Austin, TX, United States
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The Disappearing Spoon audiobook cover art
  • The Disappearing Spoon
  • And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
  • By: Sam Kean
  • Narrated by: Sean Runnette

An engaging and excellent primer on chemistry

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-18-11

I am a ravenous ingester of science books but I tend to stay in the biological realm; chemistry was distinctly not my thing in my college days. This book was on a "top 10 science books of 2010" list that I have since misplaced, however, so I picked it up.

It did not disappoint. I'd compare it to Bryson's "Short History of Nearly Everything" in that it illuminates the scientific concepts by telling the tales of the individuals who made the discoveries or, in some cases, were affected by quirks of chemistry. I found the writing graceful and clear but, like at least one other listener, found myself skipping back frequently. Drift off for a moment and you're suddenly lost.

My issue with chemistry (and where it overlaps with quantum physics) is that I have a hard time seeing its relevance to my own life. I enjoyed learning this stuff for interest's sake but so much of it seems a bit, well, "out there" and irrelevant. To some degree, this book helped me see the importance of chemistry and quantum physics in our technological era but I did not feel like much of this will really stick with me and shape my view of the world.

Clearly the author knows and loves his subject matter. As an introduction to chemistry I give it a big thumbs up but my next book will be back in my home turf of the biological sciences.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

The Modern Scholar audiobook cover art

Even THINKING about it? Go ahead and get it!

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-23-11

I picked this up on one of Audible's super sales (I think I got it for $5) and I absolutely loved it. Yes, I'm a science geek, and your average person is not going to appreciate this course but, if you're at all curious about microbes and the history of science, I can assure you this is an excellent course. The professor obviously loves her subject and communicates well (this is a series of lectures, not really an "audiobook" per se). It is aimed at the curious, not the wanna-be microbiologist, so it's not TOO technical and I assure you that you will be impressed with all that bacteria do to make life possible for us.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

Life Ascending audiobook cover art

technical but enlightening

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-17-11

The most technical of the many science/biology books I've read to date--not for those who hated biology class.

It was particularly good on the theories origins of life/DNA, photosynthesis, and eukaryotic cells. Not so great on consciousness (I think it's hard to make a case that that is one of the greatest "inventions" of evolution from the overall picture of life) and death (really a chapter about how we can avoid the degenerations/infirmations of old age--SPOILER: eat less).

I thought I had, at last, a science book that doesn't try to persuade us that evolution is true but, alas, in the final chapter the author made his pitch. It was a powerful one, though, so I'll excuse it.

Definitely moments where I started to drift off but, overall, this is a good read for those who love biology.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

The Making of the Fittest audiobook cover art

A different view of evolution

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-20-10

I listened to this, The Greatest Show on Earth, and The Reluctant Mr. Darwin last year. They're all good but I found this one most interesting from a science perspective. I have a degree in zoology and know a lot about evolution but looking at things at the level of DNA was novel to me and I really learned a lot. The author makes a convincing case in the book's closing chapters that conserving the world's wildlife, specifically ocean fisheries, depends upon a wide-spread acceptance of evolution as the fundamental concept in biology. I have recommended this to friends and I'll recommend it to you, too, if the basic description of the book sounds interesting at all to you (I grant you it's not for everyone).

2 of 5 people found this review helpful

Flush audiobook cover art

This family loves it

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-15-10

My 9 yo daughter listens to this over and over; more than any other audiobook. I had a drive with my 12 yo son so thought we'd give it a try and the time flew by. Fun story with vivid characters and a well-read audiobook. Highly recommended!

The Future of Life audiobook cover art

A scientifically-grounded case for the environment

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-24-10

I've listened to Cousteau's "The Human, the Orchid and The Octopus" and Jane Goodall's "Reason for Hope" and just finished this one. To be brief, I think this one stands head-and-shoulders above the other two as a case for the environment and a roadmap for a sustainable way of live for humanity.

As an environmental educator, I appreciate Wilson's fact-based approach here in regards to both the problems and the solutions; Goodall and Cousteau both argued more from an emotional perspective that, to me, seemed a couple decades old.

I read books like this to better understand the issues we face but I personally need a healthy dose of hope and optimism to inspire me to keep up the fight. While this book goes into great detail about the problems we've created in modern, ancient and, yes, prehistoric times, it concludes with concrete examples of what's being done, and by whom, to assure the survival of present day wildlife and humans.

Begley definitely needed a pronunciation consultant (for numerous scientific terms as well as the writer Goethe whose name he pronounced "Goath," like a high school freshman!!) but, essentially, did a good job of reading with enough inflection and emotion to keep me from drifting off.

I found Wilson's writing to be top-notch. The opening letter to Thoreau was beautiful, in my opinion; one of the better pieces of nature writing I've read in recent years. I suppose if you're not already "green" in some measure, you might find the cases Wilson presents to be unrealistic or alarmist but, it seems to me, you probably just don't really want to hear the truth because this is based in the best facts modern biological science can present.

Thank you, E.O. Wilson, for a lifetime of science, leadership and conservation!

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

Life on a Little Known Planet audiobook cover art

often poetic celebration of insects

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-27-09

Some of the passages in this book are absolutely beautiful. Yes, it's dated with frequent references to the huge, 60's & 70's investment in the space program, but the intro alone makes a compelling case to appreciate and take greater interest in the ubiquitous insects.

Some chapters were more intriguing than others and, yes, there's an environmental diatribe (which I happened to like) in the last 20% of the book or so but I found it a really lovely piece of nature writing.

He goes into depth about fireflies, dragon/damsel-flies, locusts (not my favorite chapter), crickets, roaches, true flies and more. My only real criticism is that I would have like to have had an overview of the insect class before these "case study" chapters began

Give it a listen and you may find yourself intrigued with a part of the natural world you may have ignored.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus audiobook cover art

Prepared yourself for a diatribe

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-27-09

Wow, this is not what I was expecting. Cousteau rails on scientists, religion, world leaders, common citizens, and more. There's also a lengthy section on the perils of nuclear energy that was provided some news to me but it was just too much.

As the inventor of SCUBA technology and, obviously, a lifetime diver, he saw the oceans deteriorate and whither in a matter of decades so I understand his passionate cry for the planet. I just found some of the science to be a bit lacking in places and too few moments of hope.

I also found the narrator's voice lacked variation but that may have been a function of the text. I made it through this one but just barely (I stepped it up to double speed to get through--THANK YOU iPOD for that ingenius feature).

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

The Greatest Show on Earth audiobook cover art

Could be the book the tips the balance?

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-17-09

I enjoyed this book a lot. I have a degree in zoology and already know that evolution is true. This book is really intended to give the "already converted" with an arsenal of studies, arguments, and evidence when we find ourselves in a debate with someone who believes in creation or "intelligent design."

There's some really great stuff here; some things I was already familiar with and and some things that were new. I think it would be pretty challenging material for someone who didn't get much past high school biology but rewarding. Not having the visual aids with the audiobook was a bummer and would make it more challenging for a non-scientist. I'm hoping that this book's popularity indicates that the public is embracing evolution at last.

There were so many wonderful bits I could detail but I will let you discover for yourself. I do encourage this book to anyone who's even considering this book and obviously you are if you're reading this. I found the "tag-team" reading with his wife a bit distracting at times. Dawkins reads most of it (probably 65%) and did an excellent job. His wife's reading worked sometimes and not at others. Not ruinous, in my opinion.


5 of 7 people found this review helpful

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance audiobook cover art

Great book, poor reading

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-03-09

This book had a big impact on me as a young adult and I've read it about three times. Tried it again in mid-life and it didn't have quite the impact but I think part of that was the reader; I don't usually complain about it but is reading sounded labored; there was a strange little cough at the end of so many sentences, like he's been a life-long smoker or something. I tend to think it's just his way of giving inflection and denoting the end of sentence/paragraph but it was really distracting.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful