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Tristan

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  • The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

  • How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake
  • By: Steven Novella, Bob Novella - contributor, Cara Santa Maria - contributor, and others
  • Narrated by: Steven Novella
  • Length: 15 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 184
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 171
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 170

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is your map through this maze of modern life. Here Dr. Steven Novella and friends will explain the tenets of skeptical thinking and debunk some of the biggest scientific myths, fallacies, and conspiracy theories - from anti-vaccines to homeopathy, UFO sightings to N-rays. You'll learn the difference between science and pseudoscience, essential critical thinking skills, ways to discuss conspiracy theories with that crazy co-worker of yours, and how to combat sloppy reasoning, bad arguments, and superstitious thinking.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Demon Haunted World 2.0

  • By Daniel Sean Osborne on 10-04-18

Great book on why we believe wrong things.

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

Reviewed: 10-25-18

Holy crap, they really knocked this book out of the park. There's a short clump in the middle I felt slowed down a bit, but everything else is solid, insightful, and fascinating.

  • Life Ascending

  • The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
  • By: Nick Lane
  • Narrated by: Graeme Malcolm
  • Length: 13 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 307
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 205
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 206

Where does DNA come from? What is consciousness? How did the eye evolve? Drawing on a treasure trove of new scientific knowledge, Nick Lane expertly reconstructs evolution's history by describing its 10 greatest inventions - from sex and warmth to death - resulting in a stunning account of nature's ingenuity.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Great and informative but with prior knowledge

  • By Joshua on 07-06-10

Brilliant writing + lapses of impenetrable writing

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

Reviewed: 04-16-17

In its best moments, this book is beautiful and actually quite funny, delivered just right by Graeme Malcolm's wizardly British accent. It felt like hanging out with Newton in his study, listening to him reveal the secrets of the world.

And then, in moments, Lane seems to give up on any pretence of speaking to a wider audience, using terminology few outside of biology will follow. I found it baffling, because elsewhere, he takes such care to explain things in terms anyone could grasp. It's unclear to me whether he truly didn't realize what concepts others wouldn't know, or whether he just got lazy in places. From reading reviews of his other books, this seems to be an ongoing problem he has.

Unfortunately, these moments are most common in the earlier chapters, when he's discussing metabolism, the origin of life and photosynthesis. My advice? Just let the tangled bits glide past you, because there is a TON of fascinating material throughout the book, and the latter chapters offer few hiccups.

I do absolutely recommend this book, despite the caveats. Learning about the origin of life alone was worth the price, and the chapter on eyes is brilliant. The section on consciousness is also a nice speculative bonus.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Against Empathy

  • The Case for Rational Compassion
  • By: Paul Bloom
  • Narrated by: Karen Cass
  • Length: 7 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 624
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 558
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 542

Most people, including many policy makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers, have encouraged us to be more empathetic - to feel the pain and pleasure of others. Yale researcher and author Paul Bloom argues that this is a mistake. Far from leading us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it and draw upon a more distanced compassion.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Starts strong, fizzles out.

  • By Tristan on 04-04-17

Starts strong, fizzles out.

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

Reviewed: 04-04-17

I liked what this book was getting at. I've always felt that appeals to empathy to fix the world's problems sounded flimsy, and so it was refreshing to hear someone make the case for why we shouldn't rely on our gut instincts for how we treat others. Empathy, as the author points out, is prejudiced and can't handle large numbers of people, and so it's wholly inadequate in the face of modern poverty, injustice, violence and hunger.

Great, so that's one chapter. The rest is downhill.

The chapter on why we should—and can—use reason instead of empathy is remarkably hand-wavy. There is so much research happening right now into how charitable work can be objectively assessed and improved (think Bill Gates), but instead of putting that forward, he makes an off-the-top-of-the-head argument that people are smart. He discusses the research into innate human biases and systemic irrationality, but he doesn't explain—actually, doesn't seem to grasp—how these biases can be managed with practical strategies (see: Moneyball). There was an important argument to made here. He didn't make it.

Bloom is right to not want to get lost in definitional arguments, and yet, in a practical sense, I do think he used empathy too narrowly. By requiring it to be the experience of emotions people see in others, he leaves out people understanding the emotions they see in others through past experience. When This American Life profiled black scholarship students failing out of university because they felt they didn't belong there, I vividly understood how terrible that was thanks to my own experience as a poor, rural white kid in a wealthy university. Empathy based on understanding, rather than raw emotion, doesn't suffer the shortcomings related to burnout Bloom lists, although it still faces many of the same challenges related to bias and innumeracy. If Bloom had included empathy in the sense of "understanding," it would have kept his core argument in-tact while making it more reasonable.

