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  • Radical Markets

  • Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society
  • By: Eric A. Posner, E. Glen Weyl
  • Narrated by: James Conlan
  • Length: 9 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 7
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7

Many blame today's economic inequality, stagnation, and political instability on the free market. The solution is to rein in the market, right? Radical Markets turns this thinking - and pretty much all conventional thinking about markets, both for and against - on its head. The book reveals bold new ways to organize markets for the good of everyone.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Great ideas, mediocre telling

  • By Nick on 12-09-18

A cool new idea for every day of the week

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

Reviewed: 28-08-18

Posner and Weyl's book is a collection of thought-provoking ideas. They center around the idea of radicalizing markets in different ways, e.g. through quadratic voting (QV), monetizing personal digital data, providing a social dividend (UBI) to all citizens, liberalizing immigration through a new work patronage system, etc.

The book is a timely incision into the big socioeconomic debates of our times. The idea of radicalizing laissez-faire is a key that opens a hatch into the abandoned attic of heterodox economics, from where many ingenious and golden ideas of the past centuries may be recovered (together with some kooky ones) and mixed in with some cutting-edge thinking about complexity, computation and citizenship.

Not all of the ideas strike me as equally plausible, but they all address real and growing problems with our capitalistic social democratic societies. There is a space for radical ideas that is calling out for new occupants, and it's better to fill that space with Henry George than with Karl Marx. Even if many of the included utopian schemes are full of obvious holes, and subject to many obvious counter-arguments, they may provide rudimentary building blocks for more carefully thought-out solutions in the future.

  • The Harvard Psychedelic Club

  • How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America
  • By: Don Lattin
  • Narrated by: John Pruden
  • Length: 7 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 8
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8

It is impossible to overstate the cultural significance of the four men described in Don Lattin's The Harvard Psychedelic Club. Huston Smith, tirelessly working to promote cross-cultural religious and spiritual tolerance. Richard Alpert, aka Ram Dass, inspiring generations with his mantra "be here now". Andrew Weil, undisputed leader of the holistic medicine revolution. And, of course, Timothy Leary, the charismatic, rebellious counterculture icon and LSD guru.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Fascinating characters

  • By Amazon Customer on 17-08-18

Fascinating characters

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

Reviewed: 17-08-18

The psychedelic revolution remains one of the most important ongoing challenges to the established power structures of society. The four men at the centre of this story - Leary, Alpert, Weil and Smith - are absolutely crucial figures in that story. Understanding their struggle can serve to highlight the revolutionary potential - and pitfalls - in our own times.

I absolutely adore the way the book focuses on the right four people, but it does not execute fully on that promise. The author is enamoured by glitter. The narrative is shallow, hurried and uninspired. Potential revelations and insights are left unexplored while the author glues the narrative onto journalistic superficialities. The patchwork of the text feels like an untended garden - crammed full of exotic (and hallucinogenic) plants.

There are gems of insight, especially around Weil's sleazy duplicity and attempts at reconciliation, and around Ram Dass's struggles with his homosexuality. These are not enough to elevate the book much above mediocrity.

My biggest gripe, related to the superficiality aspect, is that it is just not long enough: I would have liked to hear much more backstory and anecdotes. Spreading the narrative thin over four luminary authors - each of whom deserves a book-length treatment of his own - serves to highlight how much content is left unsaid.

The tight pacing has its advantages and disadvantages. The scintillating brilliance and tragic flaws of the main characters are amply in display and the flashy story remains entertaining all the way through. But the reader is left wanting more. And better.

The book is an essential appetizer. But where's the main course?

  • 12 Rules for Life

  • An Antidote to Chaos
  • By: Jordan B. Peterson
  • Narrated by: Jordan B. Peterson
  • Length: 15 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,060
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,507
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,447

What are the most valuable things that everyone should know? Acclaimed clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has influenced the modern understanding of personality, and now he has become one of the world's most popular public thinkers. In this book, he provides 12 profound and practical principles for how to live a meaningful life, from setting your house in order before criticising others to comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, not someone else today.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to Heaven

  • By Matthew on 04-02-18

A modern self-help classic

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

Reviewed: 07-08-18

Dr. Peterson has many controversial views, many of which I disagree with. But this book is not a political tract, so it is him at his best and most universally helpful. It is likely to provoke a positive response in any thoughtful and open-minded reader. He is in his element in exploring, and succinctly explaining, many profound and life-changing findings of psychology, sociology and spirituality. His honesty and humility is combined with a forceful masculinity that can be deemed excessive, but I believe he has made a convincing case for it.

In fact, I have been a fan of Dr. Peterson for many years. I followed his lectures semi-devoutly when he was little known outside of Canada. I've learned a lot from him since, and my life has changed for the better as a result. I have not been persuaded by his theistic babble, or by his conservative family values. Bur I'm glad to see his message of self-discipline and self-overcoming receive a worldwide audience, with potentially life-changing results.

