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Mark

Raglan, New Zealand
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  • The King's Grave

  • The Search for Richard III
  • By: Philippa Langley, Michael Jones
  • Narrated by: Emma Spurgin-Hussey
  • Length: 9 hrs and 1 min
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1

The official inside story of the life, death and remarkable discovery of history's most controversial monarch. On 22 August 1485 Richard III was killed at Bosworth Field, the last king of England to die in battle. His victorious opponent, Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII), went on to found one of our most famous ruling dynasties. Richard's body was displayed in undignified fashion for two days in nearby Leicester and then hurriedly buried in the church of the Greyfriars. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Richard the Good

  • By Mark on 07-31-18

Richard the Good

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

Reviewed: 07-31-18

This book isn’t a rip-snorting page-turner, but is nevertheless a decent enough listen and it did alter my perspective on Richard III. Before reading this, I, like every other schmuck who has never given the matter very much thought, assumed that Richard III was a wicked and cunning Machiavellian villain who would stop at nothing to achieve his ambitions. But it turns out that probably he wasn’t such a bad person (or King) at all.

Basically, it appears that most of Richard’s bad press was Tudor propaganda, and that’s where Shakespeare got the inspiration and material for his story. The jury is still out on whether Richard ordered the murders of the Princes in the Tower, but there is no strong evidence to confirm that he did. According to the author of this biography, even if he did commit this double murder, it doesn’t necessarily mean he was horribly evil – kings had to kill people for political reasons quite often - they were dangerous and bloody times.

So, this book is half about the life and times of Richard and half about searching for his body under a car park in Leicester – and both are equally interesting. Not riveting, but interesting. You can’t help but wonder if the author has some unrealistically favourable bias towards Richard, but even if this is true, it is still good to hear that there is another side to the story of the last English King to die in battle.

  • A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

  • The Stories in Our Genes
  • By: Adam Rutherford
  • Narrated by: Adam Rutherford
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 27
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23

This is a story about you. It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is for every one of the 100 billion modern humans who has ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in each of our genomes we carry the history of the whole of our species.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Superb

  • By Mark on 03-21-18

Superb

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

Reviewed: 03-21-18

I’m always looking for good popular science books, and this one certainly fits the bill.

It tells the story of the human genome starting with early humans (e.g. homo erectus, Neanderthals, Denisovans and us, Homo sapiens) and then moves on to look at a whole suite of topics relevant to genetics. Examples of this would be: genes for red hair, blue eyes and the ability to smell certain substances; a close look at the genetics of different races; the effects of inbreeding; the evolution in some human populations of the ability to drink milk into adulthood; the human genome project; epigenetics, and the future evolution of humanity.

This book was so good that I didn’t want to miss a thing, and so I slowed it down to 0.8 narration speed – and even then I rewound the tape a few times to re-listen to some sections if I’d been a bit distracted first time around.

Needless to say: Recommended!

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 96
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 88
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 88

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker, read by Arthur Morey. Is modernity really failing? Or have we failed to appreciate progress and the ideals that make it possible? If you follow the headlines, the world in the 21st century appears to be sinking into chaos, hatred and irrationality. Yet, as Steven Pinker shows, if you follow the trendlines, you discover that our lives have become longer, healthier, safer and more prosperous - not just in the West but worldwide.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Glass half-full

  • By Mark on 02-26-18

Glass half-full

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

Reviewed: 02-26-18

We live in an age of doom and gloom. All the news we hear seems to be bad. Everything seems to be turning to shit. Americans were so disenchanted with this state of decline that they elected Donald Trump. The British were so disillusioned that they voted for Brexit. We have global warming, overpopulation, pollution. What is happening? How did things get so bad?

They didn’t. Stephen Pinker’s latest book is an optimistic look at the state of the World today. Like other feel-good books I’ve read & reviewed (‘The Rational Optimist’,’ Abundance’, and Pinker’s own ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’), this book tries to convince the listener that things aren’t really as bad as they seem – and it succeeds.

His method in this book is statistical. Basically, for each different aspect of World life that he examines, he provides evidence of progress by using graphs to show that things have become massively better over time.

Now, it’s awkward to look at graphs when you are out in the woods on your bike, but fortunately this isn’t necessary, because they are all well-described in the audio narrative and are pretty straightforward. Of course, if you want to check them out later, there is an accompanying pdf.