Honestly, you can basically skip this book if you've read Adam Smith (Theory of Moral Sentiments), Daniel Kahneman, Steven Pinker (Better Angels of our Nature), and Jonathan Haidt. He quotes them all extensively and doesn't add a great deal. All you need to know is that we should rely on numbers more for moral decisions than the emotional reactions we get from the suffering of others, because we find it easier to relate emotionally to people like ourselves, which leaves out most of the human race. Also we can't emotionally resonate with more than one person effectively, so we can too easily ignore the suffering of thousands.

There, saved you $20.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • The Signal and the Noise

  • Why So Many Predictions Fail - but Some Don't
  • By: Nate Silver
  • Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain
  • Length: 15 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,598
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,076
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 3,058

Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger - all by the time he was 30. The New York Times now publishes FiveThirtyEight.com, where Silver is one of the nation’s most influential political forecasters. Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Learn About Statistics Without All The Math

  • By Scott Fabel on 03-09-13

Read this, then read Superforecasting

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

Reviewed: 04-04-17

This is a good book because he focuses more on "why so many predictions fail" then on why "some don't." I went in expecting the author to gloat about his successes with five easy steps for how you can too. It's not like that at all. Instead, it's a sober reflection on all the ways prediction can go wrong, but why real progress is possible if we learn to think about the problem correctly.

Once you read it, go read Superforecasting by Tetlock and Gardner. The two books fit together like it's a sequel. While Silver illustrates all the reasons prediction is hard, Tetlock and Gardner illustrate why certain people—when carefully trained—can become much better at it than your average person. In a sense, they show how to take the lessons from Silver's book and make progress.

Both excellent reads. Can't recommend them enough. We need to understand prediction to evaluate so much of the news coming at us. This is a solid place to start.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Being Mortal

  • Medicine and What Matters in the End
  • By: Atul Gawande
  • Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
  • Length: 9 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,504
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 6,586
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,575

In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Required Reading!

  • By Jeffrey on 10-13-14

Confronts what needs confronting

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

Reviewed: 04-04-17

This book is worth reading for two insights alone.

First, nursing homes were built as extensions of hospitals to handle growing numbers of elderly patients, and so are designed to meet the basic goals of hospitals: respond to short-term crises and maximize safety. They were never designed give their residents autonomy or to help them enjoy a full life.

Second, intervening less during end-of-life care can actually lead to longer life, counter-intuitively. We are really bad at discussing the facts of terminal disease directly, which creates enormous unnecessary misery, because it leads people to choose invasive treatment options with little hope for extending life or happiness.

There are so many other invaluable insights here. It's one of those books that shifted how I think about major chunks of life. A Gawande is a great writer. The book is just a joy to listen to.

  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb

  • 25th Anniversary Edition
  • By: Richard Rhodes
  • Narrated by: Holter Graham
  • Length: 37 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,762
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,633
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,625

Here for the first time, in rich human, political, and scientific detail, is the complete story of how the bomb was developed, from the turn-of-the-century discovery of the vast energy locked inside the atom to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan. Few great discoveries have evolved so swiftly - or have been so misunderstood. From the theoretical discussions of nuclear energy to the bright glare of Trinity, there was a span of hardly more than 25 years.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Wow... Grade A+ ... Exceptional.

  • By Amazon Customer on 03-15-16

Worth it if you can get through the first half.

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

Reviewed: 02-27-17

It's worth reading this book for its second half, the description of the Manhattan project. There are some mind-blowing details, like how teflon was invented while trying to solve a problem they had while enriching uranium. Or like how totally kick ass saboteurs parachuted into Nazi-occupied Norway to blow up a heavy water plant, thereby putting back Nazi nuclear research by months. All of them got out alive. Jaw dropping.

I really appreciated how he gave insight on what was going on in the nuclear programs in other countries at the same time.

The first half, in contrast, is disorganized and hard to follow. Trouble is, he describes the early life of everyone involved in nuclear development before he tells you why these people matter. It'd be like starting Game of Thrones on book three, with everyone spread out over the world doing different things with little indication of what their significance is.

At one point, he leaves Oppenheimer in London with no job, trying to catch the attention of his peers in the physics community. Next time we see him, he's a full professor and doing just splendid. In terms of storytelling, it'd be like Dickens introducing Oliver Twist and then skipping to the part where he's living rich off his inheritance. Talk about teeing up and then not hitting the ball.

The narrator is fine except when reading quotes. Anyone before 1930 sounds like a pompous aristocratic English arse, whether they are Danish, German, or whatever. If it's impossible to express how they would have actually sounded, it would be far better to do the quotes straight.