The 12 rules are orderly - as you might expect from a book that promises to be an antidote to chaos! They serve as launch pads for extensive commentaries on both mundane and spiritual matters (the two are often interlinked, after all). Not all of them are equally profound, but none of them feels forced or pointless. There is always a bigger picture that the details map on to. And the bigger picture is man's search for meaning - a topic to which the book offers an incredibly dense and moving array of practical solutions from a synoptic interdisciplinary perspective that intelligently fuses Darwinism with social psychology and revolutionary theology.

The book might leave some readers with a skewed perspective on atheist morality and French postmodern philosophy, two things that Dr. Peterson has laughably strong opinions about given how little he evidently knows about them, as shown by some factual inaccuracies (such that an undergraduate student might make in a badly researched philosophy essay).

Secondly, his traditionalist and conservative views lead him to embrace some questionable advice, such as that it's OK to hit children, or that women are chaotic creatures who probably shouldn't be encouraged, or expected, to rise to the top of the game of politics and business.

It is a testament to how profoundly interesting the rest of the book is that I'm willing to overlook his (minor) scholarly shortcomings and his (occasionally) dangerously conservative positions. But luckily he spends very little time on these topics. And even when he does, he always offers some food for thought from some novel and intriguing angle. (Otherwise I would have subtracted a star from the rating.)

This book is a wonderful gem that reflects a lifetime of thoughtful engagement with serious issues. Its brutally realistic message of transcendental hope through honest work and unavoidable suffering can lift spirits and offer practical wisdom to life's challenges. I think it will be seen as a modern spiritual classic - and I welcome its message as a devout atheist.

  • Bullshit Jobs

  • By: David Graeber
  • Narrated by: Christopher Ragland
  • Length: 12 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 74
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 63
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 62

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber, read by Christopher Ragland. Back in 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes prophesied that by the century's end, technology would see us all working 15-hour weeks. But instead, something curious happened. Today, average working hours have not decreased but increased. And now, across the developed world, three-quarters of all jobs are in services or admin, jobs that don't seem to add anything to society: bullshit jobs. 

  • 2 out of 5 stars
  • Read the original essay

  • By Amazon Customer on 12-07-18

Rather pointless

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

Reviewed: 07-07-18

This book is about how some jobs are worthless and don't need to exist. Perhaps this book itself is a good example of a worthless job that didn't need to be done and doesn't need to exist?

The 2013 essay on BS jobs was good. There was no need to expand it into a book.

Quite a pointless, aimless and weak book. And almost every economic claim in the book is either airheaded anarchistic utopianism or defunct 19th century Marxism. Rarely is a book so pointless AND factually dead wrong.

Only the section on UBI is spot on. But Graeber has some attitude, I'll give him that...

  • A Room of One's Own

  • By: Virginia Woolf
  • Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
  • Length: 5 hrs and 1 min
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 140
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 118
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 116

A Room of One's Own, based on a lecture given at Girton College Cambridge, is one of the great feminist polemics. Woolf's blazing polemic on female creativity, the role of the writer, and the silent fate of Shakespeare's imaginary sister remains a powerful reminder of a woman's need for financial independence and intellectual freedom.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Empathetic , intelligent reading

  • By carole on 22-03-16

A feminist classic

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

Reviewed: 02-07-18

An incredible voyage into the mind of Virginia Woolf. Her mind, laid bare for all to see, is a sharp prism that refracts beautifully her own times - with acute commentary on history, literature, psychology and sociology.

The focus of the essays is on the role, status and experiences of women in literature (but also in society more broadly). The observations are rich and varied, but with a main materialistic thread, centred around the hypothesis that intellectual freedom is dependent upon material resources: a steady income and "a room of one's own."

The mode of presentation follows her famed stream of consciousness style. The poetic escapades and flights of fancy are not loosened into phantasmagoria, but rather intervowen into a cohesive central message. The first marvel of this work is how utter an artistic success it is; and the second is how inspiring, biting and revolutionary it is as a feminist pamphlet.

The core idea is commonsensical, yet simultaneously a dangerous proposition: make sure that nobody need toil for basic resources, in order to liberate women and liberate the mind.

The social commentary is swollen, dripping with an aesthetic miasma that envelops the lucky reader submerged in her succulent prose.

  • Miles Gone By

  • A Literary Autobiography
  • By: William F. Buckley Jr.
  • Narrated by: William F. Buckley Jr.
  • Length: 18 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3

In this autobiography, woven from personal pieces composed over the course of a celebrated writing life of more than 50 years, you'll meet William Buckley the boy, growing up in a family of 10 children; Buckley the daring young political enfant terrible, whose debut book, God and Man at Yale, was a shocking New York Times best seller; Buckley the editor of National Review, widely hailed as the founder of the modern conservative movement; and Buckley the husband and father.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Witty and illuminating

  • By Amazon Customer on 02-07-18

Witty and illuminating

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

Reviewed: 02-07-18

I am not a conservative, but I love William F. Buckley. His insights - and soothing voice in the self-narrated audiobook - are worth hearing.

This semiautobiography is organized as a collection of essays and textual fragments gathered from his long and illustrious career. Some of the bits are more interesting than others, but the sheer scope of the material, combined with a firm editorial hand, makes for an epic journey without much extra fluff.

I said without much. Were I blessed with any interest in sailing, I would have given this book five stars. The passion comes through, but so does the obsession. Like the ocean itself, it's too big for its own good, skipper. I'd say skip it.

My favourite bits include the recollections of his childhood and adolescence, the intriguing saga of the divisive university politics at Yale, the passionate love letter to wine, the transcript of the famous Panama debate with Reagan, the copious pages of political and literary gossip, and the amusing asides on a dozen trivialities enlivened with wit and irony. All of it is served with honey; on nigh every page you can taste the sweet and unswerving devotion, by Mr. Buckley, to mastering the peculiar manners, the power and the vocabulary of the English tongue.

Buckley is no saint. While I loathe his Catholic mysticism and warmongering apologetics, there is no conservative I'd rather have around today. He was never anything less than idealistic. He was deadly precise in his reactionary fervour and always honest in his dealings, which gave progressives some healthy target practice - and a good model to emulate on the other side.

Being dangerous enough to be taken seriously is already an impressive, lasting legacy, but this is not the best engraving on his tombstone. No. Buckley's greatest contribution, I believe, was his cultivation, by word and deed, of the power of reasoned debate.

He showed us that there is no controversy that cannot be made more tolerable by being placed on the Firing Line. Without "frenemies" like him to keep us straight, the endangered art of civility will sink to the sea with the Titanic and Atlantis.

  • Rise of the Robots

  • Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
  • By: Martin Ford
  • Narrated by: Jeff Cummings
  • Length: 10 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 486
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 444
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 437

In a world of self-driving cars and big data, smart algorithms and Siri, we know that artificial intelligence is getting smarter every day. Though all these nifty devices and programs might make our lives easier, they're also well on their way to making "good" jobs obsolete. A computer winning Jeopardy might seem like a trivial, if impressive, feat, but the same technology is making paralegals redundant as it undertakes electronic discovery and is soon to do the same for radiologists.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Long But Too Economical

  • By Amazon Customer on 12-05-16

Reading the tea leaves

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

Reviewed: 18-06-18

Henry Ford shaped the 20th century, giving us the assembly line, the welfare state and the middle class. All of these are on the way out.

Martin Ford looks into the 21st century, showing us the next stage in industrial transformation, where human workers are replaced by robots, the welfare state by something completely different, and the middle class with rising inequality and precariousness. We will need to rethink our pathway to continuing human prosperity.

In the age of the automation, jobs - the ones that still remain - are not what they used to be. Ford (over)emphasizes the scenario characterized by rampant technological unemployment where both manual and intellectual labour, starting from routine tasks to ever more creative and complex tasks, get automated away. Whether or not new jobs will be generated, however, the crucial fact is that these new jobs are unlikely to provide the sort of guaranteed security, stability and purchasing power that 20th century jobs did. And they are likely to be unevenly distributed, characterized by high levels of inequality, precariousness and uncertainty.

Ford devotes ample time to exploring the Universal Basic Income (UBI) solution as a potential key to this new economic reality. He makes his case with vigour and zeal.

The weakest parts of the book deal with the near future, when Ford is trying to predict what specific technologies are likely going to have an impact on what specific industries. As a result, he spends a whole chapter (= too much time) exploring the available and nascent technologies circa 2012-2016. These details will date the book and are unlikely to prove very prescient. These contemporary sections work in an illustrative, journalistic sense, by highlighting some of the current trends, but it is the bigger story that the book should focus on.

And thankfully the book spends most of its energy exploring the realm of the megatrends.

Rise of the Robots paints a comprehensive if time-bound picture of the risks and challenges that our society faces, especially in terms of highlighting the importance of making sure that the coming revolutions will be inclusive of the whole of humanity and conducive to their collective prosperity.

Although the book's solutions are not truly visionary or even all that unconventional (even the UBI has a long mainstream pedigree), they are a good starting point for the more radical prophets of the new robotic dawn.

  • The Second Machine Age

  • Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
  • By: Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee
  • Narrated by: Jeff Cummings
  • Length: 8 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 174
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 143
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 144

In recent years, Google’s autonomous cars have logged thousands of miles on American highways and IBM’s Watson trounced the best human Jeopardy! players. Digital technologies — with hardware, software, and networks at their core — will in the near future diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors can, apply enormous data sets to transform retailing, and accomplish many tasks once considered uniquely human.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A decent summary

  • By Amazon Customer on 13-06-18

A decent summary

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

Reviewed: 13-06-18

A coherent summary of the arguments for the thesis that increasingly seems like common sense: that we are living through a new period of rapidly advancing, potentially revolutionary technological disruption.

The audiobook narrator is OK, but I can see how his cadence can feel jarring to some people.

The authors go through the economic, social and political consequences of the impact of the Second Machine Age. They suggest that governments should not stifle innovation, but they should be sensitive to the negative effects of the technological revolution. In government policy, they propose investing in creative education, basic academic research, social infrastructure and a negative income tax.

Not all of their policy suggestions are that compelling or novel in isolation, but they coalesce together into a steely frame that is fundamentally solid, even if some of their proposals can be questioned or reframed (such as their mistaken view that a basic income guarantee would be suboptimal).

"Will our prosperity be widely shared?" they ask. This is a question that desperately needs an answer. Brynjolfsson and McAfee have correctly framed the question and semi-adequately attempted to answer it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Life 3.0

  • By: Max Tegmark
  • Narrated by: Rob Shapiro
  • Length: 13 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 266
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 244
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 245

Penguin Audio presents Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, read by Rob Shapiro. We stand at the beginning of a new era. What was once science fiction is fast becoming reality, as AI transforms war, crime, justice, jobs and society - and even our very sense of what it means to be human. More than any other technology, AI has the potential to revolutionise our collective future - and there's nobody better situated to explore that future than Max Tegmark, an MIT professor and cofounder of the Future of Life Institute, whose work has helped mainstream research on how to keep AI beneficial.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Entertaining and thought provoking.

  • By Heisenberg on 09-04-18

Inspirational but frightening

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

Reviewed: 07-06-18

An important summary of where we are headed as a species and as the guardians of the future of A.I.

The book goes through several science fiction and science fact(ion) scenarios, from utopian to dystopian. These help to illustrate, in vivid colours, the ethically challenging pathways that a superintelligent A.I. could take in the near future, and their potential impact on human society.

Tegmark writes passionately without succumbing to the naive enthusiasm of the most lurid techno-optimists. In fact, since I am (perhaps) one of those sorry people, he appears to me excessively conservative when he cautions the reader against the risks associated with unregulated and undirected A.I. But he simultaneously waxes lyrical about the positive powers of enhancement that A.I. could bring.
(The reader is thus served hot and cold dishes in schizophrenic rotation. Which I don't mind.)

One thing that Tegmark has special expertise in is space (he is a physicist), so the chapters on space exploration and colonisation are the most solidly grounded and, for that reason, inspiring of awe. But even outside his purported main area of expertise, he pulls no punches: the chapters on ethics and consciousness, for example, are eminently thoughtful and illuminating. The importance he readily gives to philosophy as the arbiter of the big questions of the future warms this philosopher's heart.

Overall, the book sheds light on the current state of knowledge around A.I. research in a fruitful and exciting way. I wish there had been more discussion on the possibility of the transhumanistic fusion between man and machine via biotechnological engineering. It seems unlikely that, barring catastrophe, we will be left behind as a biological relic stuck at a permanently low stage of development. While I agree with Tegmark that we need ethical guidelines, I am not so convinced that consensus building leads to an optimal outcome. The (reasonable) ethical and political concerns around A.I., as well as around transhumanistic self-modification and -enhancement, might do more harm than good, unless the liberty of experimentation is safeguarded (of course within the cautionary bounds of internalized externalities).

Dreamy stuff. Nightmarish, too. Frightful hope is knocking robotically at the door, so you better take it like a (hu)man. Or a man machine.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Skin in the Game

  • Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
  • By: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Narrated by: Joe Ochman
  • Length: 8 hrs and 20 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 271
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 230
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 228

In his most provocative and practical book yet, one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one's own risks is an essential attribute of heroes, saints, and flourishing people in all walks of life.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Another great work by Teleb

  • By Tim on 05-03-18

Diminishing returns

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

Reviewed: 27-05-18

Skin in the Game is an enjoyable collection of anecdotes, observations and angry diatribes. It is also much inferior to the previous three volumes in the "Incerto" series. Taleb is still scratching the same itch and seeking after the same high. But he has run out of things to say.

His message remains important, but please go read Antifragile, Black Swan or Fooled by Randomness instead. They will give you everything you need. This aimless volume, which merely introduces a few new terms to explore again many of his familiar topics, can only be recommended to devoted Taleb fans.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful