

    I enjoyed the “inclusive fitness” debate, and was mildly interested in the other stories. I really appreciated the unpretentious rationalism. I quite agree with the criticisms of “inclusive fitness” which has always seemed to me a bit more fantasy than science, but I did not find the book quite lived up to the lofty title.

    I had just finished “The Human Age” recently, and it was interesting to see the difference in interpretation of that concept between Wilson and Ackerman. Ackerman feels humans need to take full responsibility for the planet now, simply because we must. Wilson seems quite unsettled by this idea, and quite unready for that responsibility.

    The narration was very clear and enjoyable.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Believer: My Forty Years in Politics

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 3 mins)
    • By David Axelrod
    • Narrated By David Axelrod

    The man behind some of the greatest political changes of the last decade, David Axelrod has devoted a lifetime to questioning political certainties and daring to bring fresh thinking into the political landscape. Whether as a child hearing John F. Kennedy stump in New York or as a strategist guiding the first African American to the White House, Axelrod shows in Believer how his own life stands at the center of the tumultuous American century.

    Michael says: "Luke Warm Believer"
    "Luke Warm Believer"

    I usually love political memoirs, but this one did not resonate with me. The writing is quite conversational, not deeply personal, not deeply and wonky, and not very compelling. The first half of the book is pretty slow moving, the second half (the Obama years) is mildly more interesting, yet it did not go very deep into the nitty-gritty of campaigning. This is definitely not a tell-all or getting-even memoir. It is also not an introspective or self-critical look back. There are a bunch of not very interesting stories, regularly but mildly referring to the corruption of Chicago politics, but giving very few details. Axelrod is pretty nice to everybody from Hillary and Biden to out-and-out criminals. Her is really, really, nice to Obama.

    There were a few stories that I found pretty interesting:

    The idea that the greatest of presidents (Abe, FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, etc.) campaigned throughout their presidencies (which Obama did not do very well.)

    The idea that a president always becomes less powerful over time, which influenced Obama to fight for health care reform early, while the economy was still in crisis.

    The story of Obama’s problematic debate prep for the first debate of the second campaign.

    Obama’s children’s reactions to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

    I was disheartened by Axelrod’s (and Obama’s) disingenuous position on earmarks. Obama and Axelrod both say they are against earmark, but earmarks are just such an effective way to get money for one’s district or congressional support they just had to use them. Obama, in his short three years in the senate requested about a billion in earmarks, then he said he stopped requesting earmarks (after privately deciding to run for president). Obama promised to “go after earmarks line by line”. I had presumed he meant he would cut earmarks, not sign them into law.

    The author’s narration is good, without being great. It is very clear, but (along with the writing) lacks intensity and strong emotion.

    Overall this book was barely worth the time.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By John Brockman
    • Narrated By David Colacci, Susan Ericksen
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Each year,John Brockman, publisher of, challenges some of the world's greatest scientists, artists, and philosophers to answer a provocative question crucial to our time. In 2014 he asked 175 brilliant minds to ponder: What scientific idea needs to be put aside in order to make room for new ideas to advance? The answers are as surprising as they are illuminating.

    Michael says: "3% Excellent"
    "3% Excellent"

    This book contains 175 answers to the 2014 Edge question “What scientific idea needs to be put aside in order to make room for new ideas to advance?” Answers vary from about a minute up to less than ten minutes and come from numerous scientific disciplines. There are ground-rules that the answers focus on ideas, not scientific rivals (but there are more than a few sharp yet well hidden personalized barbs). The quality, tone, approachability, and enjoyability of the writing varies over the 175 different writers. The essays vary from unbearably arrogant to lightheartedly humorous.

    There are many different ideas considered but most fall into a few themes; over simplifications, over generalizations, arbitrary categorizations, arcane ideas, & human exceptionalisms. Some essays are diametric opposites. The vast majority did not seem critical hindrances to scientific progress. A few that I felt were right on topic and among my favorites were Freeman Dyson’s on Collapse of the Wave Function and Max Tegmark’s on Infinity.

    There were a few essays that were, on their own, well worth my time, but most I found rather uninteresting. Yet many of the ideas that were proposed to die were various arbitrary categorizations, and although none of these alone would seem to hinder science in general, the apparently natural and ubiquitous predilection of the human mind to create such categories does seem to be responsible for much of the inertia in science. Academic debates can rage between experts for years about categorizations that later turn out to have been arbitrarily based. Categorization almost always hide details, yet real scientific advancement is almost always stimulated by a reexamination of the details. Overall this book got me thinking about the general concept of categorization in science and how such categorizations seem to give the illusion of knowledge while categorizations seem to actually stifle scientific progress.

    The narration is very clear. One humorous repeated narration mistake was pronouncing F=MA (Force equal Mass time Acceleration) as eff equals Ma (as in mother).

    Although I ended up appreciating experiencing this book, I hesitate to recommend it highly. It will not be for everyone and I am certain I will not listen to this book again.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Nicholas Wade
    • Narrated By Alan Sklar
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Fewer ideas have been more toxic or harmful than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that humans of different races are biologically different from one another. For this understandable reason, the idea has been banished from polite academic conversation. Arguing that race is more than just a social construct can get a scholar run out of town, or at least off campus, on a rail. Human evolution, the consensus view insists, ended in prehistory. Inconveniently, as Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance, the consensus view cannot be right.

    Cassandra says: "Fascinating page-turner"
    "Troublesome Incoherence"

    Why was this book written?

    The author says it is an attempt to dispel the fear of racism that overhangs the discussion of human group differences and to begin to explore the far reaching implications the discovery that human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.

    I read a lot on the topic of genetics and I have been impressed with the depth and breadth of the research into geographically linked genetic traits. I have seen no fear of racism in any mainstream research. It seems to have been very widely understood that human evolution has been recent, copious and regional. I have seen no dispute about this. So, why was this book written? The book seems to make the argument that it should be OK to discuss genetically influenced behaviors differences between races (as opposed to family, regions, or other well defined classifications.) This is troublesome as the term race has been, and continues to actively be, used to justify segregation, discrimination, injustice, and genocide.

    Wade says “The idea that human populations are different from one another has been actively ignored by academics and policy makers for fear inquiry might promote racism.” I have never heard ANYONE say human populations are not genetically different. Indeed there is substantial research on genetics of various populations and there is a well-developed science studying geographic genotypes.

    As far as I could tell the author never actually proposes a concrete definition of Race. Instead he points out some fuzzy statistical clustering of alleles and calls that race. The number of races he is discussing seems to vary from three to five (or more). The author admits his races, however defined, have fuzzy boarders, so you can never be sure which race to assign an individual.

    Wade repeatedly presents long discussions of other research that (it seems to me) strongly support theories that environment, culture or other non-genetic factors greatly impact societal differences. Yet, Wade then waves these conclusions away pointing out that, although the research seems to support non-genetic factors, surely it is obvious that genetics is really much more likely.

    Wade has quite a few unsubstantiated ideas he feels are obvious.
    Arabs, Afghans, and sub-Saharan Africans are genetically predisposed to tribalism, so we should not expect democracy to work with them; obviously.
    Jews are genetically predisposed to prefer money lending; obviously.
    Language grammar rules must be genetically based; obviously.
    Social institutions differ due to tiny genetic differences in social behavior; obviously.
    Religion must be genetically based; obviously.
    If a race did not have genetically based behavioral differences it would be quick and easy for the race to take on the successful social institutions of a more successful race; obviously.
    It is hard to conceive of any circumstance racism could be successfully resurrected; obviously?
    Resurrected? What planet does this guy live on?
    I suppose white Cambridge men are not exposed to the dark side of racism regularly (except for the British teeth thing).

    Wade says “It would be better to take account of evolutionary differences [in behavior] than to continue to ignore them.” Sure. If there was any evidence I am sure it would be carefully considered. Unfortunately there is only guesswork, not evidence.

    Wade never mentions some very important non-genetic effectors of behavior. Mothers that experience stress during or prior to pregnancy have offspring with altered behavior patterns, infants that see some parental behavior become imprinted and will repeat that behavior when the time comes, parents teach their children complex behaviors, and societies train young humans for decades before adulthood. Such non-genetic biological systems allow humans to alter behavior much more rapidly in dynamic environments than genetic evolution could support. Many of the behaviors Wade discusses (radius of trust, aggression, risk taking, etc.) are exactly the kind of behaviors requiring rapid changes in response to a dynamic environment, thus we would expect these to be overwhelmingly controlled by these non-genetic systems.

    Wade attacks several straw-men, like those people who say human evolution has stopped or has no effect of behavior. I have never heard anyone (other than creationists) say human evolution has stopped, or has no effect on human behavior, only that other factors appear to be overwhelmingly more important and there is little or no evidence of specific genetic influences.

    Wade says his theory is not racist because there is no assertion of superiority (except your race has the violent, slothful, tribal, stupid, unimaginative, dark skinned genes while his race has non-violent, hard working, cooperative, intelligent, innovative, light skinned genes; but these are not value judgments, these are simply facts; obviously.

    Wade criticized Diamond's Germs, Guns and Steel. I am no fan of Germs, Guns, and Steel and I criticized Diamond’s tendency to cherry pick data that agreed with his theory, but Germs, Guns and Steel was a gem compared to A Troublesome Inheritance.

    Most importantly Wade never proposes a single experiment to test any of his numerous guesswork hypotheses.
    This is not science.

    The narration was quite clear but very slow and a little monotonous. I almost never speed up the audio but on my first listen I sped it up to 1.25 then 1.5. On my second listen I did it at 3.0 and it was still quite intelligible (sound-wise).

    8 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By Diane Ackerman
    • Narrated By Barbara Caruso

    Our finest literary interpreter of science and nature, Diane Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place (for better and worse) in it.In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented fact that the human race is now the single dominant force of change on the planet. Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness."

    Michael says: "Pleasant Light Ramble, with an Unsettling Point"
    "Pleasant Light Ramble, with an Unsettling Point"

    The title is a bit of an excuse to blend together many essays regarding, very generally, human control over nature. The writing is a personal and introspective ramble through various subjects interesting to the author and very roughly connected to the title. I resonated quite well with the author’s ambivalent and ambiguous viewpoints. She is not very sure what her position is on many of the subjects covered, which I found intellectually honest and refreshing. The writing is more like introspective narrative fiction then straight science writing.

    The basic premise of the book is, ready or not, for good or for bad, whether we like it or not, humans now have enormous power over nature on our planet. It is now incumbent upon us to accept this fact and make decisions accordingly. We no longer have the luxury of letting nature take its course; we have become too influential on that course. The book strays from this premise for most of the book, using this central idea only as a touch-point binding the diverse essays. The essays cover our power over animals, the climate, and the landscape, our use of plants, apps for apes, gene storage, interspecies and inter-kingdom internet, using 3-D printers to print products and body parts, and our use of robots and artificial intelligence.

    The science presented is at a light survey level, with few details and no equations.

    The narration is good, following the author’s personal and introspective intensions. I don’t think I learned much from this book, but it was a very easy listen, I enjoyed it, and it stimulated reflections on the unsettling idea that humans have now become accountable for all of nature on our planet. Definitely worth the listen.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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