Still, overall, I found the book a worthwhile read. The last chapters are stunning, a sobering reminder why we should still be concerned about the threat of nuclear war.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • The Undoing Project

  • A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
  • By: Michael Lewis
  • Narrated by: Dennis Boutsikaris
  • Length: 10 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9,597
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8,513
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8,500

Forty years ago Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their papers showed the ways in which the human mind erred systematically when forced to make judgments about uncertain situations. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made Michael Lewis' work possible.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Behind the scenes of amazing science

  • By Neuron on 10-16-17

Total delight. Totally informative. A little sad.

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

Reviewed: 02-27-17

Wow, Lewis is a great writer.

Many books have now explained the ideas of Kahneman and Tversky, but by focusing on the story of their friendship, Lewis does a better job drawing out the drama of discovery. Even though I've read a number of those books—such as "Nudge" and Kahneman's own "Thinking Fast and Slow"—I gleaned new insight thanks to how Lewis highlighted the key concepts that matter most.

Read it for the great story. Read it for the history. Read it for the insight on the trouble with being human. You really can't go wrong with this title.

I just wish he had left a little bit more good news for the end. The book is like a movie that ends right at the second act when everyone gets angry at each other and everything is going wrong. Bit of a bummer, but I guess that's what happens when it's "non-fiction."

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Shogun

  • The Epic Novel of Japan: The Asian Saga, Book 1
  • By: James Clavell
  • Narrated by: Ralph Lister
  • Length: 53 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,340
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,043
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,037

A bold English adventurer; an invincible Japanese warlord; a beautiful woman torn between two ways of life, two ways of love - all brought together in an extraordinary saga of a time and a place aflame with conflict, passion, ambition, lust, and the struggle for power.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • amazingly well done!

  • By Ruby Dickson on 04-24-15

Great insight on Japanese culture; bad narrator

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

Reviewed: 02-27-17

The events and characters in this book are fictional, but I gleaned a tremendous amount of insight on Japanese thinking and culture by reading it. Plus, the story is good enough it kept up late at night listening.

The narrator is a pain. For every character that is not English—that is, every character but the protagonist—he does an over-the-top, obnoxious accent that doesn't appear to correspond accurately to any particular nationality. Combine that obnoxiousness with sex scenes and it's hilariously unbearable. Happily, the book doesn't have much of that. My brain filtered out the bad narration over time.

  • The Blank Slate

  • The Modern Denial of Human Nature
  • By: Steven Pinker
  • Narrated by: Victor Bevine
  • Length: 22 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,916
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,439
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,418

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits, denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent, as expected

  • By Carolyn on 05-30-14

Much broader implications than I was expecting.

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

Reviewed: 12-04-16

This book is worth the evisceration of the humanities and post-modernism alone. After having participated in Gender Studies debates in which students refused to condemn genital mutilation, it was refreshing to read Pinker attack the foundations of cultural relativism. Same goes for the banality of modern art. Such a solid takedown is not just enlightening; it's straight-up entertaining.

His central point is solid. The idea that differences between humans can only be explained by culture and upbringing, and not genetics, fails not only the test of science, but also morality. Our respect for the freedom and well-being of others should not be based on fragile assumptions about how the mind works, which may be disproven. We should respect others because we respect others, no matter what neuroscience and genetics may tell us.

I had no idea how broadly the idea of the blank state has, and continues to, underlie thinking in our society. This book is the antidote to a major problem and I couldn't recommend it enough.

  • Wizard

  • The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius
  • By: Marc J. Seifer
  • Narrated by: Simon Prebble
  • Length: 22 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 2,955
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 2,663
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 2,640

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), credited as the inspiration for radio, robots, and even radar, has been called the patron saint of modern electricity. Based on original material and previously unavailable documents, this acclaimed book is the definitive biography of the man considered by many to be the founding father of modern electrical technology.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Well researched book; a bit overwhelming

  • By Robert on 05-18-13

Good research, poor writing.

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

Reviewed: 12-04-16

Someday, someone will write a brilliant book about Tesla. This isn't it.

Writing is all about choices about what, and what not, to include, and I'm not sure Seifer made any. He tells readers the 1890 address of a building that had since moved, so that if readers should ever be transported back in time, they will know how to find it. He mentions a book in passing and can't help but mention who edited it. I often wondered if there could be any information I would be less interested in knowing.

His subject matter is so intrinsically interesting that it is almost worth the slog. Can you believe Tesla would put on demonstrations showing scientists multiple new technologies, and that he would send electricity through his body so he could shoot fire out his fingertips? The author, unfortunately, often skips the human story of discovery or the motivations for Tesla's rivalries, and goes straight for all the maddening details. Walter Isaacson should take this book as source material and write something good.

I thought I could make it through but I had to jump ship when Seifer refers to woman gushing with hormones just because she walked near Tesla. He never embellishes the facts when discussing men, but for women, he pretends he's writing fiction. Bad fiction.