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  • Fire and Fury

  • Inside the Trump White House
  • By: Michael Wolff
  • Narrated by: Michael Wolff, Holter Graham
  • Length: 11 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18,812
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 16,832
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 16,734

With extraordinary access to the West Wing, Michael Wolff reveals what happened behind-the-scenes in the first nine months of the most controversial presidency of our time in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the country—and the world—has witnessed a stormy, outrageous, and absolutely mesmerizing presidential term that reflects the volatility and fierceness of the man elected Commander-in-Chief.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Not as credible as one would like.

  • By Jerry R. Nokes Jr. on 01-29-18

Addictive

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-13-18

If this book were a Star Wars movie, Bannon would be Yoda. So keep in mind that you are reading what Bannon wants you to read. When being compared to Trump, it is easy for just about anyone to appear sane, intelligent, strategic, and competent, but the portrayal of Bannon laid it on a bit thick. I have no doubt Bannon was much smarter than Trump and saw things coming that Trump was too foolish and arrogant to understand. It's just that the book would have been much better if Bannon had been scrutinized as thoroughly as Trump.

Even with this aspect of the book, which sets the entire tone, it is a must read because along with the newly revealed speculations, it serves as an excellent biography of facts that have been long substantiated by the NYT, WP, as well as other reliable sources. Given the buzz around this author, I expected the book to be far less measured and far more sensational that it actually was. When speculating, the author made sure to say things like, "According to one side, the events played out like this."

The author began his biography of this presidency with the magic maneuvering of Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon who got someone as moronic as Trump elected and moved through to the daily seedy details of Trump's web of lies and deceit. You may have read all the articles in the NYT and WP in piecemeal but I doubt you have read it through from beginning to end in the way Wolff recounts.

If you can stand the Bannon slant, you will be rewarded with some deeply satisfying discussions on the following subjects:

- Why politics requires that you know politicians and how this affected Trumps political appointments. You might think Trump was guided by Russian involvement when looking at his top appointments. So many of his appointees had shady Russian ties (ties they lied about). However, even if Russia were actually fake news, it's not, Trump would have appointed strange and unqualified candidates anyway. The author laid out his convincing case for why. Even Ann Coulter had to step in and inform Trump, "No one is telling you, but you can't appoint your own children. You just can't."


- What was Trump's reaction to the media portrayal of him, which was unlike any president, republican or democratic, before him, and how did it affect his behavior. This section had speculation but it was convincing. You also get to learn about what Trump himself and his family thought of his surprise win.

- The meat of the book involves the firing of Comey. Who pushed for it? What was the real timeline and did the president even seem competent enough to make these choices? This is where Bannon really seemed like Yoda, but even as someone who hates Bannon, I found it hard not to agree when it came to this. Wolff looked at the roles of Ivanka, Jared, and especially Jared's father Charlie Kushner. What a tale Wolff had to tell. Of course there is a lot of speculation and denial surrounding all of this. Hopefully time will sort it out, even with the constant lying coming from the Trump camp. The best part of this section involved Wolff's retelling of the likely obstruction of justice that occurred on Air Force One before and after Ivanka sat in for Trump at G20.

- Trumps hatred for, "That cunt Sally Yates," and her role in taking him down as well as Rosenstein's big, "fuck you" to Trump by appointing Mueller.

- Trump really believes all news is fake news because he himself admitted to constantly generating false news. The only point of releasing any type of news, in Trump's view, is to manipulate the narrative. He cannot conceive of any other motive.

This book is probably a 4 star book. I am giving it five because this is the type of book that attracts trolls who will give it 1 star to keep people from reading it. Plus, it's an addictive page turner that you will probably blow through in 2 days or less. Couldn't put it down.

  • Evicted

  • Poverty and Profit in the American City
  • By: Matthew Desmond
  • Narrated by: Dion Graham
  • Length: 11 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,469
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 2,229
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,223

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Former Property Manager

  • By Charla on 05-18-16

Outstanding and eye-opening

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-29-16

In this outstanding and eye-opening ethnography, Matthew Desmond provided the public with an incredibly interesting look at inequality through the lens of housing accommodations for the poorest and most marginalized citizens in America. Despite studying inequality at length and reading as many books on inequality that I can get my hands on, this book really stood out because it added a level of complexity to my understanding of how inequality is maintained.

