This is a good primer on the concept of mindfulness as a stress reduction tool. Is brief and concise enough to give you a basic understanding of what it is all about. You won't come away an expert or perhaps even at best, only a dabbler but it does a good enough job to make you want to learn more.
Like Toland's other works, this is a good blend of military and political history and there are some nice details about how the final hundred days arguably set the tone and shape of international relations for the next 45 years. Nevertheless 100 days feels disjointed and somewhat incomplete as Toland overly dwells on certain events (e.g. Plans for the establishment of the U.N., the battle for Remagen, and especially Mussolini's demise) at the expense of seemingly equal or more pertinent ones (eg. The battle for Berlin, the German civil front). The end result feels patchwork with more than a few gaps.
May appeal to readers who like their history detailed and who aren't overly familiar with the closing days of the European theater of war.
The Narrator was fine but the production was terrible, with frequent, inexplicable changes in tone and clarity. I thought at first this might be because the narrator was emphasizing a footnote before realizing it was just the sound production. In the end, the narration proved to be a distraction more than anything.
First off, I must admit to being a fan of Mary Roach, whose books delve into the eccentricities, trivialities, and the “have you ever wondered how” aspects of our human bodies. In this vein, Gulp dares the reader to boldly explore the splendor of what our bodies do to food from bite to bowel. Roach’s style isn’t to take any of this too seriously, or to drown the reader in arcane science; rather, she interviews experts in various fields or takes on the role of observer or occasional lab rat. All of this is infused with liberal amounts of tongue and cheek humor which is narrated in such a breezy, personal tone that I thought Roach herself was doing the narration. In the end, the reader won’t come away with anything close to encyclopedic understanding of human digestion but if that’s what you are looking for then Gulp is the wrong book for you anyway. Instead if you are looking to have a little info to go with your entertainment, and you don’t mind occasionally being a little grossed out (see the bit on tasters), Gulp may just leave you feeling a little awed by how your body works its unseen magic turning what you have eaten into what you are.
This history of Hitler’s V2 rocket program is a well-researched, fact-abundant chronology of mankind’s first guided ballistic missile. It deals primarily with the period of 1941-45 and the efforts of the Nazis to develop/use it as a terror weapon and the British attempts to monitor its development and then, once it began to rain down on British cities, minimize its impact on morale. In this, the book succeeds mostly through its preponderance of facts, including an almost missile by missile account of devastation and causalities, interspersed with eyewitness statements. Clearly, Longmate has done his homework and my eyes were opened to both the scale of its use as well as the utter helplessness of the British to defend against/cope with it. What is lacking here though is really any compelling narrative to draw the reader in – Longmate does not offer much in terms of either the technical challenges the German scientists faced in developing it or the British in defending against it or the personalities, motives, and conflicts of the key figures on either side. Rather, what you get is a somewhat sterile chronological recap of events with perhaps the first quarter of the book devoted almost exclusively to the development of the V2 and the last three quarters to its effects as a weapon. A more adept writer might have found a way to interweave the two storylines throughout the book in order to create a more continuous and less fragmented narrative. Still, for those who want to know more about this small bit of WWII history, Hitler’s Rockets will satisfy but likely not delight
This book is a mostly entertaining, first hand account of Kiehl’s professional experiences studying criminal psychopaths. It is informative without getting too technical (though there is a heavy focus on Kiehl’s brain imagining work) and the listener will come away with both a sense of who/what constitutes a psychopath as well as the somewhat unsettling notion that there are still more unknowns than knowns about its causes and treatments. Kiehl relates all this in a breezy, informal narrative that includes many fascinating case studies of youth and adults he has worked with over several decades. The title is probably misleading – Kiehl makes no claims to having any great gifts or abilities to relate to psychopaths but what the book does admirably is to shed light on the many falsehoods, misconceptions, and unknowns we have about this (thankfully) small sub-set of humankind. The narration is good in conveying Kielh as the “kind of guy you would like to go out with for a beer” while also subtly reminding the listener that these are real people we are hearing about. My only complaint is that the narrative occasionally diverges too much from the topic or digresses into detailed tangents (e.g. the procuring of various MRI machines) that could have either been edited down or out. Still, as long as you are neither scared off or repulsed by the topic, TPW is worth a read.
There are aspects to this audiobook that are much to like. It ably recaps mankind’s fear of and responses to outbreaks of disease and illness along a historical timeline in a sort of Epidemiology 101 primer way. In this respect it is informative without being trivial and will interest listeners with little or no understanding of the topic. In using an expansive definition of “epidemic” to include conditions which arguably are neither illnesses nor necessarily transmittable (e.g. autism, obesity), the author is able to focus more on mankind’s social response to perceived causes and “cures” rather than disease pathology. In this regard, Dread can intrigue by tracing how little our thinking has evolved over the centuries in our need to 1) find a cause for each epidemic and 2) equate that cause with an ethnic, religious, behavioural, or other scapegoat to both fear and blame. Still, I found it difficult to really get into this book. Despite the intriguing title, the writing style is dry and academic, akin to reading a textbook and the professorial tone of the narration brought me back to some of my worst experiences as a University freshman. In the end, this book may be better suited to skimming rather than listening to from start to finish.
This is an exhaustive and thoughtful portrait of perhaps the greatest American actor of the latter 20th century. De Niro primarily focuses on the actor and his works moreso than the man, which given Robert De Niro's well-known reticence toward the media and interviews shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nevertheless, Levy has authoritatively researched his subject and seems to have gathered every possible quotable snippet RD has put on the record. What I particularly enjoyed about this bio was its critical take on its subject: Levy is not afraid to interpose his views in a balanced way on the actor's work as well as draw on other critics appraisals which makes this neither fawning nor a hatchet job. The end result is a bio that reveals the man primarily through his work, going in depth on his most iconic pictures and roles as well as collaborations with directors such as de Palma and Scorsese. In all, I found this very enjoyable, almost a companion to be read while either watching or reflecting on RDs movies. To this end, De Niro will appeal to film buffs as well those who want to understand the man in relation to the icon rather than those looking for a trashy tabloid take (though RD’s relationship with his artist father, his many spouses, children, and business enterprises are not glossed over). The breezy narration does not distract you from the material to the point I forgot I was listening to an audiobook. Well worth the read.
This bio has much to love and hate, which seems to mirror the often dichotomous opinion people (or music critics) have of the Piano Man. Schruers covers all the bases of Joel's life from his ancestors hegira from Nazi Germany, to his early days on Long Island, through pop stardom and later touring years. As might be expected from Schruers somewhat abbreviated treatment, each episode is covered in an almost cursory way with little time for in depth exploration of Joel's musical influences, cultural context, or critical interpretation. The hits, loves, tribulations, drug and alcohol abuse just breeze by and readers hoping for critical analysis or even behind the scenes details may come away disappointed. Nevertheless, Billy Joel has its pluses. Schruers notes in his sources the hundred+ hours of interviews and access Joel gave him; add to this the interviews with others in Joel's entourage plus voluminous research and what you get is a book that brims with quotes for every occasion that often illuminates Joel's personality and humor. But therein also lies the problem. One gets the sense that this is less a biography than ghostwritten autobiography and Schruers' access may have come at the price of a reluctance to delve with any depth or criticism into the darker aspects of Joel's life. The end result is a sympathetic, almost fawning bio that will neither offend nor illuminate but should appeal to those interested in a quick, breezy read and whose curiosity about the Piano Man would be satisfied with a Joel on Joel treatment.
I quite enjoyed the narration, particularly Thornton's stabs at imitating Elton John, Keith Richards and other musicians. That aside, the narration is jaunty and befits the material.
For those with a layperson’s interest in physics, Death by Black Hole is an entertaining and informative read. Tyson is a respected Astrophysicist and media personality, most recently recognizable as the host of the re-booted mini-series Cosmos. Those familiar with him will recognize in DBBH a few pet themes that underlie his works: first, that there is beauty, structure, and grandeur in the visible and invisible universe and secondly, that humanity’s best mechanism for understanding and explaining these lie in the application of the scientific method of inquiry. Having said that, DBBH is essentially an anthology of self-contained essays grouped by various themes, ranging from the foundations of knowledge and science, the biological and evolutionary origins of life, to the physical laws and structure of our visible and invisible universe. If this sounds heavy handed (it isn’t), Tyson also playfully diverges into explanations of how popular sci-fi movies get the science wrong, the multiple ways the universe is trying and failing to kill the collective us, and why so many of our commonly held axioms (“the sun always rises in the east”) are not quite correct. In lesser hands, this could come across as boorish but Tyson has a knack for infusing it with a tongue and cheek, sometimes self-deprecating, humor (as the title implies) that makes the material accessible while never condescending to the reader. As for the narration, I admit to being surprised after listening to the audiobook when I discovered that Tyson himself didn’t narrate it; hats off to Dion Graham for a lively reading and bang on impersonation. While DBBH would never be mistaken for a high school physics text, or even a mass market but more serious take such as Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, I highly recommend this audiobook, particularly for younger (or young at heart) readers who want to learn more about, to quote Douglas Adams, “life, the universe, and everything”.
There is much to like in this audiobook, which essentially plays out like an extended TED talk, provided you agree with Kissinger’s realpolitic take on nation states balance of power. As might be expected, he lays out his analysis/arguments in a thoughtful, logical progression and the sum amounts to a region by region history lesson on how nation states, motivated by self-interest, strive to achieve a balance of power with their neighbours/rivals so that no nation becomes too strong or too weak. Failure to achieve this balance creates a dangerous, destabilizing effect. In a sense, peace is maintained under this type of framework and World Order takes the reader through a history lesson on how this has evolved in various geopolitical regions over the last 500 years. The roots of HK’s worldview clearly haven’t evolved much over the past 50 years and at 91, it would probably be a bit folly to expect HK to change now. And hence, this underscores a fundamental weakness in World Order. As alternate theories aren’t offered, one doesn’t come away with the sense that this is true historical analysis, nor poli sci primer. As it focuses largely on the nation state, which arguably has less importance in the 21st century than it did in the previous, it hardly qualifies as a prescription either, though HK does touch on some of the challenges ahead (ie. Nuclear proliferation, non state groups, interconnected global communication). Still, I wouldn’t call World Order outdated, nor should it be tossed aside lightly; rather, listening to it is akin to spending the day with an elder sage, who still offers much wisdom and experience to impart but whose worldview is still firmly rooted in the past. It is worth the read as long as the reader always bears in mind that this is The World According to HK.
The premise of What if, applying science to absurdist, hypothetical scenarios, is the sort of thing that should appeal to the geek in me but I can’t say I liked this book as a whole. Munroe based it on his popular website (I hadn’t visited it before reading What if) and the scenarios he examines seem to be drawn from submissions from its readers. He infuses this mix of absurdity crossed with science with liberal amounts of tongue in cheek humor but I found it became a bit grating after awhile, not because the subject matter needed to be treated with more respect (it doesn’t) but because I think it would have been funnier to let the absurdity of the scenarios/answers speak more for themselves. Particularly irritating were the short (non) answer responses to some questions which came off as condescending rather than funny. With that out of the way, What if does a good job of taking the listener through the science behind the answer to the scenario without getting bogged down in too much detail. Munroe also indulges the reader by extending the example further than the limitations of the original question – just to see what would happen. Aside from the humor part, I think the key to whether you will love or hate this book lies in whether you really are that interested in how hard you would need to shoot a hockey puck in order to knock someone over. For me, I wasn’t and although a few scenarios peaked my interest (if all humans simultaneously aimed a light at the same spot on the moon, would it be visible), there weren’t enough to sustain my attention.
Fine narration - well done Wesley Crusher!
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