For those with only a passing interest in the history of English, I recommend "The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language". It's a more casual overview of the English language that focuses more on history and vocabulary (a very good listen).
That being said, "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue" is a great listen for those interested in the origins and evolution of the English language told not only through history and vocabulary but also through grammar and linguistics.
Don't freak out, the treatment of grammar is fairly straightforward and mostly limited to examples of case endings or nouns having genders. This will be familiar to anyone who has studied a Romance or Germanic language. (Basically, the Vikings helped kill off our case endings)
Etymologies tend to be fairly straightforward too, e.g. the author provides examples of how sounds from Indo-European words (e.g. "peter" (can't do the correct symbols) tend to change in fairly predictable ways in various languages, cf. Latin "pater" or French "pere") to Old Norse "fadir", or Germanic "vater" (pronounced "fah-ter").
That's about as scary/difficult as the etymologies get.
There is also a big chunk of a chapter dedicated to unique English peculiarities like our use of the (mostly) meaningless word "do" (e.g. "this doesn't work" instead of "this not work") and our use of "ing" to convey a present state of doing something, rather than just the present active indicative ("I'm typing" instead of "I type") (The Celts are responsible!)
The author also addresses how and why written English was different from spoken English, the theory that language shapes the way we think (he mostly disagrees), and the Semitic influences on the proto-Germanic language.
This is a delightfully odd and wide-ranging autobiography of Dr. Richard Feynman, the Nobel prize winning physicist and world class trouble-maker.
Feynman's personality comes across as something between Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H and Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm: he has a great sense of humor, humanity, and love of pranks but lacks many of the normal social graces and filters.
What is so surprising, and what makes Feynman so compelling and relatable, is that so much of his reputation as a genius seems to turn on his personality or even luck. At Los Alamos he was young, unknown, brash, and surrounded by giants of theoretical physics. Against the odds, Feynman distinguished himself in part because he didn't have the social graces to defer to the superstars in the field. Indeed, Niels Bohr and Einstein sought him out specifically because they needed someone to challenge and improve their ideas, not gawp and and fawn over them.
The stories from Los Alamos range from delightful to chilling. He discusses pranks he and his wife played on the Army censors, as well as his career as an amateur safecracker. At Los Alamos he broke into the three safes containing ALL of America's nuclear secrets. [Aside: not everyone saw this or other questionable incidents as innocent pranks] He also mentions how several near-disasters were avoided by sheer dumb luck.
During his sabbatical in Brazil he learned to play the frigideira (a percussion instrument derived from a frying pan) and drums well enough for his samba school to win a competition, while at the same time he was causing mayhem among Brazil's academia.
His stories also include such unexpected experiences as fights in bars, hanging out with show girls in Vegas, and how to pick up women.
The recurring themes are his unquenchable (and contagious!) curiosity about everything and his willingness to try and learn new things. Throughout it all he maintains a playful sense of humor and innocent personality, even in situations that seem anything but.
Physics comes up infrequently and is discussed only conversationally. For example, Feynman claims to be the only person who truly saw the first nuclear bomb explode. He explained that while everyone else was wearing super-dark glasses or laying on the floor of a bunker, he jumped into an army truck and watched through the windshield, knowing that bright light can't actually damage your eyes and that the windshield would protect his eyes from harmful UV light.
The book was dictated, not written, and therefor retains a conversational and unstructured style that may not appeal to everyone. Feynman's speaking patterns can also become repetitive at times, e.g. he frequently has other people exclaiming in exaggerated surprise or wonder "you're a genius!" or "how can that be!?" Also, some of the stories may also seem a bit mundane. To me, however, they make Feynman seem more human, and the label 'genius' a little less mysterious and intimidating.
Overall, I found this a very enjoyable read and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about the life and quirky personality of one of the great physicists of the 20th century.
If you're on the fence about whether or not to purchase one of Mr. Ehrman's books, start here.
The particular focus of the interview is Mr. Ehrman's new book "God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question - Why We Suffer." However, I would recommend this interview to anyone curious about Mr. Ehrman's work in general. Listeners on either side of the proposition will appreciate Mr. Ehrman's respectful, scholarly, matter of fact, and even tone; all should benefit from the discussion.
Mr. Ehrman first provides a brief personal background. He was a born again Christian (a 'fundamentalist Evangelical') who went to a fundamentalist bible college, then to Evangelical college to complete his college education, and finally to Princeton theological seminary where he was trained as a minister. He is now a distinguished professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill.
Over time, his beliefs became more liberal and he began to question many of the standard theological explanations for suffering. During the interview, he discusses many of the standard explanations for suffering (e.g. free will) and explains to what extent these explanations are satisfactory (e.g. bad acts) and where they start to break down (e.g. natural disasters, disease).
He then discusses the problems with other theological explanations for suffering e.g. that it's all a part of God's unknowable plan; suffering is punishment (Old Testament); suffering is redemptive (Old and New Testament); suffering is a test of faith (Job and the inconsistencies in the story/texts are discussed), and so on.
[P.S. I found the interview compelling and interesting enough to purchase the book]
This is fascinating audio article that presents a behind the scenes look at how the scientific community would react if it discovered proof of alien life. This isn't based on speculation but an actual incident where, for the better part of the day, a group of astronomers believed they had discovered just such proof. *** It then goes on to discuss related issues, such as how you would confirm a signal was extraterrestrial, the likely dissent in the scientific community, how one might decipher the transmission (my favorite part), how long that might take (years?) if at all, speculation as to what that message might be, whether we should be transmitting our own messages (Stephen Hawking says it may not be safe), how far our television transmissions have traveled in the galaxy already, and so on.
One of the more amazing comments was from an astronomer at Berkeley who has "played a leading role in the discovery of dozens of extra-solar planets"; he predicts that space based telescopes will be able to map the continents and oceans of planets in other solar systems by the end of the century. Conversely, an alien civilization with a mere 1,000 year technological head start on us would likely have far more impressive capabilities, e.g. the ability to listen to our satellite communications.
It ends with a discussion on the Fermi Paradox (the apparent conflict between predictions that intelligent life is abundant in the galaxy/universe and the lack of evidence for such alien life).
My only "complaint" is that it wasn't longer. (However, at 23 minutes in length, it's longer than most "half hour" TV shows, when you factor in commercials) If you're interested in astronomy and/or the search for alien life in the universe, it is very much worth the mere $1.36 (just don't use a credit!)
This was exactly what I was looking for. It is one of the most concise, informative, and information packed books on human evolution that you will find on Audible. It's like reading a condensed version of four or five books on human evolutionary development in one, as it not only covers various aspects of human evolution (bipedalism, competition with other hominids, tool use, diet, brain size, DNA research, etc.), but also balances the consensus opinions with competing theories/interpretations of data (e.g. an African origin of h. sapiens vs. multiple groups of hominids across Asia and Africa that evolved separately but intermixed).
I prefer this balanced approach over books that have a specific thesis or unifying theme(s), as they do not provide as much if any balance to the author's point of view, leaving you wondering about the objectivity of the narrative. This book doesn't have a marketing gimmick to skew its presentation of the facts.
The level of detail in this book is sometimes comparable to a college lecture. For example, this book frequently cites dates and does not shy away from referencing lesser known homo species by name, e.g. "H. antecessor" and "H. ergaster" along with the more familiar "H. erectus" and "H. sapiens", etc. Also, in several instances the book will explain the logic or methodology behind certain assumptions or findings, e.g. how and why mitochondrial DNA can be used to trace maternal lineage back in time to an "Eve", and date her existence. It then usually provides a few examples, mention a few counter-points for balance, and then moves on.
Unlike a college lecture, the presentation is so well organized and so well paced that it keeps your interest. It never gets bogged down on extraneous details or issues, never sounds like it's wasting space trying to justify a theme, etc. Here are some facts, mechanics, conclusions, examples, counterpoints... next topic.
The reader is quick, so it's almost like 4 hours of info.
I wanted to reiterate the excellent reviews already given for this book. I agree, this book is by far the best, most accessible, most interesting, presentation of evolution I've read. It's the audio-equivalent of a page-turner.
The book not only provides a concise, thorough, and logical explanation of the theory of Evolution but also methodically explains the science behind the conclusions.
The book also does an excellent job of addressing Creationist/ID arguments in a dispassionate way, then methodically explaining the scientific evidence that contradicts those arguments.
I would also recommend this book over several others I have listened to recently. Although I very much enjoyed Richard Dawkins "The Greatest Show on Earth" and would highly recommend it as a close second, the book "Why Evolution is True" is more concise, accessible, and dispassionate in tone.
"The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution" is also quite good, but has a narrower (but by no means exclusive) focus on DNA.
"Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" is a great book on human evolution.
"Your Inner Fish" is good, but more of an upper division treatment of a niche topic.
However, "Why Evolution is True" is the best choice for those who are interested in learning about Evolution itself. The book covers the origins of life, to how and why fish first came on land, to when land mammals went back into the ocean and become whales (and explains the evidence), to what we have learned from DNA sequencing. It explains how feathers, wings, and eyes can evolve, the huge time frames involved, how prescient Darwin was, and so much more.
You'll learn a lot and be better able to explain and defend the science behind Evolution as well as the science that debunks ID claims. A great book that I plan to listen to again.
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