The writing was so exceptional, it was easy to become engrossed in the story of each person that I forgot that I was reading what amounts to a sociology book on human rights. The author did an excellent job of bringing to life the problems faced by both tenants and landlords in the slums of America.

In the epilogue he really tied everything together by both brining the reader back into the lives of many of the people discussed in the book and clearly connecting the dots between the stability provided by having a roof over one's head and how that stability is the only path to becoming a productive citizen. He thoughtfully questioned how high eviction rates might destabilize whole communities and contribute to crime. Desmond argued eloquently and convincingly that programs aimed at helping the poor find stable homes would be far more effective in creating productive citizens than policies aimed at punishing. In fact, putting money toward housing would be less expensive than what we pay to help these same citizens once they are fully homeless. His argument on this point was particularly salient. Similarly, it might be cheaper and more effective to help treat those with addiction than to punish them. Treatment over incarceration is something I have studied at length, which made me particularly happy to read his arguments.

Some of the questions Desmond tackles in this book are:

Who is eligible for housing assistance?
Who is not?
What are the results of these policies?
How do they affect the lives of poor and marginalized families who might have had a chance of living in the world in what would be considered a legitimate way?
How have these policies created more hurdles for those who already have such a steep climb to live a life of even the tiniest privilege?

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Coming to Our Senses

  • Perceiving Complexity to Avoid Catastrophes
  • By: Viki McCabe
  • Narrated by: Allyson Johnson
  • Length: 9 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 18
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 14
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 13

In Coming to Our Senses, cognitive scientist Viki McCabe argues that prevailing theories of perception, cognition, and information cannot explain how we know the world around us. Using scientific studies and true stories, McCabe shows that the ecological disasters, political paralysis, and economic failures we now face originate in our tendency to privilege cognitive processes and products over the information we access with our perceptual systems.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Startlingly relevant

  • By Barbara on 01-11-15

disappointing

Overall
1 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-24-16

How did this book receive so many good reviews? The subject matter gets an A+. Books like this one, which attempt to understand fractal patterns, predictability in the universe (via the patterns it presents), and the heuristics that keep us from understanding those patterns, are always at the very top of my list. I was extremely excited to read this book but quickly became disappointed when I realized this author was using the most amazing scientific discoveries of the last century to promote what basically amounts to pseudoscience. She continually used anecdotal evidence to support her point. worse than that, her arguments -- from chapter one onward-- are logically inconsistent.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club)

  • By: Colson Whitehead
  • Narrated by: Bahni Turpin
  • Length: 10 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9,569
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8,716
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8,684

The Newest Oprah Book Club 2016 Selection. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned - Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Stupendous book, hard to follow in audio

  • By JQR on 12-01-16

Great info, weak story

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-07-16

The subject matter is wonderful and I applaud the efforts of the author to include many details that are often isolated to academic articles. However, though strong on the academic side, the storytelling failed to engage me in the way that really good historical fiction should. I feel almost bad giving a book with a fantastic subject less than a fantastic review, but it simply didn't live up to the hype. The good news is that there is still room for an author who can provide excellent research *and* an engaging story.

I would say that the subject matter is important enough that I would recommend this book, even if the story could have been better.

56 of 74 people found this review helpful

  • Adventures in Human Being

  • By: Gavin Francis
  • Narrated by: Thomas Judd
  • Length: 5 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 703
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 629
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 630

We have a lifetime's association with our bodies, but for many of us they remain uncharted territory. In Adventures in Human Being, Gavin Francis leads the listener on a journey through health and illness, offering insights on everything from the ribbed surface of the brain to the secret workings of the heart and the womb; from the pulse of life at the wrist to the unique engineering of the foot.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The anecdotes in this writing are entertaining.

  • By MLGP on 05-10-16

Ok but I have read better books about the bod

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-04-16

The author takes the reader on a tour of body. He clearly excels when talking about the colon/gut/ OB stuff. The rest of the book doesn't quite measure up to that one exceptional part of the book.

While talking about the bowels and related areas of the body, this author was able to find beauty in what most people find disgusting. For me, that was the highlight of this book.

Interesting perspective

34 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • The Spark of Life

  • Electricity in the Human Body
  • By: Frances Ashcroft
  • Narrated by: Jenna Berk
  • Length: 14 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 34
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 31
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 29

We are all familiar with the idea that machines are powered by electricity, but perhaps not so aware that this is also true for ourselves. "The Spark of Life" is a spectacular account of the body electric, showing how, from before conception to the last breath we draw, electrical signals in our cells are essential to everything we think and do. These signals are produced by some amazing proteins that sit at the forefront of current scientific research - the ion channels. They are found in every cell in Earth and they govern every aspect of our lives, from consciousness to sexual attraction, fighting infection, our ability to see and hear, and the beating of our hearts.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Informative

  • By Jeremy on 06-15-13

In Depth Explanations of What's Inside You!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-31-16

Do you thirst for in depth explanations about how your body works? If so, read this book.

We know well how an electric cord works when plugged into an outlet and a switch is flipped. But what plugs you in? What sort of current does the human body use to breathe, eat, move, have sex, read a book, or even to sit and think? Ashcroft goes into great detail about the currents that make you an active system. Instead of an outlet in a wall, the currents inside humans, and other animals, are generated by tiny ions that flow through ion channels. This is the thermodynamics of life at its best. (Though she never actually mentions thermodynamics).

Ashcroft included all the best concepts learned in classes such as intro to neuroscience, intermediate biochen, and the lighter aspects of neurocellular biochem and neurophysics. For example, she does an amazing job of explaining how the inside of the cell has a high potassium concentration, while the outside of the cell has high sodium concentration. This creates a gradient that allows the current of bio-electricity to continually flow through the body. Having done such a great job simplifying that for the reader, Ashcroft was perfectly positioned to explain how that current is turned into axon potentials, which govern every process in which humans engage. She really brought the magic of cells and ion channels alive.

Energy flow in the human body, and in all cells, is one of my favorite topics to read about and think about. It's hard to find a book this detailed. Some authors choose this subject to write about, but their numbers are surprisingly few. Nick Lane's Life ascending and Power, Sex, and Suicide were extremely satisfying for me but not as relatable as Ashcroft's writing.

I have to say, I felt entirely perplexed that Ashcroft believes that life probably began in a tiny little pond. I have no idea how she can believe this. It's entirely possible Nick Lane, along with Martin and Russell, are wrong in their hypothesis that life originated at the hydrothermal vents. But if life did not originate there, it seems necessary -- not just likely-- that it arose somewhere that provided the energy needed to create and maintain enzymes that make cellular products. This aspect of the book will bother me continuously until I understand how she can account for the needed energy of the enzymes. She is far more knowledgeable than I am, as is Nick Lane. So I am sure there is something I missing about her hypothesis. But it's driving me crazy, and she did not write about where the energy would have come from in her scenario.

From page one, I fell in love with this book. It was quickly clear that this was the biochem (ion channel) book I have been looking for all my life! I remember learning about how our brain cells work to help us see, smell, taste, hear, see, and touch our world. My mind was completely blown away, because I simply could not believe nature could be that beautiful and that brilliant. But it is, and Ashcroft did a great job of conveying how much of that brilliance is due to ion channels. Ashcroft herself states that "This is a book about ion channels." Indeed it is. For it is the ion channel that takes every experience you will ever have with the world around you and detects, transmits, and processes every last bit of it so that you can even call it an experience.

It was clear to me that Ashcroft is in awe of the body, which has as many cells as the galaxy has stars, and the brains inside those bodies. She wrote about action potentials, resting potentials on each side of the membrane and why that matters (and how that makes you able to function and live in the world). Despite having read so much similar material for years, Ashcroft made my dopamine neurons go crazy during each page because she explains it all so tremendously well. I would have been happy with a book 4 times as long!

Her coverage of cell suicide was crazy good; so good in fact, I kept saying, "How can this book even exist?" (I *really* love cells). Cells kill themselves all the time for the good of the system (the animal body). For example, if cells did not undergo apoptosis during our fetal development, we would all have webbed fingers and toes. If cells didn't undergo apoptosis after we were born, our brains simply could not function. After she provided examples of apoptosis in the human animal, she wrote about the actual process of apoptosis in which the cell takes over the mitochondria and directs it to kill itself. (so good!)

She gave a beautiful description of photosynthesis, but it is likely not what you have heard before. Yes, she covers the basics, but she tells the story of photosynthesis from the perspective of the ion channel.

The last part of the book discussed what happens when ion channels work or do not work correctly. The result is a sensual experience of the world or an inability to sense the world. This section came alive with great examples, including somme little known trivia about Monet.

