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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 2014

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  • 408 reviews
  • 1398 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 5 purchased in 2015
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  • The Speed of Light: Constancy and Cosmos

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By David A. Grandy
    • Narrated By Michael Lenz
    Overall
    (4)
    Performance
    (4)
    Story
    (4)

    David A. Grandy's book moves from the scientific to the existential, from Einstein to Merleau-Ponty, from light as a phenomenon to light as that which is constitutive of reality. To measure the speed of light is to measure something about the way we are measured or blended into the cosmos, and that universal blending predetermines our measurement of light speed in favor of a universal or constant value.

    Michael says: "Not Physics, Not Even Good Metaphysics"
    "Not Physics, Not Even Good Metaphysics"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book should not be in the science section and the book description is somewhat deceptive. It very slightly tips a hat in the vague direction of science then careens off into wild world of (poor) metaphysics.

    My favorite bit was the author seems to seriously consider that water and air are transparent to light because we humans are made largely of water and air and these must appear (for metaphysical reasons) as transparent. This is a little true about water, we are made up a lot of water and if water was opaque to visible light construction of a biological watery eye might be difficult. But AIR? Air is mostly molecular nitrogen and oxygen. Neither of these are major components of humans. What is the next component of humans after water? Proteins, including DNA. Most proteins, including DNA, are not transparent (they are kind of milky). Of course in this kind of metaphysics facts don’t matter. If a statement feels truthy to the author that is clear evidence of universal truth.

    The best reason to read this book is as an excellent example of how convincing metaphysical jargon can seem if you just listen and feel and completely stop thinking. I actually like good metaphysics (to a point) but this is not good metaphysics.

    At one (brief) point the author reviews possible shortcomings of his work. He points out that some might claim his work is overly metaphorical and poetic (yep). He replies that at some level all ideas started out as metaphors (also true). Yet in science we ask for more, for metaphors that are testable by ourselves and others, we suggest and perform such tests, and then we adjust our metaphors based upon the results of these tests. This yields progress. No such tests are suggested here. This book seems to suggest phenomenology and deep thought on truthiness is an alternative to science. It is indeed a fun alternative, but it is not very useful.

    Regardless of all of this, at a deep level, I agree with some of the core ideas presented in The Speed of Light. That there is a maximum speed is indeed an essential hint at the true nature of reality.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By George A. Akerlof, Robert J. Shiller
    • Narrated By Marc Vietor
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (178)
    Performance
    (65)
    Story
    (62)

    The global financial crisis has made it painfully clear that powerful psychological forces are imperiling the wealth of nations today. From blind faith in ever-rising housing prices to plummeting confidence in capital markets, "animal spirits" are driving financial events worldwide.

    C. V. Waldorf says: "A Relevant Portrayal of Behavioral Economics"
    "Fatuous Spirits"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Firstly, I completely agree with the basic premise of this book; current economic theory does not account for the non-economic urges (animal spirits) that greatly effect financial decisions. Unfortunately that is about as far as my agreement extends. I think most economists agree animal spirts are important BUT they are very difficult to quantify, thus the lack of a coherent theory involving animal spirits. This does not seem to bother the authors, who instead of quantifying their theory, tell stories about animal spirits. These stories sound reasonable, but anyone can make up stories that sound reasonable. Such stories are not evidence at all, let alone compelling evidence. Most of the stories, when analyzed carefully, are very weak at best.

    The authors propose to show how “corruption” stimulated several recessions. Not only was the argument quite weak, the editors seem to have added a single line after the rest was written indicating that it was clear there were several other more important causal factors.

    The authors propose the fact union labor contracts generally don’t include cost of living adjustments in their contracts, or workers strongly fight wage reductions demonstrate that people don’t understand inflation (the money illusion). I suspect union contract negotiators are quite aware of inflation, as are workers fighting wage reductions, and instead they don’t want COLAs or wage reductions because accepting such deals are not good long term negotiating tactics. Certainly many people don’t always consider inflation properly, but I think the authors significantly over-emphasize this weakness.

    The authors propose the root cause of the 2007 financial crisis was the MAC’s loosening credit to high risk minorities. This loosening caused private mortgage providers to loosen their credit. Of course this makes no sense if the mortgage provider was planning to keep the mortgage. My favorite book on the 2007 crisis (The Big Short) gives a very different, more compelling, and a bit more complex explanation. Very briefly, financial analysts found they could package very diverse sets of mortgages and demonstrate these diversified products would have performed well in almost any historical period. They used this data to convince the largest, most sophisticated, insurance company on the planet to insure the product, then they included the insurance with the product. Rating agencies reasonably rated these products highly. The story was mathematics and computers allowed regional risk to be diversified then insured making these products highly profitable, yet low risk. One problem, once the banks found they could sell these mortgages as fast as they could write them, they started writing mortgages with higher and higher risk. This rendered all the statistics completely useless, but the story had been proven, so the process continued, until the mortgages began to fail across all regions, all at once, at very high rates. It quickly became clear these products were incredibly risky.

    The combination of over simplification, weak supporting evidence, and a complete lack of specific practical proposed actions makes this book utterly impotent.

    The idea that the government should somehow regulate these vague, non-quantitative, animal-spirits is simply frightening.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wycliffe to Calvin, 1300 - 1564 (The Story of Civilization, Book 6)

    • UNABRIDGED (50 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Will Durant
    • Narrated By Stefan Rudnicki
    Overall
    (21)
    Performance
    (19)
    Story
    (18)

    An engrossing volume on the European Reformation by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Will Durant. The sixth volume of Durant's acclaimed Story of Civilization, The Reformationchronicles the history of European civilization from 1300 to 1564.

    Arthur Pendragon says: "Fantastic!"
    "The Power of Change"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    See my review of Our Oriental Heritage for my notes on the series as a whole.
    This is another great volume of Durant’s great History series. This volume covers the Renaissance outside of Italy, the Reformation, and Counter-Reformation and overlaps quite a bit in time with volume 5 (The Renaissance).

    The Reformation is not quite as dramatic as most of the other volumes of this series. There is a lot of politics and religion and strong historical figures but not a lot of heroes or inspiring stories. As always Durant provides a compelling integrated history of the period, going over the same period several times from the different perspectives of the historical individuals. Particularly compelling is a long overview of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as a set of monologs by a hypothetical composite character representing the reformers, the traditional catholic, and the humanist.

    This was well worth the time and I (re)learned a lot. It is quite amazing how decisions of people hundreds of years ago still effect our daily lives today. Durant tells the story of History is a way that makes one feel a part of history. He shows us quite normal individuals that made a difference centuries ago and how that difference has flowed through time all the way to us (and lets us see our own power to make such differences).

    The narration was excellent with a lot of character and passion which helped keep me engaged in the stories.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Will Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (634)
    Performance
    (479)
    Story
    (472)

    Durant lucidly describes the philosophical systems of such world-famous “monarchs of the mind” as Plato, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Kant, Voltaire, and Nietzsche. Along with their ideas, he offers their flesh-and-blood biographies, placing their thoughts within their own time and place and elucidating their influence on our modern intellectual heritage. This book is packed with wisdom and wit.

    Arthur says: "Beginners start here! This is the one you want!"
    "Excellent but Limited"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is early Durant and his depth and style improved in his later works. This volume is also quite selective including only a few of the most important or pivotal Philosophers and it was written in 1924 thus it does not cover later philosophers. I was more than a bit surprised by the little jump between Aristotle (300 BCE) and Francis Bacon (1600 CE). Nevertheless what is there is fantastic, I only wish there was more, much, much more.

    I recommend reading this before Durant’s monumental History of Civilization series.

    The narration was excellent.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Saint Odd: Odd Thomas, Book 7

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By Dean Koontz
    • Narrated By David Aaron Baker
    Overall
    (702)
    Performance
    (634)
    Story
    (632)

    Odd Thomas is back where it all started…because the time has come to finish it. Since he left his simple life in the small town of Pico Mundo, California, his journey has taken him to places strange and wonderful, mysterious and terrifying. Across the land, in the company of mortals and spirits alike, he has known kindness and cruelty, felt love and loss, saved lives and taken them - as he's borne witness to humanity's greatest good and darkest evil.

    G. House Sr. says: "The Ends Justifies the Means"
    "Pleasingly Odd Conclusion"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a quite enjoyable final chapter of the Odd Thomas series. Yet, this may not be our final Odd book. The author repeatedly refers to this as Book 8 (while there are only 6 prior books making this number 7) and refers to events of a story not yet told. This book nicely wraps up all the strings of a pleasantly and compellingly odd series and character. I really liked this book and could not put it down. I like Odd, and I like Koontz’s style and quality. The action is not as compelling as the best of Koontz, the chase scene goes on a bit too long, it is a little too religious for my tastes, and the ending is poignant but anticlimactic, yet I still liked Saint Odd quite a bit.

    This ends this mystical series and ends it in a satisfying way. The narration, as always, was excellent with the mood, emotional state, and even subconscious feelings of Odd coming through.

    I hope there really is an eighth book, so this will not be, not quite, the end of Odd Thomas.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304 - 1576 AD, The Story of Civilization, Volume 5

    • UNABRIDGED (37 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Will Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (31)
    Performance
    (27)
    Story
    (28)

    In this masterful work, listeners will encounter: the poets Petrarch and Boccaccio, the fathers of the Renaissance; the paintings, sculptures, and architecture of Milan, Florence, and Venice; the life and accomplishments of Leonardo DaVinci; the Catholic church and the popes of Avignon and Rome; the politicians and philosophers of Italy, including the Borgia family, Julius II, and Machiavelli; the Italian Wars, the conflicts with France, and the country's decline.

    Michael says: "Wonderful Review of Renaissance Italy"
    "Wonderful Review of Renaissance Italy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the fifth book of Durant’s excellent History of Civilization series.
    See my review of the first volume for comments on the series as a whole.
    This volume does not cover all of, or only, the Renaissance, but instead covers Italy from 1304-1576 AD. Not to worry, Volume VI covers the same period in the rest of Europe. Durant presents an integrated history, which does not focus on dates, but upon the themes of history and the totality of each period including the daily life, the arts, the crafts, the politics and the ideas. This volume covers a few well known artists and popes and other characters of the Italian Renaissance, but also much more. After a brief framing of the period, the history of each major city or region is covered along with the art and artists, politics and leaders, and people and life, then each pope of the period is covered along with the politics and art of their pontificate. Finally the transition between the Renaissance and the reformation is described.

    I liked this series quite a bit, and would not recommend skipping this volume. This is not the best of the series, but is interesting never the less. I had read and listened to this volume before, yet I still learned things I had forgotten or did not previously absorb, and more importantly, I enjoyed every minute of the 37 hours.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • To the Lighthouse

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Virginia Woolf
    • Narrated By Juliet Stevenson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (247)
    Performance
    (195)
    Story
    (192)

    To the Lighthouse is a landmark work of English fiction. Virginia Woolf explores perception and meaning in some of the most beautiful prose ever written, minutely detailing the characters thoughts and impressions. This unabridged version is read by Juliet Stevenson.

    Jefferson says: "A Stark Tower on a Bare Rock, or a Hanging Garden?"
    "Old Modern Proto-feminist Steam of Consciousness"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book is a pleasant stream of consciousness novel with little dialog or story. The characters are explored through their inner dialog and their perceptions of the environment, the other characters and, most importantly, themselves. There is a bit of (justifiable) feminist angst in the writing which I found a distraction weakening the work and distracting from the primary focus.

    The narration was excellent, using delicate pacing and tone to express complex internal states. The narration switches between characters which was a bit difficult to follow at points.

    I was surprised to see an attached PDF file. This has the CD liner notes, including a table of contents and a nice historical note by Roy McMillan.

    Although I liked To the Lighthouse, I liked Proust and Joyce quite a bit better.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 5 mins)
    • By Brian Wansink
    • Narrated By Brian Wansink
    Overall
    (11)
    Performance
    (11)
    Story
    (11)

    InSlim by Design, leading behavioral economist, food psychologist, and bestselling author Brian Wansink introduces groundbreaking solutions for designing our most common spaces - schools, restaurants, grocery stores, and home kitchens, among others - in order to make positive changes in how we approach and manage our diets.

    Michael says: "Another Weird Diet Book"
    "Another Weird Diet Book"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is basically a self-help book with most of the defects of the genre. The author ecstatically supports his premise, and presents lots of evidence to support his ideas, but never rigorously tests his ideas. There are quite a few very good common sense ideas and the ideas all seem plausible, particularly with the short term evidence presented.

    There are a bunch of very short term experiments described (like moving chocolate milk to the back of the school milk case which results in lower chocolate milk sales). Perhaps, but my experience of teens is once they re-find the chocolate milk, they will quickly return to their previous behavior. I don’t recall any long term controlled studies of the ideas presented. After finishing the book I tried to find long term studies online, but found promo-videos and other descriptions of the same short term studies.

    The author repeatedly discusses things that thin people do differently than fat people (like sitting far from the buffet and not facing the buffet), then strongly implies that people who do the things thin people do will become thin people. While there are some key areas where this is clearly true (like calorie intake and exercise) I am dubious sitting facing away from the buffet will really reduce weight in the long term.

    After finishing the book, I began wondering if the ideas presented there would work for alcoholics as well as foodoholics. Would hiding your vodka in the hall closet, or sitting not facing the bar, or making sure all the alcohol is out of sight, or using a smaller basket when buying booze, or giving enticing names to non-alcoholic drinks, or using small glasses, or hiding the hard stuff in a drawer, really deal with a drinking issue? I have dealt with several alcoholics and they committed to just about every one of these ideas, and guess what, THEY WORKED! For a few days. In the long run they didn’t work. What did work? Either the tough personal decision to stop drinking or committing to getting help. I was quite dubious these kinds of changes without the tough personal decision part would be successful in weight loss.

    There is a PDF associated with the book with some pictures illustrating some of the books points and several assessment test.

    There are some good ideas like keep foods that are good for you prepped and convenient, but this actually takes a substantial commitment to buying the healthy food, prepping the healthy food, and eating the healthy food before it goes bad. That is basically was we used to call healthy eating.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • The Lessons of History

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Will, Ariel Durant
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    Overall
    (299)
    Performance
    (163)
    Story
    (163)

    The authors devoted five decades to the study of world history and philosophy, culminating in the masterful 11-volume Story of Civilization. In this compact summation of their work, Will and Ariel Durant share the vital and profound lessons of our collective past. Their perspective, gained after a lifetime of thinking and writing about the history of humankind, is an invaluable resource for us today.

    Brad the Dad says: "This is a must for every Educated Person"
    "Impossible"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It is not possible to summarize the lessons of history so compactly, and I would not really recommend this book on its own, but as a capstone to Durant’s massive history series it is quite nice. I enjoyed the authors ideas of what America should do to postpone, for a short while, our inevitable demise as a civilization.

    The narration of the actual book was excellent, bold and clear, with humor and feeling.

    Having read and listened to Durant’s many volume history I completely enjoyed the short interview sections between chapters with the 72 year old author and his wife, Ariel. Ariel correctly points out, one should not take the advice of an old man, nevertheless it was fun to hear the author’s voice and his opinions that have changed over the years. The audio of the interview parts is really not great and the interviewer is not very good (with repeated Ah huhs and sometimes quite silly questions).

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Under the Volcano: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Malcolm Lowry
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (96)
    Performance
    (61)
    Story
    (62)

    On the Day of the Dead, in 1938, Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic and ruined man, is fatefully living out his last day, drowning himself in mescal while his former wife and half-brother look on, powerless to help him. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical.

    Melinda says: "Excellent...but not for everyone"
    "Great Prose, Too much drunk guy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is the story of one day, the Day of the Dead, of a British drunk in Mexico. The prose of this book are, at points, sublime and the imagery and characterizations are strong, but I did not really like any of the characters, and the story was not compelling to me. The portrait of the drunken main character is quite realistic and both compelling and repellant.

    I have never read the short story this novel was based upon, but I suspect, as a short story, this would be wonderful. Stretched into a novel, was too much drunk guy for my taste.

    John Lee reads these prose with the intensity of poetry with a rhythm and power, but does not do the Spanish justice.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • An American Tragedy

    • UNABRIDGED (34 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Theodore Dreiser
    • Narrated By Dan John Miller
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (228)
    Performance
    (199)
    Story
    (202)

    An American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, who spends his life in the desperate pursuit of success. On a deeper, more profound level, it is the masterful portrayal of the society whose values both shape Clyde's ambitions and seal his fate; it is an unsurpassed depiction of the harsh realities of American life and of the dark side of the American dream.

    beatrice says: "a period piece, still resonant"
    "Funny in Perspective"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I found this book funny on almost every page. Not ha-ha funny, but a mild warm sardonic funny. This is not a classic tragedy of fate directing the characters to untimely deaths, instead, through an unbiased narrator, we see nature simply take its course without morality or judgment or even meaning, towards untimely death. The narrator seems not to be God, but some neutral naturalistic viewer of all the characters and situations, and from this perspective everything, including death, may seem funny.

    If you don’t see the very subtle humor in this novel early on, it will likely seem tediously long and slow, as the novel follows the main character’s developing motivations, beliefs, and actions as they slowly and inevitability, unfold. This powerful inevitability reminds me of Russia writers, as such inevitability is rare in American novels. As I saw the silliness of the character’s choices (which will certainly lead to unpleasant consequences) I felt compassion, yet I had to chuckle.

    The characters are very well developed, even the very minor characters, yet I related more with the narrator than any of the characters, and the story was, of course, predictable. I was moved by this writing and think I will be affected by the undercurrents of this novel for quite some time to come.

    The narration was flawless, using subtle tones of voice to reflect the subtle inconsistencies and indecision within the characters.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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