What does everyone in the modern world need to know? Renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson's answer to this most difficult of questions uniquely combines the hard-won truths of ancient tradition with the stunning revelations of cutting-edge scientific research. Humorous, surprising, and informative, Dr. Peterson tells us why skateboarding boys and girls must be left alone, what terrible fate awaits those who criticize too easily, and why you should always pet a cat when you meet one on the street.
It's always going to be a challenge to review anyone at the center of such a great deal of controversy as is Peterson today. There are so many nits picked about the lobster serotonin bit that it's just inescapable to see that some people are looking for an excuse to hate it. Others are likely going to support it as a proxy to supporting the man and what he's come to represent. I will do my best to instead focus on the specific content of this book objectively.
So first the lobsters. I have seen respectable and educated contentions that Peterson's superficial handling of the actions of serotonin get it all wrong. Chronically high levels of serotonin can actually have the opposite of the effect he describes. Much of what he sees to implicate serotonin is the efficacy of serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, like Prozac). But these actually have mechanisms of action on other neurotransmitters entirely, and the therapeutic effect might actually stem from these other mechanisms.
Okay, I'll grant that. I have an undergrad degree in molecular neurobiology, and while that's not enough to be a clinical neuropharmacologist, it's enough to know how hard it can be to pin down mechanisms of action to the exclusion of all competing hypotheses. That said, the actual impact on Peterson's argument is moot.
If it isn't actually high levels of serotonin that a person should want, the main point doesn't change. That main point is that dominance hierarchies are rooted in biology rather than being arbitrary creations of society. Looking to the evolutionary system Steven Pinker uses in The Language Instinct, what we would expect for something rooted in biology is 1) being ubiquitous, 2) being old, 3) being highly preserved, 4) having specific organic structures created to develop and use that mechanism, and 5) having a direct bearing on progenerative capacity of individuals. If you hit all of these marks, you're almost certainly looking at evolution rather than arbitrary social construct. And regardless of the neurotransmitter involved, Peterson's dominance hierarchy hits all of these points easily, so the central point stands.
Looking to the rest of the book, you get something very, very different than you might expect if you thought it was all fighting lobsters. Most of this book is more deeply involved in looking at archetypes in myth, legend, literature, and philosophy. While it operates from a Jungian perspective, it lacks all of Jung's metaphysical mumbo jumbo. There seems to instead be an implicit assumption that recurring themes recur because they are useful and important. It's more along the background assumptions Carl Sagan uses in Dragons of Eden.
And to that end, it's excellent. It provides a great deal of insight into a wide range of important ideas in our classic cultural canon. It has a lot of what I'd have liked to see in an undergraduate class on either literature or philosophy. What I find most striking is that when you go to the Amazon page of most "self help" books, you see the "readers also liked" recommendations mostly pointing to other self help books. This instead shows a high number of people looking into Orwell, Nietzsche, Jung, Solzhenitsyn, etc. It's a starting point to what is proving to be a much larger re-engagement with the classical canon.
This is a very easy listen with a number of unexpectedly profound insights. You also do not need to agree with all of it to find it thought-provoking and enlightening. Highly, highly recommend.
The Life of Thomas More went straight to #1 on the London Times best seller list when published in the United Kingdom. It remained in that position for over a month, garnering the kind of praise that is rarely given. Thomas More was not only a great man of the church, he was also arguably the most brilliant lawyer the English-speaking world has ever known.
This book was a slog in just about every way. I wanted to like this, I'm very interested in the subject, but this book just failed on multiple fronts.
To start I really must note how much I dislike the narrator's style. I expect at any moment for him to get a call asking for Abe Froman, "the sausage king of Chicago," while commenting that he weeps for the future. It is a terribly affected snooty English accent that is a major distraction to following the actual content, and it almost never gets any easier. He also has a really annoying habit of taking the passages that the author quotes in early Modern English, and trying to pronounce them with affected phonetics to give you a sense of the weird spelling used. All it does is make it virtually impossible to understand, and anyone being sensible would just read the word that a listener will understand.
I made a point of purging many titles from my wish list that had him as a narrator, and I'd love to see a number of his works redone by better narrators.
As to the content, again this was a struggle. I felt that a lot of this book was just "one danged thing after another" with little narrative or analysis. I'd just finished Massing's excellent audiobook Fatal Discord (about Erasmus and Luther), and I felt like much of the more interesting things about More came out there and not here.
To make a very specific complaint representative of the larger problem, there's a point where this book mentions More trying to stop Tyndale's bible from making it to England. Without Massing's book, this would have made absolutely no sense. You really cannot do justice to this need unless you put it in context of the 1525 Peasant's Revolt in Germany. Ackroyd barely touches that, instead lumping it in with his blaming Protestants for "the plague and the abhorrent violence of the Peasants' revolt in Germany, as well as the sack of Rome." Starting with the plague—which no modern reader would hold as credible—shows that he's essentially just calling it all divine wrath. The larger analysis, that the Revolt really did cause a great deal of damage and really was inflamed by unrestrained passions let loose, fall completely out of the analysis, totally unremarked. Actual context is just dropped.
Additionally there's the matter of the Richard Hunne debacle, where a man is essentially charged of heresy and either murdered or committed suicide in prison for an initial charge from the church of refusing to give his dead son's christening robe as a ceremonial mortuary gift to the clergy. This is full of really remarkable insights into the time and place, potentially; that potential is not tapped. No good explanation is ever actually given, and the whole thing is a sideshow that raises more questions than it actually answers.
The book gets better in the last quarter when we get to his defiance of Henry VIII and his eventual martyrdom. It feels like this was written first, with Ackroyd then taking all of his assembled notes for the beginning several decades of More's life and just writes down all of their content in chronological order with no real narrative. There's a brief discussion of Utopia, and I credit this for providing an insight into the work as satire. I re-listened to Utopia following my completion of this, and was better able to understand all of that. But the discussion was far too short, and lacked a really thorough discussion of that satire, it's true aims, and how much of an idealist More actually was; More's closing remarks on that work do state that he didn't agree with all of it, and I'd have liked to see a better breakdown of how far More was an idealist (given the new tracts of his friend Erasmus Against War coupled with Wolsey's aim to essentially create the first proto-UN/proto-EU grand alliance). Knowing more about More's character, there are clearly parts where I can see disagreement (hard to imagine an endorsement of freedom of religion from someone who literally persecuted and executed heretics), but for much of the content determining his aims remains untouched. That's a shame, because that was one of my primary goals in listening to this book.
Another goal had been to get a better sense of the More/Cromwell rivalry at the center of the miniseries Wolf Hall, but this is left almost completely untouched. That may well be because the main thesis of that series is fictitious (I know Simon Schama felt it to be terribly revisionist), but if you're looking into insight into that character, you won't find it here.
As a final point, I've listened to one other Ackroyd title (Rebellion) and the problems I see in this book weren't present there. I definitely feel like I retained less than I'd have liked, but there is at least a real narration and nice supporting side stories for other characters like Milton and Hobbes. This book just really didn't meet the expectations that other book had set. More remains an interesting and important figure, but this book gave me very little of what I was actually seeking.
This deeply textured dual biography and fascinating intellectual history examines two of the greatest minds of European history - Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther - whose heated rivalry gave rise to two enduring, fundamental, and often colliding traditions of philosophical and religious thought.
I had worried a bit about this title, given that the nature of the topic coupled with the length might produce something very abstruse, dry, or dependent upon a high degree of prior knowledge about the topic. I was very pleasantly surprised on all fronts, and would strongly recommend this to students of the late Renaissance/early Reformation.
One of the great things about this work is the degree of depth given to background information. If the topic at hand is St Augustine, St Jerome, St Thomas Aquinas, or the Apostle Paul, you need not be steeped in theology, because Massing covers these topics each in turn. Neither does this book suffer from a surplus of front-end loaded background of questionable relevance; the author meters out the background and brings it to review at the time which makes the most sense.
Part also of what places this so high in my estimation is the contrast with a biography of Thomas More I finished immediately afterward. While More was not a primary subject of this book, I felt I learned more useful information about him here than in the other biography, despite his role being marginal to this book.
Additionally, this author does a tremendous job of tying up loose ends afterward and drawing the past into the present. The reason I listen to things like this parallel biography of the Renaissance/Reformation is because I think it bears on the present, but the further back it is, the harder to trace the lines of descent. He does a great job in this. I suspect my politics and Massing's may differ, but the overall coverage was respectful and objective in its layout.
As to the narration, I truly don't remember it, and honestly that's the highest praise I can give: I don't listen to nonfiction audiobooks for the narration. I want to be able to hear you clearly and articulately, be able to listen and retain at high speed, and to have very few points of needing to skip back to understand what I just missed. Parks hits all of these marks perfectly. This was the first book he narrated that I've listened to, but would gladly see him read more of the works I have.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution is a landmark of literary history. Conceived not as a dry recounting of facts, but as a personal, vivid, direct and dramatic encounter with the turbulent times of revolutionary France, it is in fact an extended dramatic monologue in which we meet not only the striking personalities and events of the time, but the equally striking personality and mind of Thomas Carlyle himself.
Nothing to say that hasn't already been said, but I missed it. Thought I should write a review to help drop the average. It's incomprehensible gibberish. Just listen to the sample before you make the mistake I made.
On November 20, 1979, worldwide attention was focused on Tehran, where the Iranian hostage crisis was entering its third week. The same morning, the first of a new Muslim century, hundreds of gunmen stunned the world by seizing Islam's holiest shrine, the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Armed with rifles that they had smuggled inside coffins, these men came from more than a dozen countries, launching the first operation of global jihad in modern times.
Not a great deal to say here, in the "happy marriages are all alike" fashion. The book isn't incredibly long, it's focused on a particular incident (along with tying it in with things that preceded and followed), and the prose moved well while covering the material well. I found it fascinating and finished in a consecutive line of commutes in just a few days. Highly recommended to anyone interested enough to be reading this.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
Here is a comprehensive account of the rise of bin Laden. In meticulous detail, world-renowned terrorism expert Yossef Bodansky uncovers the events in bin Laden's life that turned the once-promising engineering student into a cold-blooded leader of radical Islam. In the process, Bodansky reveals a chilling story that is as current as today's headlines but as ancient as the Crusades, a story that transcends bin Laden and any other single man. This book is a sobering wake-up call.
I gave up on this one halfway through when I realized that I simply couldn't believe most of it. Brodansky gets credit for recognizing the importance of bin Laden before 2001, sure, and he's working through a time when there was much less interest, less known, and less written on any of the matter. But he puts Iran behind EVERYTHING, and the entire concept of Shi'a/Sunni divides is almost completely glossed over. There's almost no memtion of Wahhabism or Salafism, a little mention of Qutbism, no mention of the relation between the two. Al-Qaeda is only briefly mentioned near the end (searched through Kindle e-reader) as a charity organization and distinctly not a terrorist network. The details are over-the-top for these blow-by-blow of countless hundreds of summits and consortia, but the actual context of things like the Beruit barracks bombing or the 1993 WTC attack are barely touched in passing (even if these were not OBL's direct work, they were most definitely formative in his mindset against the US). Khalid Sheikh Mohammad gets no mention, which even if it was simply the state of intelligence at the time is testament to the book's dated quality.
A lot of people mention the sources not being named, and to Brodansky's credit he acknowledges this up front and I respect that. Unfortunately, I think a lot of shadow references give what they think the payer wants to hear, and in this case that's a pan-Islamic campaign run wholly out of Tehran. The intra-faith violence between various Muslim factions since 2001 makes this incredibly implausible, to say the least.
Save your time and money for a more current and trustworthy source.
On the plus side, Nadia May is great as always.
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive - and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plainold "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
I had a 13 hour drive from SF to Seattle. My sister recommended this book. I was on the road for about 3 hours before I even looked at my clock. This story sucked me right in and held my attention nonstop. I only switched away from this audiobook briefly because I knew it wouldn't last my whole drive and I felt I'd need it more for the final leg, so I slowed down to pace myself.
NB: I have another sister that was less of a fan. I think this book is for people who are, in the broadest sense, science nerds. If you've never read a non-fiction science book outside of a classroom in your life, you might find this dry. If you actually care about science, studied science, or work in science, you will be delighted to have a sci fi book that doesn't treat you like a moron and doesn't violate really basic laws of science left and right and doesn't misconstrue the actual nature of science. That's not to say that someone at JPL or NASA won't find points to quibble (maybe they would, maybe not; I have no idea). It is to say that there's no "That DNA looks human!" or "Every cell has a frequency and if you match it you can use a cell phone to make it explode!" kind of rubbish. If he has flaws, they're intelligent enough to remain entirely hidden from me, at the very least.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debates made history and changed its course through seven legendary match-ups between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas during the 1858 Illinois senatorial race. Although he lost the election, Lincoln's gift for oratory and his anti-slavery stance made him a nationally known figure, and led to his election to the presidency in 1860. Never before presented in audio, these debates and great statesmen are brought to life by narrators Richard Dreyfuss and David Strathairn.
I was so happy to find this. There is often a line one needs to draw between material that can be appreciated as an audiobook and material better read as text (books with a good deal of figures, tables, or numbers are candidates usually read rather than heard). This is on the complete other end, as I feel that it is far BETTER appreciated as an audiobook. These debates were, after all, a series of speeches, and they arguments here made were heard before they were read. It is nice that we can also read them to make notes and highlights, but this too was true in the 1850s.
The performances are just stellar. There is a high degree of repition in the speeches at times, owing to the fact that the debates were spread across 7 different venues, and arguments made in one place might well be repeated to another crowd elsewhere. This makes for dry reading, and in part that is why I'd not read them in their entirety previously. But the performances here really bring the material alive, the readings are done with great passion (as one imagines they were given in their original telling), and I'm very glad to have made this purchase.
I highly recommend this to anyone interested in US history, the rise of Lincoln, and the preludes to the Civil War. It is rare to have a primary source made so delightfully accessible.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I don't want this. It came for free and I can't get rid of it. Please please PLEASE let us delete this crap from our libraries. I will never ever ever want to listen to this. I have a WSJ subscription, and if I want the newspaper, I will read it. This is not an appropriate format for a newspaper. Please stop crudding up my inbox with crap I not only didn't ask for but which I have explicitly and repeatedly asked you to remove.
"Economic hit men," John Perkins writes, "are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder."
This is a quick and easy listen and I have no complaints at all for the audio; the reader did fine. But the content of the book is crap and it's hard to believe much of it at all.
It might seem like some nit-picking, but there's a point where he's in Panama City and he says, "Late in the afternoon, with the sun sliding toward the Pacific..." followed later by "Beyond them, thesun dipped into the blue water."
Now I do not doubt that this man has traveled more than I have, but this seems to be failing in some very basic geography of Panama: the canal runs from the Pacific in the South-East to the Atlantic in the North-West. Now by by American standards the isthmus is very narrow, and maybe has went from the Pacific side in the morning to one o the forts on the Atlantic side in the evening. But suffice to say that when he's getting this kind of crap wrong and suggesting that for a person in the Canal Zone the sun sets over the Pacific, he's missing enough to leave me calling into question a great deal more. He seems to boast of how much he sucks at math, for instance, despite having a job that hinges on mathematical forecasting.
All told the book ends up being effectively worthless, because though there's likely a sizable chunk of truth in there somewhere, a) he's too arrogant to be able to discern self-promotion from truth, b) his analysis is too simplistic to be worth anything, and c) he utterly fails to recognize that the question is not between utopia and ugliness, but between different degree of trade-offs.
It's all too easy for people to forget that the Cold War was not a joke, nor was the collapse of the Soviet bloc a foregone conclusion. We came very close to nuclear annihilation, and while I'm in no way willing to excuse everything done by the US in that era in attempting to halt the spread of Soviet influence, I think we need to at least be honest and name what the threat was if we're to balance one set of interests against another.
This book does none of that. He simply writes a one-sided screed of questionable accuracy. The book is useless in informing the debate in either direction.