Thank you Frances Ashcroft for writing a book that makes me feel like I was lucky enough to hop on a plane, fly over to England, take a seat in your lecture hall at Oxford University, and learn the intricate details about the energetics of animal systems -- and not to have to do problem sets or take exams. The only thing that would make me happier would be for Ashcroft to put her lectures in a public domain so I could watch every last one of them.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Black Man in a White Coat

  • A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine
  • By: Damon Tweedy
  • Narrated by: Corey Allen
  • Length: 8 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 565
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 516
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 518

One doctor's passionate and profound memoir of his experience grappling with racial identity, bias, and the unique health problems of black Americans. When Damon Tweedy first enters the halls of Duke University Medical School on a full scholarship, he envisions a bright future where his segregated, working-class background will become largely irrelevant. Instead he finds that he has joined a new world where race is front and center.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Absolutely eye opening!

  • By Kelene on 02-23-16

Read this instead of Ben Carson's Gifted Hands

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-29-16

Damon Tweedy has written an extremely thoughtful memoir of his time as a medical student onward, navigating a white dominated school and profession. It begins with his experience, walking into Duke Medical School and being asked by the professor, "Are you here to fix the lights?" Stunned into silence and not knowing how to explain that he was not a well dressed janitor but was in fact a medical student, Tweedy tried to shake it off and prove his worth. When Tweedy earned the second highest score on the final exam in his professor's class, his professor (the same one who mistook him for the janitor) told him how surprised and impressed he was that Tweedy did so well. The professor never even realized how racist it was to be that surprised a black person could do so well. The professor could have added, "And you are so well spoken!"

Tweedy himself felt confused about his own ideas of black and white people, rich and poor people. Using a deeply self reflective writing style, Tweedy offers his reader a genuine understanding of the conflicted ideas that work their way into the minds of the doctors who care for us. They are, after all, human. Tweedy wrote about his need to differentiate himself from the black people who got ahead because of affirmative action instead of skill-- wanting the white people in charge of his future to see his talents and not his skin color. However, he realized he wasn't so different from many of his patients. He spent an incredible amount of effort trying to understand their lives, their struggles, and what led them to make the choices they made.

In the end, his drive to understand humans won out, motivating him to choose psychiatry over surgery. Whenever a patient's outcome was unfavorable, Tweedy beat himself up, looking through his notes to see how his own biases might have dictated the care he provided. This made me really love him-- so much.

During his time as a doctor, he treated many poor black people and saw how their outcomes were often far worse than outcomes for whites with the same conditions. He spent his career trying to understand why that is and has written a book to share what he learned. In the book he addresses specific medical and psychological issues and healthcare cost and accessibility. He examines many stereotypes that have gain popularity and asks if they are generally true, and somehow he does all of it without sounding angry, self righteous, or elitist.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • The Gene

  • An Intimate History
  • By: Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Narrated by: Dennis Boutsikaris
  • Length: 19 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,349
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,997
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,965

The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Scientific history blended with humanity

  • By S. Yates on 05-23-16

From Darwin to Now, a New Understanding

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-27-16

Siddhartha Mukherjee dove deep into the history of the gene and provided and extremely thorough account of the various associated discovery that have occurred since Darwin's day. This book is heavy on the history, and semi light on the science. Each discovery is detailed, but the science involved is related in a manner that is accessible to the nonscientists.

One thing I found curious was his discussion of Lamarck. Recently I finished reading Survival of the Sickest, but Sharon Moalem, in which it was suggested that Lamarck was more of a science writer than a theorist. Moalem posited that it was not Lamarck who came up with the idea that traits acquired during the lifetime were passed down. Rather, Lamarck simply championed that idea, which was the dominant paradigm of the time, in his writing. Mukherjee, like every author I have read except Moalem, took it as a given that Lamarck was the originator of such thought. I now feel compelled to research this and find out who is correct.

In this rich history, Mukherjee shared many interesting tidbits that I hadn't heard or had forgotten about. His choice of facts, both of a personal and scientific nature, kept the book humming along. Despite being a longer than usual science book, it felt as if moved fairly fast.

Some of, what I thought, the more interesting parts of the books were as follows:

The best biography of a scientists involved Herman Muller. When Muller first began his career, he was extremely enamored with eugenics. John Morgan was a prominent expert in eugenics and Muller sought him out to work in his lab. Muller worked on many aspects of genetics and, as a result of his significant contributions , became a Nobel laureate. As he continued his work, Muller realized that instead of being the helpful tool he believed eugenics to be (he thought that would create equality and optimal health for all), it was a tool of oppression, mainly aimed at minorities and poor.

