What an interesting and unusual book, and read in a clear, straightforward style. I have to disagree with the previous reviewer about incorrect inflection. Judge for yourself, but I found the no-nonsense narration easy and enjoyable to listen to.
"Adapt" is a practical application of complexity theory to modern life. As such it challenges many common sense assumptions. Failure is often the prelude to success, because it involves experiment, which allows us to learn, if we can recognise, admit and understand our mistakes.
The case examples are interesting, from the "toaster project" to the overturning of Rumsfeldt's disasterous central planning of the Iraq war, to the building of the first Spitfire through the persistence of a maverick civil servant and the generosity of an eccentric female philanthropist. Perhaps there are a few too many military examples. However, I really enjoyed this audiobook.
The first part of this book is a very graphic description of Brabazon's embedding with the LURD rebel army fighting with mercenary support, the dictatorship of Charles Taylor in Liberia. The "friend" of the title is "Nick", a South African ex-special forces mercenary, committed to protecting Brabazon at all costs among the often barbarous, uncontrollable LURD rebels, and under frequent attacks from government forces.
In the tradition of "The Good Soldiers" or Michael Herr's "Dispatches", the book gives a vivid picture of war, the hardships endured, the frequent atrocities, the chaos and randomness of the killing. At one point a LURD rebel accidently flicks his cigarette butt into the wind, which blows it in through the vent of the ammunition resupply truck he was in, detonating the entire cargo. Not only were all passengers killed, but the waiting LURD rebels who desperately needed the ammo, had to retreat as they ran out of bullets and RPGs.
Frequently, captured prisoners are tortured, mutilated and then executed, in one case being disemboweled, while punishments for food stealing were savage. It is no wonder that Brabizon came back from Liberia, enaciated and with PTSD, yet seemingly he couldn't wait to get back.
One interesting theme is his enduring friendship with Nick, who he knows has probably committed murder and atrocities previously, and who fought for apartheid against the ANC. Their friendship however, transcends their political differences, and he has no judgements towards his friend, working tirelessly to find a way to get him released in the second part of the book, when Nick is captured and tortured in a failed take-over of Equatorial Guinea.
Unfortunately, the second half turns into a complex unravelling of the doomed plot to take over Equatorial Guinea, involving Mark Thatcher, Simon Mann and Nick. Brabizon (by luck) was not involved, so it becomes a bit mind-numbing, with little action. The story only revives when he meets his friend again.
Ben Goldacre is knowledgeable and articulate. OK, he does have hobby-horses, but he's honest about these. I completely agree with the general argument that the public need, desperately need, to understand science and scientists far better, so we can spot when the wool is being pulled over our eyes. Some of his examples are absolutely great, too. Definitely something for a science teacher to think about if they're prepared to go off-piste with the curriculum...