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Michael

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

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HELPFUL VOTES
  • 418 reviews
  • 1408 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 23 purchased in 2015
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  • The Dead

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 36 mins)
    • By James Joyce
    • Narrated By Jim Killavey
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (21)
    Performance
    (16)
    Story
    (16)

    James Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. Although best known for Ulysses and The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he also wrote a number of shorter works. Chief among them is "The Dead," which was published as part of a collection in 1914.

    Virginia says: "Simple ... but really good"
    "Fantastic Joyce-Lite"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is one of Joyce’s best and most approachable works. I like Ulysses but it takes a lot of concentration. The Dead has many of the best aspects of Joyce but is short and easy to listen to. The narration was quite good, but Joyce is particularly challenging to read aloud, and this narration was not quite up to the writing. If you haven’t read any Joyce, this is an excellent place to start.

    6 of 6 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
    Overall
    (693)
    Performance
    (280)
    Story
    (279)

    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"
    Overall
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    Story

    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.

    2 of 2 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
    Overall
    (81)
    Performance
    (71)
    Story
    (70)

    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"
    Overall
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    Story

    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.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Believer: My Forty Years in Politics

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 3 mins)
    • By David Axelrod
    • Narrated By David Axelrod
    Overall
    (127)
    Performance
    (107)
    Story
    (109)

    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.

    Kenzie says: "The making of a great president"
    "Luke Warm Believer"
    Overall
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    Story

    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.

    0 of 0 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
    Overall
    (29)
    Performance
    (27)
    Story
    (28)

    Each year,John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, 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"
    Overall
    Performance
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    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.

    3 of 3 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
    Overall
    (97)
    Performance
    (81)
    Story
    (84)

    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"
    Overall
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    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).

    6 of 9 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
    Overall
    (10)
    Performance
    (9)
    Story
    (9)

    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."

    wbiro says: "Good Broad Introduction to 'Anthropocene Age'"
    "Pleasant Light Ramble, with an Unsettling Point"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Suki Kim
    • Narrated By Janet Song
    Overall
    (136)
    Performance
    (116)
    Story
    (116)

    Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields - except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

    Chelsea Griffin says: "A revealing look into North Korea"
    "The King and I meets Mary Poppins"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a nice memoir by an American journalist with South Korean parents who poses as a Cristian missionary affiliated English teacher for the sons of the North Korean elite both to tell their story to the world and to plant the tiniest seeds freedom within their minds. There is virtually no action, and very little unexpected, nevertheless I enjoyed the ideas and the message.

    The aspect I found most interesting was the glimpse into the enigmatic ideas and desires of the North Korean young men; Passionate patriotism alongside unspoken envy of the west, bravado and shame, strength and weakness, intelligence and naiveté, pride and selflessness, bravery and fear, hate and love. The book itself is a study in conflicts being at once heavy and light, pessimistic and uplifting. I left feeling more connected to the North Korean people, and (slightly) more optimistic about the glacial progress of freedom in that country.

    The narration is flawless, with tones of voice expressing the narrator’s inner state along with excellent characterizations, accents, and Korean language.

    I think few will love this book, and I am unlikely to listen to it again, yet I am quite pleased I listened to it and think most sensitive readers will appreciate what is revealed.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Alan Lightman
    • Narrated By Bronson Pinchot
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (50)
    Performance
    (45)
    Story
    (45)

    With all the passion, curiosity, and precise yet lyrical prose that have marked his previous books, Alan Lightman here explores the emotional and philosophical questions raised by discoveries in science, focusing most intently on the human condition and the needs of humankind. He looks at the difficult dialogue between science and religion, the conflict between our human desire for permanence and the impermanence of nature, the possibility that our universe is simply an accident, the manner in which modern technology has separated us from direct experience of the world, and our resistance to the view that our bodies and minds can be explained by scientific logic and laws.

    Michael says: "Spiritual Atheist Laments"
    "Spiritual Atheist Laments"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a set of related essays ruminating on humanities relation to modern science and is more rambling lyrical personal reflections than explanatory science. The essays are: The Accidental Universe; The Temporary Universe; The Spiritual Universe; The Symmetrical Universe; The Gargantuan Universe; The Lawful Universe; The Disembodied Universe.

    The narration is excellent, slow paced, emotional, and poetic.

    The author declares he is an atheist, but seems to believe that God, transcendent personal experience, and what created our universe are all beyond the realm of scientific analysis. I agree that such things may currently beyond complete scientific analysis, but they are not beyond scientific analysis in principle. If God, or transcendental personal experiences have any practical effects, these effects can, eventually, be tested. History is full of the phenomena that were once fervently believed beyond the realm of thoughtful enquiry (the motion of planets, weather, disease, heredity, plant growth, hallucinogenic substances, and many others). These have all, one by one, succumbed to various levels of scientific analysis. There are only a very few phenomena left that some believe are still beyond the realm of science. Many, including Lightman, have a deeply emotional desire (without fully understanding why) that some part of human experience will remain forever beyond the realm of science. Lightman seems excited that the rest of the universe follows scientific laws, yet revolts against the idea these same laws control his own essence. He is saddened by the temporality of life and seems to view the connectivity allowed by cell phone technology as disembodiment. At some level I fully understand such attitudes, but nevertheless I find them mildly quaint. Reading Lightman’s last chapter lamenting the disembodiment caused by texting I pondered if some old foggy at the dawn of humanity lamented how spoken language disembodied people from real pre-linguistic communication.

    I did not dislike this book, but did not get a lot out of it. I love art and literature and music and myth and my life, but I don’t feel any need to separate these things into a spiritual realm beyond scientific analysis. There is some discussion of science in the book, but it is just a bit sloppy (like convolving quantum superposition with multi-position). When I finished this book I recalled how the end of A Brief History of Time resonated more with me than anything in The Accidental Universe; “if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God."

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Funhouse

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 13 mins)
    • By Dean Koontz
    • Narrated By Karen Peakes
    Overall
    (59)
    Performance
    (51)
    Story
    (52)

    Once there was a girl who ran away and joined a traveling carnival. She married a man she grew to hate - and gave birth to a child she could never love. A child so monstrous that she killed it with her own hands.… Twenty-five years later, Ellen Harper has a new life, a new husband, and two normal children - Joey loves monster movies, and Amy is about to graduate from high school. But their mother drowns her secret guilt in alcohol and prayer.

    Patty says: "I read this 35 years ago!"
    "Early, not so good, Koontz"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I like most of Koontz, but this book is far from the best of Koontz. I would have to review my reviews to see if there is any Koontz I liked less than this one. That said, it is still better than most in the genre (but that is not saying much).

    This is a new release to Audible, but an old Koontz book published back in 1980. He has some good early work, but there are a few early stinkers. This is one of those.

    Usually Koontz has great characters, a compelling story, some interesting surprises, a satisfying ending, and superior prose. All of these features are lacking in this one dimensional surprise-less story. Early in the book the outcome is foreshadowed, and then it happens, and then it is over. I was totally unsatisfied by the abrupt and uninteresting ending. Occasionally Koontz does a story with a simple good (God) vs. evil (Satan) plot, and this is one of those (which I find among his least compelling styles).

    This book has more frank and explicit sex and drugs then most Koontz so it might not be great for younger readers.

    I do a lot of Audible and have become, over the years, very forgiving regarding narration. I appreciate great narration, but if I can hear and understand the words, I am generally not distracted by poor narration. This was an exception, the weak characterizations, annoying whines, intoxicated drawls, and baked speech patterns were too much for me.

    This is one Koontz I would not recommend.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Capital in the Twenty-First Century

    • UNABRIDGED (25 hrs and 3 mins)
    • By Thomas Piketty, Arthur Goldhammer (translator)
    • Narrated By L. J. Ganser
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (829)
    Performance
    (693)
    Story
    (694)

    What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories.

    Madeleine says: "The Financial Times' Critique Doesn't Detract"
    "A Modest Proposal"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    In 1729 Jonathan Swift made A Modest Proposal that the Irish poor sell their children to the rich as food. Here Piketty suggests the opposite, that we cannibalize the rich (at least their money) to feed the poor by creating a global wealth tax to redistribute wealth from the rich into social programs.

    I loved this book, it is mostly about data, and I love data. Not only is there lots and lots of data, but it is very good data, with very good explanations and outstanding transparency on sources and methods. I just love this kind of data. I spent hours before starting the book just absorbing the pdf containing over 100 charts and tables. You read that right – over 100 charts and tables, and there is no point listening to this book if you don’t understand these charts. Thus I recommend either getting a visual version of the book and/or taking a careful look at the charts before you start the book. All the raw data for all the charts is available in excel format on the book’s web site.

    I highly recommend this book if you want to understand the debate regarding wealth inequality and what, in anything, should be done about it. The narration is good, but it is still a tough listen due to the many references to charts, numbers, and equations.

    Although I love the data and the explanations, I did not find the conclusions very compelling. It is difficult to take the author to task regarding his conclusions because he is clearly quite a clever guy and meticulously covers his posterior by making every conclusion explicitly based on hypotheticals that might be the case.

    An undemonstrated premise of this book seems to be non-egalitarian societies are inherently unjust or non-utilitarian. This is far from clear. Unequally rewarding an important helpful skill is non-egalitarian yet is both just and utilitarian. Most of my disagreements with Piketty’s conclusions are based on our differences regarding this premise. There is clearly a balance of inequality essential to capitalism, and understanding how to correctly detect imbalances, either way, should have come before any analysis of how to correct any such imbalance. Yet Piketty’s answer to what the social optimal balance should be is “it is hard to say”. Adjusting a tax when it is hard to say what the proper rate should be seems ill advised.

    Piketty notes that the total capital per person (in units of annual production per person) has been increasing steadily from a low in the 1950’s back to its gilded age pre-war highs. Piketty seems to believe, without a wealth tax intervention, capitalism might naturally lead to a spiraling inegalitarian concentration of wealth (depending on various rate scenarios).

    Piketty correctly points out the estate tax is not uniform internationally and we currently have poor wealth reporting mechanisms yielding an ineffective tax. Yet if we fix these weaknesses of the estate tax, it is not clear why an additional wealth tax would be necessary. The author seems to me to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater by taxing skill earned wealth invested productively the same as inherited (unearned) wealth using a Wealth Tax, instead of just fixing the estate tax so it works. Inheritance tax has been attacked by the wealthy as The Death Tax but I suggest it should be re-dubbed the Slutty Heiress Elimination Tax.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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