Looking at a whole screed of indices of human well-being and progress, Pinker shows us that on a global scale things have moved and are still moving in a very positive direction: Life expectancy, child mortality, poverty, war, road safety, human rights, civil rights, literacy etc etc. are all getting better over time, and in the process he also explains why it is that we are often not aware, or fail to fully notice, these encouraging trends.

Because all these observations are supported by hard statistics, it is very easy to be convinced. He also makes the point that there is no place for complacency. All the gains we have made have been the result of hard work. We face challenges that require continued hard work and ingenuity, and we need to commit ourselves to this in order to continue our progress.

This is a very refreshing and uplifting look at our World and is well worth a listen.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage

  • By: John McWhorter, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: John McWhorter
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 635
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 574
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 555

Conventional wisdom suggests English is going to the dogs, that bad grammar, slang, and illogical constructions signal a decline in standards of usage - to say nothing of the corruption wrought by email and text messages. But English is a complicated, marvelous language. Far from being a language in decline, English is the product of surprisingly varied linguistic forces, some of which have only recently come to light. And these forces continue to push English in exciting new directions.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • This course will turn you into a linguistics fan!

  • By Quaker on 11-15-13

I ‘do’ like this audiobook

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

Reviewed: 02-10-18

I’ve recently listened to a few similar books on the same subject: English Grammar Boot Camp (the Great Courses), The Story of Human Language (the Great Courses) and Words and Rules (Steven Pinker) so this book was at a slight disadvantage because it would inevitably cover some of the same material, and indeed it did.

However, there was a decent amount of new stuff in there that I hadn’t come across before. For example, I hadn’t known that English was a very unusual language for its use of the ‘meaningless do’. When we ask a question we don’t say ‘play you the piano?’ we say ‘do you play the piano?’ As English speakers this sounds very familiar and normal, but it is actually a very rare feature of languages globally, and is one of the few things left to English by the old Celtic languages spoken by the original inhabitants of the British Isles. The same goes for our use of the present progressive tense: When someone asks us what we are doing we don’t say ‘I watch TV’, or ‘I peel potatoes’ we say ‘I am watching TV’ or ‘I am peeling potatoes’. Again, this seems normal to us but again it is rare and this use of the present progressive tense is another relic of Celtic times.

The narrator, John McWhorter, is brilliant and funny, and doesn’t have any problem bringing a relatively dry subject to life. I was familiar with him from listening to the linguistics podcast ‘Lexicon Valley’, which I also recommend.

He looks at a whole screed of other topics, such as double negatives and reflexive verbs and he takes a light-hearted pop at prescriptive English Grammar Manuals such as Strunk and White. Overall the audiobook is thoroughly entertaining and well worth a listen.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Artemis

  • By: Andy Weir
  • Narrated by: Rosario Dawson
  • Length: 8 hrs and 57 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 56,608
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 52,809
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 52,662

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A ferrari with no motor

  • By will on 11-18-17

Hmmm...a bit iffy

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

Reviewed: 01-29-18

For me this was a rare foray into fiction. I enjoyed ‘The Martian’ a lot and so I thought I’d give ‘Artemis’ a try.

It is entertainingly written, with good snappy dialogue from the first person narrator, and takes place in a plausible Moon City scenario. As in ‘The Martian’, the science all seems reasonably sound.

I have only two qualms about this book: The first is that the narrator, who seems pretty good at doing Arabic, Kenyan and American accents, and is also a good all-round narrator, sucks at doing a British accent. I have no idea whether the barman in our heroine’s local Moon Pub is meant to be Irish (I guess that would fit the stereotype), English or Scottish because the accent is such a mess. It’s right up there with Dick van Dyke’s iconic awful Cockney accent as the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. I realise this criticism is a bit picky, but it was a very intrusive distraction in those scenes.

Secondly, when I was at school, I had to write an essay about whether inconsistencies of character are more damaging than inconsistencies of plotline in a piece of literature. In my case this was for Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but I still remember it and couldn’t help but feel that in this story the heroine agrees to commit a crime which seems badly out of character. I thought, ‘she’s a bit of a rogue, but she wouldn’t do anything that bad’ – this inconsistency of character stuck out like a sore thumb and made it difficult for me to suspend disbelief.

Anyhow, these things aside, it’s a pretty good and engaging listen, but my next choice will be non-fiction.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Pale Blue Dot

  • A Vision of the Human Future in Space
  • By: Carl Sagan
  • Narrated by: Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan
  • Length: 13 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 695
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 636
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 631

In Cosmos, the late astronomer Carl Sagan cast his gaze over the magnificent mystery of the Universe and made it accessible to millions of people around the world. Now in this stunning sequel, Carl Sagan completes his revolutionary journey through space and time.

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Audio Quality Choices

  • By JR on 05-30-17

Died too soon

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

Reviewed: 01-11-18

Pale Blue Dot is a popular science book which deals with the solar system while also reflecting on some of the big issues concerning humanity’s place in the cosmos.

The big problem with this book is that it is now so old. A lot has changed since it was written in 1994, and while listening I was wishing that Carl Sagan was still around to update us about the latest astronomical discoveries. Unfortunately he died at the relatively young age of 62.

Nevertheless, it’s a good listen, and I learnt a lot about the planets, moons and asteroids whizzing around in our neighbourhood. Sagan was years ahead of his time and he discusses climate change as if it were as well-established and accepted as it is today (by most reasonable, educated people, that is!) as part of a mature consideration of the fate of Earth and the threat posed to it by human activity. With typical wisdom and foresight he discusses the possibility that the nuclear arsenal could get into the hands of a madman, a situation with a nasty ring of truth to it today.

One bonus you get at the beginning of this book is that the first couple of chapters are read by Sagan himself. He initially recorded the whole book, but the remainder of the tapes were lost or damaged, and so the rest are narrated by his wife Ann Druyan. She does a pretty good job, but her voice really reminds me of Marge Simpson, lending a slightly comedic air to the listening experience - but Marge Simpson has a kind of wisdom about her and so it all works out pretty well.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Drug Hunters

  • The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines
  • By: Donald R. Kirsch PhD, Ogi Ogas PhD
  • Narrated by: James Foster
  • Length: 7 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 960
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 878
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 878

The search to find medicines is as old as disease, which is to say as old as the human race. Through serendipity - by chewing, brewing, and snorting - some Neolithic souls discovered opium, alcohol, snakeroot, juniper, frankincense, and other helpful substances. Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,000-year-old hunter frozen in the Italian Alps, was found to have whipworms in his intestines and Bronze Age medicine, a worm-killing birch fungus, knotted to his leggings.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Aargh!

  • By Curmud the prof on 05-20-17

Drugs and how to find them

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

Reviewed: 12-10-17

I found this really interesting. Admittedly, I am ‘in the trade’, working in an Intensive Care Unit and doing some teaching about drugs and their different mechanisms of action, but I’m certainly no pharmacologist.

The book looks at a few major drug groups and gives you the story in each case: Antibiotics, vitamin C to prevent scurvy, beta blockers, insulin, the contraceptive pill, etc. A couple of things come over quite strongly. Firstly, the age in which humanity has used a scientific approach to looking for and designing drugs is very new – we’ve only been doing this for 50-odd years really.

For the vast majority of human history we had no idea about the cause of diseases, and if we ever found a substance to cure or palliate a disease, then this was just by trial and error.
However, even though we are now in a scientific era, there are still unscientific phenomena which play a big part in whether a drug is looked for, found, and then produced. Luck, the determination of individuals, and the profit motive of Big Pharma are three examples.

It is so expensive to bring a drug to market (in the ballpark of a billion dollars), that drug companies need to be assured that they will recover this amount in future sales. For this reason they are less likely to invest in antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals, because these are only taken for a short period. They are much more interested in drugs that are taken for long periods – usually for life. E.g. anti-hypertensives, cholesterol lowering drugs, and drugs to treat depression and schizophrenia.

Although this fact is disappointing, the book doesn’t set out to stick the boot in to Big Pharma. It is more a general overview of how drugs are found or designed, how they work, and the human stories behind them. If this is something that might interest you then I would wholeheartedly recommend the book.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Endurance

  • Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
  • By: Alfred Lansing
  • Narrated by: Simon Prebble
  • Length: 10 hrs and 20 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 12,281
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10,773
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10,760

In August of 1914, the British ship Endurance set sail for the South Atlantic. In October, 1915, still half a continent away from its intended base, the ship was trapped, then crushed in the ice. For five months, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men, drifting on ice packs, were castaways in one of the most savage regions of the world.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Superb in so many ways

  • By David on 01-19-14

Astonishing

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

Reviewed: 11-18-17

I knew Ernest Shackleton was a polar explorer, but, beyond that, I was clueless. I chose this book based on the strength of the Audible reviews - and now I’m going to add to that body of positive feedback.

It is the brilliant true story of a group of men who faced unbelievable hardships and overcame insane odds to survive in the most desolate conditions imaginable – and yet, it is the story of a failed venture.

Although I didn’t know how the story would end, I was pretty confident that there would be a reasonable number of survivors, as this book was based on the diaries of the protagonists. Obviously they might have died, and their diaries somehow survived, but that seemed unlikely.

They were planning to sail to Antarctica and then cross the continent on foot, but this never happened because their ship, the ‘Endurance’, was crushed by an ice floe before they ever reached the Antarctic mainland. They ended up living for a long time camped on a piece of ice floating in the freezing Antarctic Sea, never knowing when it might crack to pieces underneath them, hoping that it would drift towards land.

This was just the beginning of their ordeal. I won’t be a spoiler any more than this, but the conditions they endured and the stoical bravery they showed made me look on with admiration and awe. Highly Recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Magic of Reality

  • By: Richard Dawkins, Lalla Ward
  • Narrated by: Richard Dawkins, Lalla Ward
  • Length: 6 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 62
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 58
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 57

What are things made of? What is the sun? Why is there night and day, winter and summer? Why do bad things happen? Are we alone? Throughout history people all over the world have invented stories to answer profound questions such as these. Have you heard the tale of how the sun hatched out of an emu’s egg? Or what about the great catfish that carries the world on its back? Has anyone ever told you that earthquakes are caused by a sneezing giant?

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Another wonderful book from Richard Dawkins

  • By richard on 05-22-12

Dawkins for Teens

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

Reviewed: 11-12-17

This is a children’s book I guess, probably aimed at educated youngsters in their mid-teens, but I still found it very informative and enjoyable in my mid-50s. I’ve read so many Dawkins books now that it felt like a déjà vu jigsaw puzzle of little pieces from his other works, but I didn’t mind because I’m sort of addicted to his brilliant powers of reason and explanation, and I like the fact that he always narrates his own audiobooks.

This book is a very brief attempt at explaining life, the universe and everything; a concise version of Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything, but with a definite Dawkinsian agenda and edge to it.

One, relatively innocent, aim of this book is to teach people the value of science and the use of reasoning to determine what is true, or real, and what is not. The other aim of this book is a bit more unusual; it is to emphasize that in all societies throughout human history people have created myths to explain natural phenomena such as the sun, earthquakes, rainbows, animals and humans. Nowadays, however, we have science to explain all this. Dawkins debunks a whole swath of creation myths from obscure tribes from around the World, knowing that his audience will have no problem in seeing that they are obviously just made-up nonsense - and then, without skipping a beat, he nonchalantly dismisses the central tenets of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as if they, too, are just far-fetched, fanciful fairy stories.

I’m perfectly happy with this, as I’m comfortable with the fact that there was no Adam and Eve, that God didn’t create the world in seven days, that Jesus wasn’t born of a Virgin, didn’t perform miracles, and may not have even existed. But there are lots of people who would find this book to be highly offensive atheist propaganda, an attempt to contaminate vulnerable young minds with heretical beliefs.

I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing this book in the school libraries of the Bible Belt any day soon, but, if you’re comfortable with religious skepticism, you’ll find it an enjoyable book.

  • Spaceman

  • An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
  • By: Mike Massimino
  • Narrated by: Mike Massimino
  • Length: 10 hrs and 57 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 2,588
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,435
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 2,430

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that's about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour? Or to look back on Earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble Space Telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you're about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind's chance to unlock the universe's secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Likable guy, great storyteller

  • By Joy Woller on 10-09-16

Out of this World

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

Reviewed: 10-16-17

I ummed and ahhed about buying this book – the story of an astronaut I’d never heard of, whose career took place during the relatively dull nineties and noughties, an era when space travel had lost a lot of its MoJo - but I wasn't disappointed.

For one thing, this astronaut has a personal story to inspire everyone. He comes across as a fairly average and normal person, not too different to you or me. He's obviously reasonably intelligent, as this would be an absolute minimum requirement, but he has his weaknesses and is no stranger to failure. He failed his PhD qualifying exam and his astronaut eyesight test, amongst other things.

What really sets this likable character apart is his determination. Time and time again it was seemingly impossible for him to proceed with his goal of going to space, and in each instance he applied his ingenuity, doggedness and determination to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. With great humility and humour he tells us how he managed to pull this off.

Of course, he finally gets to space. The book continues with his experiences in earth's orbit: What he saw; What he achieved; How he felt. Some of this narrative is utterly captivating.

It’s a wonderful uplifting book celebrating the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity: an inspiration to any listener.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful