This is a book of beauty and grace. The writing is astonishing. The descriptions and insights are sometimes so deep and true that you will stop to savor the thought. While the book looks at life in an unblinking manner, it is redemptive and affirming. It will affect your outlook on life, in a good way.
But what makes this book great is that McCann has brought to life multiple characters whose lives have been touched by observing a common event in New York in 1974. As soon as I started to listen to this book, I had to buy the hardcover version--which I did and which is a magnificent work.
BUT--the Audible version is better than the hardcover. This is a book of voices--in much the same way that Dylan Thomas wrote "Under Milkwood" as a play for voices on the radio. Each chapter in the book is narrated by a different character. In the audio version, each chapter (and character) is narrated by a different actor. The narration is superb and adds a rich and fullfilling dimension to the book that makes it all the more impressive and enjoyable.
If you cherish the great listens in your Audible collection as I do, this is an essential addition. I know that I will listen to it again.
This book is far from perfect, but its flaws will be entirely overlooked when you become engaged in the story. It is a fun, enjoyable, and sometimes compelling listen. If you listen for pleasure, this book delivers.
To help you get past some of the elements that I found off-putting, I note that it took a while to realize that the sometimes sophomoric tone of the protagonist was not bad writing, but rather, was consistent with the space-cowboy, engineer-botanist-geek persona of the hero. A more introspective, sensitive and emotionally intelligent narrator would have rolled up into a ball and died alone on Mars instead of looking at impossible situations and developing perfectly plausible solutions. So it works. The stilted and painfully obvious dialog of the NASA / JPL scientists on Earth never gets better, so suffer through it. It advances the plot. Some of the explanations of the science involved in the hero's Rube Goldberg fixes go on longer than necessary, but if you love science, you will find the solutions ingenious. If not, let the excess detail pass; the story gets better with each new chapter and drives the narrative.
Don't let these comments dissuade you from purchasing the book; they are meant only to temper outsized expectations based on other reviews. This isn't the best science fiction writing ever, but it will likely become one of your favorite science fiction books based on the story.
Having read / listened to a number of "popular science" books (Greene, Hawking) that address the origin and fate of the universe, the concept of time and the role of entropy are familiar and central concepts in those books. It was about the third lecture of this series before I thought I learned anything new, but by slow accretion and careful explanation by Sean Carroll, I began to have a deeper understanding of time and why it is, indeed, still such a mystery Carroll has an earnest, engaging style. He does a good job of maintaining a coherent narrative through the lectures, so it is easy to follow his development of the topic. Not much math here (good from my perspective) except when he lays out Boltzman's equation for entropy. All in, I recommend this course. Like many of the concepts in modern physics, the ideas are counter-intuitive and elusive--at least to this former English major. Revisiting them from time to time is helpful in solidifying central concepts--and entropy / time is certainly one that deserves re-examination. Like all "Great Courses" lectures, these are survey level courses, so if you are someone who is calculating the trajectory of the next NASA probe to Mars, move along, there is nothing for you to see. But, if like me, you have a general interest in science, you will find this course worth your time and an enjoyable listen.
I am a long-time Audible subscriber and frequently listen to and read the same book. Often, I conclude that listening is equal to or better than reading the book. This is a valuable work; but some might find it easier to read the book than to listen to it. To his credit, the author is meticulous in laying out his premises, illustrating his point, and summarizing his conclusions. But--it can get tedious. If you were reading, you might skip past the fourth example, or gloss over the same point made for the fifth time in a slightly different way. BUT--I think this book is important for many people, so if you are interested in the subject and you are not likely to find the time to actually read the book, by all means listen to it.
The author deserves credit for embracing the scientific method in laying out his thesis. He says many things that are not part of the popular wisdom of dieting today. At the outset, he invites the reader to remain critical in evaluating his assertions. He lays out the science on which he relies and clearly explains how he gets to his conclusions. He does not rely on hocus-pocus or "you can do it, trust me" arm-waving to distract the reader. So, in the end, you feel like you understand why he gives the advice contained in the book--regardless of whether you agree with it. Having listened to the book, I feel better educated and better prepared to read other books -- like "In Defense of Food--with a more critical eye.One more point: to his credit (again), the author sets forth his thesis in the first ten minutes of the book. It would be a mistake to stop listening at that point. The remainder of the book is an explanation of why carbohydrates so dramatically affect our blood chemistry and drive our tendency to gain weight. Understanding those principles is at least as valuable, maybe more so, than simply knowing them.
If you are like me, you followed the story of Anonymous in the popular press. If so, you know about 10% of the story, most of which is completely wrong. This book tells the story of an important, emerging phenomenon that will shape our society for good or ill for many years to come. The book is well-researched and the story well-told. It is interesting and occasionally compelling. While the notion of a narrator reading chat-logs from the inner sanctum of Anonymous sounds boring, it is not. The author tells the broader story of the Anons who organized the most famous "operations" or attacks / hacks on Paypal, Scientology, HB Gary etc. The narrator brings the characters to life reasonably well, although the narration is occasionally marred by mispronunciations ("kern" for "CERN"). Oh, and also, this book will scare the stuffing out of you. If you think anything on your computer is private any longer, you couldn't be more wrong. Ironically, the "leaders" of Anonymous made that same mistaken assumption--a fact that drives the narrative to its conclusion.
Dawkin's arrogance is matched only by his brilliance. I find it hard to listen to him, but his ideas are so compelling that you can't not listen. I decided to ignore his persona and stick with the content. This is a seminal book and should be viewed as a companion to the Origin of the Species. Dawkins lays out the framework of evolution through the unit of information called the gene (which has a special definition in this work--not quite what we think of as a "gene" today). I decided to read the Selfish Gene after reading James Gleick's wonderful book "The Information," which has a chapter that draws on Dawkin's theory in The Selfish Gene. While Gleick gives you the essential high points, there is no substitute for following Dawkins through his tight-nit, intellectually disciplined, and detailed support for his theory. I am glad I listened to this book, but it took more commitment than other science audiobooks. I suppose that is because unlike many books that try to popularize science or treat it as historical biography, The Selfish Gene is itself a scientific work in which Dawkins sets out his theory of the gene as the fundamental unit of evolution.
I won't heap additional praise on this remarkable book. It is a must-read for anyone interested in . . . almost anything having to do with modern life.
I am adding a note to say that I read The Information in hard copy first, then listened to it, as I frequently do with books I really like. I was surprised by the amount of additional insight and understanding that I gained from listening to The Information. Many of the concepts discussed in the book are elusive and counter-intuitive -- think about the first (or twentieth) time you thought you understood relativity. So, don't be put off by the "should I read it or listen to it" question. The answer is "yes."
And a nod to the narrator, who takes challenging material and makes it more understandable with a pitch-perfect style that neither condescends nor assumes that the reader has a sophisticated background in information theory.
OK, I will add one additional heap of praise on the book itself -- despite the technical subject matter and explanations, Gleick is one hell of a story-teller. This book is full of surprises, which is another way of saying it is jam-packed with information.
Having just come off a jag of science, history and 'serious' fiction listens, this book seemed like a pleasant interlude. And it was. The over-the-hill rocker protaganist is likable and endearing as he assesses the mess he has made of his life and relationships. The dialog is smart, true-to-life, and slightly humorous without being over the top. I think many readers will view the characters in the book with affection and recognition--of themselves, their teenage kids, out-of-touch friends, and former spouses. None of them are perfect, but all are decent people trying to make the best of the places they have landed in their lives. If you liked Ron McClarty's "Memory of Running" (an Audible original), I think you will like Butterfish as well. It has much the same feel -- an ending that is neither story-book nor heroic, but in the direction of affirmation and second-chances. I liked it enough that I am going to check out other titles by this author.
This book is well worth your time. Like all good science fiction, it is a meditation on the present. It is a thought experiment in which trends and technologies that are accepted today are taken to their logical conclusion: agri-businesses move from genetically engineering crops to intentionally releasing blights to destroy native plants. When those blights spiral out of control and all that is left is genetically engineered food, who controls the world? Food companies. And when the entire world is on the edge of starvation, what is the most valuable commodity? Calories. But far from being preachy, this book brings that alternate world vividly alive as four characters struggle to survive in a country that is teetering on chaos. The book compares very favorably to Oryx and Crake, and is far superior to Cormac McCarthy's dismal "The Road." The book has some great writing, and falters only when it focuses for long periods on cinemtatic-action sequences as opposed to character development and its fascinating description of a frightening future that may be closer than we think. The narration is superb. You can skip the sex scenes and violence; they don't advance the plot except to establish that in desperate times, life is cheap and human dignity is a luxury available only to those who are well-fed and safe.
I was somewhat disappointed with this book, although I am otherwise a fan of this author. I purchased the book hoping for a history of the most famous equation in physics, but found that it was a somewhat disjointed history of Einstein's struggle to develop general relativity. While the insights into Einstein as a person are interesting, approach this as biography, not science.
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