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Neuron

Sweden
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  • Human Errors

  • A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes
  • By: Nathan H. Lents
  • Narrated by: L.J. Ganser
  • Length: 7 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 79
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 71
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 71

We humans like to think of ourselves as highly evolved creatures. But if we are supposedly evolution's greatest creation, why do we have such bad knees? Why do we catch head colds so often - 200 times more often than a dog does? How come our wrists have so many useless bones? And are we really supposed to swallow and breathe through the same narrow tube? Surely there's been some kind of mistake. As professor of biology Nathan H. Lents explains in Human Errors, our evolutionary history is nothing if not a litany of mistakes, each more entertaining and enlightening than the last.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Most interesting, well narrated

  • By N.Dryl on 05-04-18

Humans are a compromise

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

Reviewed: 09-14-18

Man was created by God. We are his perfect creation. Our perfection is evident in every detail of our design. Right?

If you believe this, then you first need to Google Charles Darwin and evolution. Second, you need to take another look at the human body. Because we are full of defects. This book will give you a few examples of some of our most glaring flaws; flaws that can be found from head to toe, and in our body's architecture as well as in our DNA.

What could possibly be wrong with having a shared channel for air and food? (This is a rhetorical question, but in case you really wonder, food gets stuck, and we die...). It has to be like that, you might argue. But that would be ignoring whales and dolphins. They eat with their mouth and breathe through a different hole on their back; they don’t risk choking. We also have genes for creating several vitamins, e.g., vitamin C – only they are broken. Usually, this doesn't matter because we get vitamin C in our diets and therefore natural selection has had not selected against this detect. But it is a defect nonetheless if we do not get any vitamin C for a while, as sailors crossing the Atlantic, we get sick and die – all because of our non-functional gene.

The reason for our imperfections is that evolution cannot start over, it works by making small gradual changes. Evolution can only undo things partially, which is why we still have a tailbone which is by the way also useless – except for getting hurt...

This book is a call for rationality. It provides a tiny grain of sand to balance the mountains of books glorifying the human body and its 'perfection.' To be sure the human body is impressive in many ways but perfect it is not.

  • Man's Search for Meaning

  • By: Viktor E. Frankl
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 4 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13,092
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10,564
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10,575

Internationally renowned psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl, endured years of unspeakable horror in Nazi death camps. During, and partly because of his suffering, Dr. Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy. At the core of his theory is the belief that man's primary motivational force is his search for meaning.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • I will isten again and again

  • By Ann Marie on 12-27-04

Gripping tale; half-baked theory

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

Reviewed: 08-25-18

This book has two distinct parts. The first part describes Viktor Frankl's experience as a prisoner in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. The second part is an introduction to logotherapy - a form of therapy developed by b Frankl whose core assumption is that above all we need meaning. For me, the first part was much more powerful and inspiring. 

More than anything else, this book will give the reader perspective. I can sometimes feel pity for myself because of some situation either in my professional or my private life, and when I do, I tend to forget all my blessings. This book is the perfect antidote to self-pity. It is impossible to read this first-hand account from someone who lost everything, his family and all belongings, and spent several years in a concentration camp, and still feel that you're own troubles are insurmountable.

On the contrary, one thinks (or I did), that, if he can find meaning and purpose in his situation, then I have no excuse. Mostly, it is akin to being told to “Stop Whining!”, only much more powerful.

In the second part of the book, Frankl develops his logotherapy. As far as I can tell it is a form of therapy and theory about human motivation, centered around the presupposition that humans above all else seek meaning in life. Accordingly, mental illness is a consequence of the lack of meaning and therapy should focus on finding that meaning. This all makes intuitive sense, but it has a sort of Freudian ring (which coming from me is not a compliment). The theory seems to be grounded entirely in Frankl’s own reflections and anecdotes. This is a recipe for pseudoscience. Now I should say that I don’t know if other people have empirically tested logotherapy – I don’t know. But this book provides essentially no empirical evidence in support of the theory and therefore I have my reservations about it.

Nevertheless, on the whole, this book was worth the read. I think it is hard to find a better description of life in a concentration camp and that part of the book moved me. I think it will also move you if you give it a chance…

  • Factfulness

  • Ten Reasons We're Wrong About The World - And Why Things Are Better Than You Think
  • By: Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund
  • Narrated by: Simon Slater
  • Length: 7 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 572
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 498
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 498

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of carrying only opinions for which you have strong supporting facts. When asked simple questions about global trends - why the world's population is increasing; how many young women go to school; how many of us live in poverty - we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Awakening book

  • By Hassan on 04-13-18

An antidote to panic-driven worldviews

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

Reviewed: 06-09-18

I put this book in the same category as Pinker’s recent Enlightenment Now and the earlier Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. The book provides a lot of facts about the world and how the world has changed over the last five decades, and the facts are indeed encouraging. Hans Rosling is careful to point out that he does not like being called an optimist because it insinuates some degree of naivety. Hans Rosling prefers to be called a realist, and I think – he sees the world as it is, including both problems and solutions. The fact that the world is getting better does not mean that it is perfect or that we can lean back and watch the show. However, it does mean that we are probably doing some things right and it is essential to identify those things so that we can keep doing them.

Unfortunately, the media are terrible at identifying things that work in the world, and they are especially poor at identifying gradual improvements in the world. Rather the media feeds on a disaster, crime, panic, and drama and since a world with 7 billion people will always have enough drama for 30 minutes of news, then that is what the media focus on, and that is what people see. Giving the media all the blame is probably not fair. The media, after all, live in symbiosis with media consumers – they tend to show what people watch and people like to attend a drama. There has been peace in Sweden for 200 years, and guess what, no war broke out today either! Amazing! No, that is not news. So how can we get out of this eternal loop of increasingly gloomy worldviews in a world where progress has never been more evident. Well, reading this book is probably a step in the right direction.

The books begin with some questions about the world. In low-income countries, how many girls finish primary school? Does the majority of the world population live in poor or middle-income countries? What is the life expectancy in the world today? What percentage of the world population are vaccinated today? People, because of their gloomy worldview, tend to get these questions completely wrong. Hans Rosling likes to compare the accuracy of different groups (including politicians and people working at the world bank who really ought to know the answer), to that of chimps. The chimps almost always outperform us because they don’t know anything about the world and therefore guess. But guessing turn out to be better than systematic pessimism, which seems to be the default among humans.

In the remaining part of the book, Rosling revisits each of these questions and based on data from undisputed sources he explains why, in all except one case, the correct and is also the most favorable answer. Poverty is going down drastically. Most people in the world live in middle-income countries. The percentage of girls finishing primary school is almost the same as for boys etc. Intermingled with these more data-driven passages, Rosling includes personal anecdotes from his long career as a public health worker. These anecdotes are fascinating and add to the appeal of the book as well as to my admiration for Rosling.

There are a few surprises in the book. One is Rosling’s claim (based on hard data), that progress does not depend on democracy. Countries such as South Korea, the home of LG, Samsung, Kia, etc., had enormous growth while it was still a military dictatorship. Only later has it become a well-functioning democracy. Rosling is also ambiguous when it comes to activists. He says that activists do drive changes, often in the right direction. However, he also argues that they are prone to exaggerations. Women’s activists, for example, tend to spread the news about how women suffer, but not about the progress such as the fact that girls today are almost as well educated as boys, globally speaking.

For a book that is relatively short, Rosling has managed to include a great deal of data that I think every person in the world should know. Again, not so that we can pad our shoulder and call it a day, but rather so that we can identify what works and continue to do what works. The book is also an enjoyable read with a good flow and a nice mix of anecdotes and data to back up those anecdotes. I think that Bill Gates did a wise thing when he made this book available to all college graduates in the US, and I hope that all college graduates grasp their opportunity to read this excellent book!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Koran

  • A Very Short Introduction
  • By: Michael Cook
  • Narrated by: Peter Ganim
  • Length: 5 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 49
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 38
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 35

In this Very Short Introduction, Michael Cook gives vivid accounts of the Koran's role in Muslim civilization, illustrates the diversity of interpretations championed by traditional and modern commentators, discusses the processes by which the book took shape, and compares it to other scriptures and classics of the historic cultures of Eurasia.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Surely a noble Koran in a hidden Book

  • By Darwin8u on 10-24-16

Academic linguists might find something of value…

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

Reviewed: 04-27-18

By now I have read quite a few non-fiction books about all kinds of different topics. Some authors (e.g., Sam Kean) write in an engaging style that captures the reader and takes them on a journey in which they are entertained and enlightened simultaneously. Other authors are not so good at the capturing part but still manages to provide enough insights to make the book worth your while. However, in some cases, the author offers neither – writing a tedious book that offers little insight, so that even if you do manage to stay awake and pay attention, the reward is small.

This book, unfortunately, belongs to this latter category. Since it is "A very short introduction" I was thinking that the book would describe what the Koran is about and perhaps also go into some of the controversies surrounding the text. Instead, the book almost exclusively discussed linguistics. Time and time again the author will, at length, consider how the meaning of a single word can get lost in translation from say Arabic to Egyptian and English, etc. Sure, this is probably fascinating if you are a linguist, but not if you are someone who wants to know more about the Koran. When reading this book, I did often drift away in my thoughts – which usually only happens when books are boring (yes, I blame the author). So, there is a possibility that somewhere in the book one might also find non-linguistic discussions.

If I could rename this book, I would call it “A short in-depth analysis of different possible meanings of words in the Koran”. This would have the double advantage of being a more accurate title and scaring potential reader away from reading it. If linguistics is your passion in life, then, by all means, read the book. If you want to learn about the Koran, find a different book!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Tribes

  • We Need You to Lead Us
  • By: Seth Godin
  • Narrated by: Seth Godin
  • Length: 3 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,731
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,767
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,733

Tribes are groups of people aligned around an idea, connected to a leader and to each other. Tribes make our world work, and always have. The new opportunity is that it's easier than ever to find, organize, and lead a tribe. The Web has enabled an explosion of all kinds of tribes - and created shortage of people to lead them. This is the growth industry of our time. Tribes will help you understand exactly what's at stake, and why YOU can and should lead a tribe of your own.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Tribal Manifesto

  • By Joshua Kim on 06-10-12

Seemingly good ideas based on anecdata

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

Reviewed: 04-20-18

I recently took part in a leadership course designed for young scientists. The course was inspiring but I was frankly amazed that even though the course was for scientists, the scientific basis of the material was dubious to say the least.

The same is true for this book. On the surface the advice in this book makes sense. Be a heretic, have faith, pursue your idea. This is what leaders do! It is of course easy to think of many people who followed this recipe and became famous world leaders or multi-billionaire entrepreneurs, and the author use such examples to backup the advice given.

However, although anecdotes and inspiring examples are nice, scientifically speaking they don't hold much water. Is it always good to have faith, and to follow your own path? Aren't there also people who follow these principles who are seen as stubborn idiots? These people, unlike the ones who ‘make it’, receive no media attention.

The bottom line is that one can find examples of almost anything - which makes them close to meaningless. Until then, the jury is still out. And hence when it comes to the advice in this book I would also say that the jury is still out.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

  • By: Marcus Aurelius
  • Narrated by: Alan Munro
  • Length: 5 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,040
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 913
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 897

Meditations is former U.S. President Bill Clinton's favorite book. This audio consists of a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161-180 AD, setting forth his ideas on Stoic philosophy.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • The reading made it impossible to focus on content

  • By Mark Grebner on 09-02-12

A very old book...

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

Reviewed: 04-11-18

I wish I could be more like Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism is my favorite life philosophy and Marcus is one of the most impressive stoics every - in theory and in practice. The philosophy of stoicism is basically a mindset, a mindset of endurance and inner peace. You will meet idiots, but it is not their fault that they are idiots. You, who know better, know that is is better to remain calm in every situation. Idiots cannot hurt you unless you let them. Instead, be nice, be gentle, be reasonable, at all times and in every encounter.

These are the principles spelled out in this book. Marcus, despite being a very powerful man comes across as humble and reasonable and he is, I think rightly, considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. It, therefore, pains me to say that the book was not very readable. Indeed, I would say that if you finish this book you are already a proven stoic. The reader should keep in mind that Aurelius lived almost 2000 years ago. Language evolves a lot in 2000 years and his contemporaries probably didn't experience the same issues when reading his book. Nevertheless, his promiscuous use of conjunctions (and, or, nor), leads to insanely long sentences - so long that you forget what the sentence was about by the time you reach the end of the sentence.

So even though I am a fan of stoicism and of Marcus Aurelius, I can't recommend this book unless you are one of those persons with a concentration ability made of concrete. In short, the book has a nice message but it is very boring.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Mindhunter

  • Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit
  • By: John E. Douglas, Mark Olshaker
  • Narrated by: Richard M. Davidson
  • Length: 15 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,219
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,916
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,904

Discover the classic behind-the-scenes chronicle of John E. Douglas’ 25-year career in the FBI Investigative Support Unit, where he used psychological profiling to delve into the minds of the country’s most notorious serial killers and criminals - the basis for the upcoming Netflix original series.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Too much ego

  • By Kourtney on 01-27-18

Absorbing, compelling, and un-scientific.

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

Reviewed: 04-02-18

Every year, well known psychics make a number of predictions about what is going to happen the next year. There will be an earthquake somewhere in Asia! The housing market will implode! a celebrity couple will divorce! An atomic bomb will go off! And so on. Sometimes their predictions come true, and sometimes they fail. The problem is that the public, especially the ones who wants to believe that psychics have special powers, only count the hits and forget the misses. And if you make predictions such as “there is going to be an earthquake somewhere”, then you will certainly be correct because earthquakes occur every day.

Why am I talking about psychics? Because I fear that profilers, including the infamous author of this book, John Douglas, are a bit like psychics. They get credit for trivial predictions such as ‘The perpetrator is a man between 20-40 years old with a troubled past” - which is true of pretty much every murderer. They are not, to the same extent, held accountable for inaccurate predictions, or they just call them off as anomalies. As with psychics, people forget the errors. To be fair, sometimes profilers also get other more difficult predictions right. The real question is whether this is because they were really good profilers or were they just lucky?

If you read this book you will almost certainly feel that profiling is valid. John Douglas, the authors talks about many cases he has been involved in and you do get the feeling that he is a modern Sherlock Holmes. Yet, it sounds almost too good to be true, and there is almost no mention of any profiling gone wrong, which makes me suspicious. If you go to the wikipedia page about criminal profiling you will find that the profiles created by professional profilers are not any better than those made by ‘amateur’ college graduates. It is also suspicious that Douglas says that you cannot systematize the profiling procedure using computers. In my experience, when you cannot formalize what you do, it usually means you don’t really know what you are doing. It is also highly discrediting that Douglas himself seem to have some belief in psychics… For example, in one case a psychic “heard dripping water” when thinking about a crime and Douglas writes that this is obviously because the crime took place near a river.

Ok, enough ranting. My skepticism apart. What you will get from this book is an inside account of some high-profile murders in the US as well as the history of profiling within the FBI (although it is a biased history). There is no denying that the book is quite entertaining, if you enjoy reading about crimes that is. Just keep your skepticism at high alert.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Fire and Fury

  • Inside the Trump White House
  • By: Michael Wolff
  • Narrated by: Michael Wolff, Holter Graham
  • Length: 11 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 20,413
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18,286
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18,187

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

Trump’s stupidity no longer surprises me

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

Reviewed: 04-02-18

I decided to read this book because the author claimed that it would end the Donald Trump's presidency. I doubted this claim because to me it seems that Trump does things that should end his presidency on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, I decided to give the book a try. I thought that if nothing else it is entertaining to read about what a sorry excuse for a president “The Donald” is. This book solidified my picture of Trump and his associates, however, I did not feel that this book gave me anything new. Neither was the book particularly entertaining. I was even taken aback by the author's tendency to sometimes treat rumors as facts - making him look like the man he is trying to take down.

I think this book could potentially be good to read for people who believe that Trump is a serious and intelligent politician who is just acting like a giant baby. This book will illustrate - through lots of dialogue and descriptions of interactions between Trump, Bannon etc - that the current US president is not at all presidential.

Then again, I don't think people who have not already reached this conclusion will be swayed by this book. It is simply more of what you see on the news on a daily basis. Personally, I would not be surprised if Trump turned out to be a serial killer or a closet homosexual. If it was any other leader I would be shocked by the ignorant and childish behavior described in this book. But in this case, I merely think ‘what’s new?’.

All in all, this book wasn't bad, but I find it hard to come up with a single reason for why anyone would want to buy it...

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Enlightenment Now

  • The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
  • By: Steven Pinker
  • Narrated by: Arthur Morey
  • Length: 19 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,131
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,797
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,765

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West but worldwide.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • We live in the best of all times

  • By Neuron on 02-25-18

We live in the best of all times

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

Reviewed: 02-25-18

Did you know that the life expectancy, globally, today is 71 years whereas 200 years ago the life expectancy was 31?. Did you know that there is a much smaller chance today that you will be murdered, go to war, die in a plane or car crash, or die from a lightning strike than in any other time in history? Did you know that a higher proportion of people are born into democracies and have access to sufficient food and money than ever before? To quote a quote from this book: “If you could choose to be born anytime, you would choose now” - Barack Obama

Steven Pinker is, without doubt, one of the most important and knowledgeable intellectuals in the world today. With Enlightenment Now, he proves this point again. Few write as well as Pinker. And even fewer can pack so much information and statistics into a book and still maintain such beautiful prose. Even if you only remember a small part of all the knowledge you will acquire if you read this book, you will have learned a lot.

The book has two parts. The first and longest part (around 20 chapters) describes the progress that has occurred in a number of different areas of life (see below). The second part of the book is a defense of the ideas of the enlightenment - the ideas that are responsible for much of the progress that has been observed. Below is a non-exhaustive list of topics reviewed by Pinker in this book


Life duration - Life expectancy, at any age, is longer today than it has ever been i.e. old people today also have a longer life expectancy than old people in the past

Economics - We are much much richer and every day another 130.000 people in the world exits extreme poverty

Access to food - All parts of the world have access to more food, in the west, the poor are often obese

Equality - There is more equality between the genders and between different ethnic groups and people (especially youth) value equality more than ever before

The environment - Climate change IS a potential concern however we are making progress and in most other respects the environment is getting better: more trees, cleaner air etc. As we are entering the digital age we are also using fewer resources (paper, plastics etc).

Wars - Whereas wars used to be the norm, there are no wars between major powers today and even with the terrible civil war in Syria, casualties are nowhere near that in previous wars

Accidents - People are less likely to die from car crashes, lightning strikes, falls etc. We seem to value life more today and we have taken steps to look out for and prevent all kinds of accidents

Violence - Murders, rapes, and violence are less common. It is very unlikely that you will die in a terror-attack.

Political systems - Contrary to what you might think if you watch the news, democracy is on the rise and has been for a long time. The anti-enlightenment populism (ex Trump) is a concern however, it is an old-people movement and will likely dissipate

Quality of life - More people today find their life exciting and meaningful than before. We have more spare-time and we don’t have to work until we die

Happiness - People are happier today and happiness comes with progress in the other variables described here.

Existential threats - The hole in the ozone is gone, forests are growing, no nukes have been launched (despite what doomsayers of yesterday would have you believe).


To sum up the first part of the book: Things have gotten better. Much better. Still, don’t think that Pinker believes that all problems are gone. He reiterates the point that the laundry does not wash itself - and global challenges don’t solve themselves. Despite the progress we have seen there are ample challenges left. There are still wars, famines, genocides, and environmental issues. Pinker acknowledges this, however, he emphasizes that the world has seen progress, not regress. And it is important to acknowledge that things have gotten better - not to pad ourselves on the shoulder - but rather so that we can analyze what it is that has worked so that we can keep doing that.

Is it the enlightenment ideas that have caused the undeniable progress in the world? This is the question addressed in the second part of the book. Since progress occurred in the world before the enlightened philosophers took the stage I would say only partly. Then again there were people acting in the spirit of the enlightenment even before Hume, Voltaire and the rest. And it feels safe to say that progress is not achieved through irrationality, populism, and closed-mindedness. To me as a scientist, this seems like a relatively trivial point, but I get reminded that it isn’t a view shared by the rest of the world every time I turn on the TV or radio.

The objections to this book are predictable (see other reviews). People are accusing Pinker of being a politically motivated naive optimist. If you think so then I can only advice you to read the book (and finish it), and then make up your own mind. Unlike most of those who criticise him, Pinker provides data to back his claims. I can only assume that it is Pinker’s critics, not Pinker himself, who are politically motivated “progressophobics” who, upon hearing a couple of anecdotes or reading about the war in Syria, throws all data out the window and claim that things are getting worse and that anyone who says otherwise is a naive optimist, right-wing fundamentalist or climate change denier.

This book is another masterpiece from one of the best non-fiction writers, and on my rating scale it no doubt deserves the top rating. However, I still think that Better Angels, with its more narrow focus, is probably a better book. To some extent, this book is a follow up to Better Angels, even though this book has a broader scope. Since Better Angels was published many people seem to think that things have turned around and that the world is now regressing. If you read this book you will learn that this is not the case. The progress until 2011 when Better Angels were published has continued and is expected to continue into the future as well.

So, to sum up, read this book if you want an antidote to all the doomsayers that dominate the media. Read this book if you want to revive the optimist in you. Evidently, we can make the world a better place - as we have done in the past.

76 of 87 people found this review helpful

  • Caesar's Last Breath

  • Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us
  • By: Sam Kean
  • Narrated by: Ben Sullivan
  • Length: 10 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 914
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 838
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 834

The fascinating science and history of the air we breathe. It's invisible. It's ever present. Without it, you would die in minutes. And it has an epic story to tell. In Caesar's Last Breath, New York Times best-selling author Sam Kean takes us on a journey through the periodic table, around the globe, and across time to tell the story of the air we breathe, which, it turns out, is also the story of earth and our existence on it.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • vastly entertaining

  • By Amazon Customer on 08-11-17

Superb!

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

Reviewed: 01-29-18

This book is about air. When I first realized this I thought to myself, how interesting can air possibly be? As it turns out air is abundantly interesting. Not in my wildest imagination (ok, maybe in my wildest imagination), did I think that anyone could fathom so many, so interesting stories about such a seemingly mundane thing as air. With its perfect mix of historical anecdotes and well-explained science, this book is a real masterpiece and I would have given it more stars if I could.

The first chapter gives you the story of Caesar’s last breath. Where are the molecules that left Cesar's lungs in his last exhale today? Specifically, what are the chances that in your next breath you will inhale one of these molecules? I vaguely remember having heard this example before, but I still thought that the size of Earth's atmosphere relative to a single breath means that the chance is very very small. But no, on average every other breath we take will contain one or more molecules that left Cesar's lungs in Rome 2000 years ago. This is because simply put, there are a lot of molecules in every single breath. Still a skeptic? I don’t blame you, but let Sam Kean inform you (if you are wondering, yes Kean does do the math).

Subsequent chapters are about different molecules that exist in the air. The privileged reader will meet the comatose nitrogen that really doesn't like to interact with anything else. Despite its passivity, nitrogen in the air helps feed 50% of the world's population since it is crucial for making fertilizer. How this extraction process was first accomplished is a fascinating story. And it is a story that no one tells better than Sam Kean. The reader will also meet nitrogen's counterpart, Oxygen, the madman that reacts powerfully with everything. The fact that organisms have managed to tame this rogue molecule is a miracle (perfect for God of the gaps people). Noble gases and radioactive gases also make prominent appearances. For each air constituent, Kean explains the relevant science and gives you one or a few well-selected anecdotes to hang your new knowledge on. The most hilarious part of the book is when Kean introduces Le Petomane, who was the best-paid artist in France. His trick? Farting like no one else in the history of mankind (do Google this person, you will not regret it (or maybe you will)). Of course, you will also learn what farts are made of and how many fart molecules you inhale each time you take a breath. I know I am repeating myself, but Kean really is one of the very best when it comes to giving life to science.

The writing is clear and accessible but the book does not compromise on scientific details. The book even has a beautiful prosaic ending which is not something I usually associate with or expect from non-fiction books. When writing reviews, I usually feel I must balance praise and critique but in this case, I feel that the book is close to being perfect. Read it! Now!

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