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The Institute audiobook cover art

Disturbing subject but worth the journey

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

Reviewed: 09-13-19

This book takes a bit of time to get going (and by that I mean even introduce our main character) but once Luke is at the institute it picks up and doesn’t stop. I couldn’t stop listening and finished it over 2 days in long stretches. It is a tough listen at times because of the subject matter and you should be warned that this book contains children being abused and humiliated. I disagree with the idea that you should dismiss a story just because it contains disturbing content, especially when you being disturbed at an undeniably disturbing thing is the intended emotion the author is trying to evoke. I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to children but I do feel like by putting the reader in Luke’s shoes and making you feel his helplessness during some of the bad things that happen it does effectively create a strong bond between the listener and these kids. It’s heartbreaking at times but it’s very effective storytelling when you feel genuine emotion for a character in a book. If you can stomach some of the downer content here you will be rewarded with a great story filled with lovable kids up against some of the most villainous (in a realistic way) characters King has ever created.

3 of 14 people found this review helpful

Zucked audiobook cover art

Interesting but repetitive

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

Reviewed: 03-31-19

Facebook has been guilty of multiple violations of their user’s privacy and Mark Zuckerburg has a cavalier attitude about actually protecting users from data theft and misinformation campaigns. He will likely be the man most responsible for the inevitable demand that Silicon Valley becomes heavily regulated by the government. I’m not a fan of regulation but sociopaths like Zuckerburg end up ruining the idea of self regulation for everybody else by refusing to act responsibly.

There’s really not a whole lot to this book other than examples of Facebook’s transgressions. The author is a bit too optimistic about government regulation but I can’t deny that companies like Facebook will make it inevitable, like it or not. The problem with the book is that it meanders and just goes on and on. The author seems to be trying to hit a minimum word count and most of the book seems like filler. All of the actual relevant content could have covered in a book half as long.

The Demon Next Door audiobook cover art

Good recounting of events but adds nothing to understanding how these things happen.

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

Reviewed: 03-18-19

Interesting recounting of events but lacks anything else. Complete glossing over of Danny’s obviously odd relationship with his parents. The author notes how protective the community seems to be over hurting his family and unfortunately the author treats them with the same kid gloves. Sorry, too many red flags there to just accept the “bad apple” story presented here. His ex-girlfriend even states at one point she was groomed from within that religious community by her own parents and Danny’s into a relationship with an incarcerated rapist while still a kid. The church community threatened to destroy the reputation of his first victim with a smear campaign to protect Danny and his family. These don’t sound like nice people.

I’m not saying anything is clear-cut, but if you’re going to do a crime piece you are doing a great disservice to our understanding of these things by being so protective of everybody but the killer. I’m not saying it’s his parent’s fault but even if Danny was a sociopath, sociopathic behavior seems largely genetic and you’ll generally find more than one family member with varying degrees of it when you find a sociopath. Nothing about his relationship with his family or their behavior seemed normal or healthy and that aspect of how he became a killer is just completely glossed over.

The Last Days of August audiobook cover art

Captivating story but don’t expect a resolution.

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

Reviewed: 01-06-19

I really liked this but I do feel that Jon’s feelings regarding certain people because of their personalities can sometimes cloud his judgment. You aren’t necessarily guilty of something because you see a reporter as adversarial and you aren’t one of the “good guys” because you cultivate a positive relationship with him. I think that Jon sometimes extends his empathy to the point of bias towards those he finds likable and reserves the guy punch hard questions for those he doesn’t. From a reader/listener perspective it’s sometimes frustrating to witness Jon not asking the questions you would have of somebody he has empathized with.

I think many people would react the way August’s husband did towards Jon and the people around her in the industry. I don’t think he’s a saint, but it isn’t unreasonable to try to create distance between somebody you care about and the toxic people and drug culture they may be surrounded by. Even the story of him being controlling because she gave her male “friend” the cold shoulder in public seems a moot point considering that same guy confessed to being secretly in love with her and wanted to be with her. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that a man wouldn’t like some male friend whom he rightly suspected of trying to get with his wife buzzing around her. It’s also not unreasonable to develop an antagonistic relationship with a reporter if you are hearing through the grapevine that he seems to crafting a hit-piece about you. In the end, it wasn’t a hit-piece but it was a bit too focused on one individual. How should a person react if they had reason to believe that’s what you were up to with your story?

August’s brother raised some questions too and I don’t think Jon focuses enough on just how dysfunctional that family seems to be just because he got along well with Jon. At one point we hear about her father, who sounds like a horrible person, and how that may have impacted her life and mental state. Even her brother doesn’t describe him very kindly. Yet, it seems as though the supportive brother still has a relationship with him when he talks about their phone conversations and he even expressed pride in having his father’s family name. Which is it? I know families are complicated but it just seems like despite his disagreements with his father he fell right into pointing the finger everywhere but at his family and seemed hellbent on placing blame anywhere but dear old dad. He had a list of the culpable and he just kept reaching for new ones. The pornstar on Twitter, the Russian porn actor, the producer, the husband. The actions of August’s father were far more egregious and at a far more formitive time in her life but her brother seems desperate to stick his head into the sand. It was frustrating that Jon didn’t press him on that contridiction in his role as a source of support and stability in her life. It’s sad to see genetic loyalty turn people into such defense attorneys for the awful humans that raised them that they can’t even fully commit to support a sibling who is seeing the situation clearly by holding their parents to some level of accountability.

All in all, don’t expect a resolution. It’s a real life story which means few people will accept responsibility for their roles and a whole bunch of finger pointing at others. There are no clear good guys or bad guys here, just people with their own baggage and not a lot of introspection. It was fascinating but ultimately only as a study of human behavior at it’s most defensive. Everything is muddy and grey and it’s an industry filled with broken people from broken families, and a story about both leaves you feeling like none of these people seem comfortable with a long look in the mirror when blaming others is an option.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

Enlightenment Now audiobook cover art

Great book but It will be ignored because people hate good news and prefer revision and revolution to simple maintenance.

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

Reviewed: 06-29-18

A much needed dose of fact rather than the ideological and historical fictions that both sides of the political aisle are currently spinning to rally support. His last book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” also served this purpose but was more specific to the topic of human violence.

I would love it if Steven Pinker’s work was gaining as much traction with the public as the popular mouthpieces on both sides that are currently benefiting from very selective relationships with reality. I’m not very optimistic on that front because Pinker, to his credit, doesn’t play the kind of games that have launched other intellectuals into stardom— unfortunately people like being riled up, so anybody who speaks to that desire seems to rise up while the more considerate intellectuals are ignored even when all the facts are on their side. It’s a shame that Pinker’s books reach such a limited audience while Jordan Peterson’s “the sky is falling and the only way to stop it is to embrace tradition and mythology” rhetoric is so popular despite being counter-factual. If you don’t know why the latter’s popularity isn’t necessarily a good thing it’s because he has a romanticized vision of the past and a demonized vision of modernity. He’s a man who decries post-modernism while idolizing Nietzsche, the man whose philosophy birthed authoritarian regimes, moral relativism, and paved the way for post-modernism and anti-enlightenment intelligencia to begin with. I mean, is anything more archetypal post-modernist than the redefinition of words, including the word “truth”?

Steven Pinker’s books do a great job tackling our misconceptions about the past and our misplaced disdain for modernity and the Enlightenment thinking that made it possible. It’s just a shame that people love being part of a herd, and political, social, and environmental activism are usually created by the fires of misinformation and exciting rhetoric... people don’t like it when the water of fact and reason puts out their pet fire, especially when they can be applauded for being one of the people adding timber to it.

Ubik audiobook cover art

Worth a read/listen but I found it just “ok”

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

Reviewed: 02-02-18

Decent Sci-Fi but it’s far from Phillip K. Dick’s best work, in my personal opinion anyway. It was somewhat predictable but that’s forgivable considering how many films and stories are derivative of the author’s body of work. It’s not surprising that you would draw some conceptual comparisons to the movie “Vanilla Sky”, for instance. You just have to keep in mind that many science fiction clichés originated in older novels, like this one. It’s hard to hold predictability against a book that may have originated a concept that only became a cliche due to how many others it inspired to create the more modern work you are comparing it to.

My criticism is more that the story kind of meanders a bit and I felt like too much time passes between something being set up and paying off in the story. I won’t spoil anything specific, but a good example of this is the reveal of the antagonist in a very late chapter followed by what feels like a rush to a climax. So much time had passed and the character was given so little attention that I just felt like the reveal was a big, “who cares?”. There’s no reason to feel anything positive for this character so you don’t feel shocked, but there’s also no reason to feel anything negative towards him and his motivations other than the book seems to insist that he’s obviously bad. We just don’t know anything about him one way or the other and his actions seem ultimately inconsequential, as do the protagonist’s. Maybe that’s the point? I can accept it if the book is making a point about the ultimate futility of any action in the grand scheme of things, I personally just end up not caring about what happens to the characters in that case. Why should we? We aren’t really given any reason to.

I also found the different voices and accents distracting. This is a personal preference, but I prefer when a narrator simply reads the book as opposed to trying to put on silly voices to differentiate the characters. It can be jarring when you are listening to a third person perspective that becomes a radio play every time a character other than the protagonist speaks.

It’s still worth a read (or listen) it’s just not up there with my favorites. It’s unlikely that I would feel the desire to go back to it but I was entertained enough the first time through.

Behave audiobook cover art

An in depth and careful exploration of the complexity that is “behavior”

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

Reviewed: 01-14-18

There are many, many books on this topic but none are as thorough and dive as deeply into behavior as this one. Sapolsky approaches this topic intelligently and judiciously, and I appreciate his tentativeness and careful thinking in areas where others can’t seem to resist overly enthusiastic claims. He doesn’t prescribe humans with an answer or draw any conclusions about what we should do to improve the world or what new laws or political policies would “fix” us. Instead, he simply provides a detailed explanation of the complexity of biological and environmental variables that make us behave the way we do and the evidence to support the linkage.

I really appreciate his honest scientific approach— admitting fully what we know, what we don’t, and the absolute complexity at play here that makes a mockery of the idea that behavior can be understood or shaped in it’s entirety by approaching it from a biological, psychological, or neuroscientific background— pretending that you can unlink these factors and study behavior in a “one-discipline-is-right” vacuum.

Some part of this book is sure to annoy everyone married to their ideas and explanations of behavior, which is a good thing. The beauty of this book is that you come away much more informed, and the understanding of that complexity (ironically) makes you much less confident in your ability to prescribe a singular “cause” to something having just happened. It’s a nuanced antidote to the charged, over-confident way that we currently have discussions about society, and hopefully it will encourage more interdisciplinary conversations on topics that cannot, by their very nature, exist in isolation.