Not wanting to be on the wrong side of history, Muller became very politically active. As editor of a progressive leftist journal called The Spark, he helped champion ideas that promoted equality for women, minorities, and the poor. Instead of being thanked for his efforts, Muller's outspoken views on equality made him a target of the FBI. He underwent a character assassination that attacked him socially, professionally, and politically. Not being able to endure it any longer, he walked out into the woods, took a bottle of pills and fell asleep under a tree. Turned out the pills were not enough to kill him. Grad students found him walking around in a daze.


His best analogy of genes involved a rare syndrome. According to Mukherjee, having a disorder that enables your brain to remember every single thing you have ever experienced might seem like a superpower, but it's more like a crippling disease. He likens it to being in a loud crowd, every moment of your life, and never being able to turn the sound down low enough so you can hear the people you love and want to talk to. It's just noise all the time.

He suggested that genes act like memory. If epigenetic modification does not silence some genes and express others, the end product could never be a fully functioning organism. We are all born with many genes. But if we expressed them all, all of the time, we would not be human. We would not be anything we recognize.

Epigenetic modification is happening all of the time and cannot be separated from gene expression. Sometimes epigenetic modification can turn off and on genes many times in a second. Sometimes it can silence a gene for an entire lifetime, making it as if the gene never existed at all.

There was a wonderful discussion on genes, sex, and gender identity that was top notch. Mukherjee related how sex is determined by the X or Y chromosome *AND* the SRY gene. Not only do the SRY gene and the Y chromosome need to interact, but the SRY gene itself (which in turn regulated the Y chromosome) is itself regulated other genes. This creates a very complex model of gene expression. It's not simple. We cannot just say, "This person is male," or "That person is female." There is more to it.

Genetically, A person can be genetically male, possessing a Y chromosome, but the Y chromosome is not regulated and the person never becomes what we would recognize as male. Thus, a person with a Y chromosome might feel, act, and look like a female. A person might look like a male but their brain, lacking SRY gene regulation of the Y chromosome, might in a real biological sense identify as female. I would like to have seen a discussion of how gender roles have affected gender identity. That cannot really be found in this book, which was disappointing. However, that was the only exception to a truly fantastic discussion of gender identity.

Mukherjee provided an equally wonderful discussion about race, IQ, and genes. It was balanced, well researched, and well presented.


I would have liked more examples of epigenetic modification. There probably wasn't time, considering how long the book was, but there are so many wonderful studies and I never get tired of reading about them. He included the usual suspects and that got the point across to the reader in an effective manner. I would say the overall tone of this book was fairly conservative -- paying homage to Dawkins, paying head to concerns about playing God, expressing concern for those who use evidence from epigenetics to shift paradigms too wildly, etc. Even with that, it was a solid piece of work.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • The Big Picture

  • On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself
  • By: Sean Carroll
  • Narrated by: Sean Carroll
  • Length: 17 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,728
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,549
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,531

Already internationally acclaimed for his elegant, lucid writing on the most challenging notions in modern physics, Sean Carroll is emerging as one of the greatest humanist thinkers of his generation as he brings his extraordinary intellect to bear not only on the Higgs boson and extra dimensions but now also on our deepest personal questions. Where are we? Who are we? Are our emotions, our beliefs, and our hopes and dreams ultimately meaningless out there in the void?

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Keeping this on REPEAT for months to come

  • By Chris Akers on 06-10-16

ABSOLUTE MUST READ!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-12-16

After having a countdown for this book, which spanned months, I woke up at 5 am on May 10th and thought, "It's finally here!" I opened my Audible library and it was better than Christmas. In the quiet of the morning, I began to listen to this deeply philosophical book and immediately fell in love with it. It felt like a Poetic Naturalist's version of Christmas- material gifts replaced by the gift of trying to understand the nature of our vast universe and the world in which we live.

Those who have wanted to read Sean Carroll but didn't want to wade through the science will be happy with this book. In the spirit of Alexander von Humboldt, Carroll tucks much of the complex science away in an appendix for those who would like more detail. But, that doesn't mean this book is light on the science. To the contrary, Carroll, as usual, takes some of the most complex issues science has to offer, and packages them in a form that even people with little or no scientific background can understand. In fact, this book in particular is aimed at those who might have little education in the sciences and and even less education about heuristics. It welcomes everyone to join in a thoughtful conversation about understanding what we know about our world and the wider universe. Does it have a purpose? Does its design imply any type of creator? Instead of insulting those who say that it does (I am guilty of this myself), Carroll provided a real way to put our beliefs to the test. He was very willing to consider the views of those who believe in God and provide a detailed method, which is both kind and built on logic, that can help us figure out whether a belief is true.

If the preceding paragraph suggests to you that those with extensive education in the sciences (including cognitive science) will be bored or find nothing new, then I have represented the book poorly. Even people whose undergrad and grad career consisted of many of the following courses will find new ways of thinking about that information and connecting it to the Big Picture.

Samples of related course material:

Intro to Cognitive Science (including Kahneman's heuristics)
Cognitive Neuroscience
Biochem (including chemiosmosis)
Evolution (including environmental modification of genes)
Origin of life research (including Martin, Russell, and Lane's work on bioenergetics and others working on RNA world)
Philosophy of Mind

Carroll opened the door for *everyone* to think about and discuss what evidence we would need for any belief to be validated. Instead of dismissing ideas of belief outright, Carroll employs a very gentle, yet fiercely logical style of problem solving. The result was powerful and reminded me of the deep humility and unfailing logic with which Darwin wrote his many books, including his autobiography.

Prior to this book, if anyone had asked me if I wanted to read yet another book on creationism vs. science or the hard problem of consciousness (involving Chalmers unrealistic and pseudoscientific zombies), the answer would have been a resounding, "NO!" I feel as if too much of my thinking time has been wasted by these concepts that serve only to anchor our progress. I want to push past all of that. I want to never again allow that type of scientific sabotage to ruin the progress I might make in understanding the universe in a real and more complete way than my current view allows. Often reading about the efforts of those who wage war on evidence based knowledge leaves me frustrated, often wishing I could get that time back. That was not the case with this book. The whole time, even though I was reading things I thought I was tired of reading, my neurons were flooding my brain with wonderful dopamine bursts. Reflexive "Wows" kept reverberating from my brain. The book fits into the category "MINDGASM!"

In a book, which includes such topics as:

how we know what we know
the forces that govern the universe
properties of elements in relation to other elements
quantum mechanics
emergence and complexity
how we gather and evaluate scientific evidence

Carroll, in his usual relatable fashion, seamlessly included discussions about today's relevant issues in society such as transgender rights, marriage equality. I recall reading E.O. Wilson's book Social Conquest Of Earth and feeling somewhat confused about the organization of the book. He kept social issues separate throughout the book and then bombarded the reader with a litany of important social issues. I love both Wilson and his book, but the social issues didn't fit and felt as if they should be in another book. Carroll's humorous (yet serious) approach when discussing such issues makes me feel as if I am reading a 20 something university student with his finger on the pulse of the upcoming generations, while at other times, when he is discussing concepts that take a long time to learn, I feel as if I am reading a book written by a scientifically minded Zarathustra. In a crazy way, this writing style really works.

Parts One, Two, and Three (the first half of the book) were basically an excellent summary of and entire 4 year experience as a major in Cognitive Science. After introducing such concepts as understanding cause and effect, understanding how things move and how momentum is conserved, and understanding how we come to adopt our belief systems, Carroll examined the many heuristics we employ when trying to understand how we know what we know. To figure this out, he introduced a sort of "best of" collection of thinkers. Marrying Cog Sci 101 (with a strong emphasis on Baysian reasoning) with Epistemology and Philosophy 101, he tried to understand what thinkers such as Descartes and Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, and Kahneman thought about the nature of reality. The main questions scholars have been asking are, "How can I know what I know? How can I know what exists? How can I know if my beliefs reflect reality?" A take home point from Section Two is that people are all entitled to have their own prior beliefs. However, they are not entitled to have their own likelihood. There is an objective likelihood to be discovered, and it takes solid reasoning, and not tightly held belief, to make that discovery. **** see note at end.

While discussing heuristics, Carroll gave a shout out to one of my favorite books -- Mistakes Were Made, but Not by Me. I love that book and am often disappointed that not too many people I have talked to seem to appreciate it in the way I do. I love that it got the recognition it deserved. Many books like it are sort of self-help oriented and veer too far from the science. Many authors fail to question if they are using the very heuristics they are writing about. Still others fail to question the methods to the studies they choose to include, brining down the overall quality of the book. But, Tavris and Aronson did much better than most avoiding these pitfalls. They deserved some recognition, not from the self-help crowd, but rather from a scientists who is celebrated for his keen logic.

In Part 4, Carroll related a humorous story about ending up on a plane, seated next to origin of life researcher Mike Russel. That was a great lead in to explaining Darwinian evolution, cellular formation, emergence, complexity (his complexity research sounds great! I am definitely going to read everything I can get my hand on concerning that), and ATP synthase (my very favorite protein channel!). If you are a bit fuzzy about what Free Energy is, this section will clear that up and relate it to exactly how your very own body works. (What a delicious section. I was too excited to see what came next. So I did not stop to listen again or take notes on this section. As soon as I am done writing this review, I am going to listen to this entire section again.)

Theodosius Dobzhansky said, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”. Thanks to scientists such as Sean Carroll, Mike Russell, Jeremy England, and others bridging the gap between living and non living systems, it will soon be said that Nothing in Biology or the larger universe Makes Sense Except in the Light of Thermodynamics. If you want the best possible summary of how thermodynamics fits into the story of living systems (including how those systems likely came into being and how they evolved), then you will love this section.

In Part Five, Carroll took on the philosophy of mind debate. You may have taken courses or read extensively about The Chinese Room, Mary, What it's Like to Be a Bat, Eliminative Materialism, and The Hard Problem. Even if you are extremely familiar with all of this, I would recommend reading Carroll's summary. Wow! I was engaged in a way that surprised me. He breathed new life into these debates. I was a tiny bit sad that he left out Andy Clark's work (especially in relation to Chalmers), but considering this book was more than 17 hours long (Audible), I understand that he didn't have time for everything. It's just that Clark's work (along with the Churchland's work) is what made Philosophy of Mind so great for me.

Carroll ended the book with what I can only say was a beautiful essay I didn't know I needed to read. If you are unfamiliar with the Is vs Ought problem, you can find out in this section what it is and why should you care. If you are well familiar with this question, you will enjoy the discussion provided on Carroll about morality. Deeply satisfying! A+! He ended on a more personal note than any thing I have read by him to date. It was truly a lovely book, from start to finish.

I think Carroll will be remembered along side of Copernicus and Darwin for providing us with gentle but clear evidence that we are not special. Far from being a depressing nihilistic view of the world and universe, Carroll showed his reader (even if you read with your ears) how reality is actually more special than any false belief about being special. Understanding can be the deepest religion of all (idk if Carroll would put it quite like that, but it's my takeaway message).



****I was going to include in this review a bit about Sean Carroll's "planet v black hole belief system," but I posted about it on Facebook and butchered what was an excellent analogy. I can only say that you need to read it for yourself. If you get the analogy, you will forever ask yourself, "Am I being a black hole right now? "Am I following the evidence or am I fooling myself and holding tight to heuristically driven fallacies?" I can see a new viral way of thinking springing from this analogy -- e.g. insults or memes that include the statement, "Stop being such a black hole!"

120 of 131 people found this review helpful

  • Infested

  • How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World
  • By: Brooke Borel
  • Narrated by: Lena Kaminsky
  • Length: 8 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 12
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9

Bedbugs. Few words strike such fear in the minds of travelers. In cities around the world, lurking beneath the plush blankets of otherwise pristine-looking hotel beds, are tiny, bloodthirsty beasts just waiting for weary wanderers to surrender to vulnerable slumber. Though bedbugs today have infested the globe, the common bedbug is not a new pest at all. Indeed, as Brooke Borel reveals in this unusual history, this most-reviled species may date back over 250,000 years.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • What do we know about bed bugs so far?

  • By serine on 04-30-16

What do we know about bed bugs so far?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-30-16

History of bed bugs -- how humans discovered them, how bed bugs evolved to feed off humans, how humans attempted to treat them. Borel also describes her travels to meet scientists working in the field an gives the reader a sense of the current efforts to treat infestations. In order to do that, researchers need to unravel the many mysteries of these resilient bugs.

My main interest in bed bugs is their mating cycle. That was one mystery Borel didn't really address in detail. But there was a lot of interesting information provided.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful