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Judy Corstjens

London
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Machines Like Me cover art
  • Machines Like Me

  • By: Ian McEwan
  • Narrated by: Billy Howle
  • Length: 10 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 512
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 471
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 469

Machines Like Me occurs in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong and clever - a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will confront a profound moral dilemma.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Enjoyable but Nothing new

  • By holly bird on 25-04-19

Implausible to just plain silly

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

Reviewed: 07-06-19

When I was about 4 years old I was told we would soon have machines that could do the washing up. I visualised a robot standing at the kitchen sink, metal arms plunged into the suds. When we eventually acquired a dishwasher I realised how perfectly naive I had been and I was also impressed how well the box that was 'not a robot at all' cleaned the dishes. To my amazement, Ian McEwan has fallen into this same trap.

The truth is that nobody is ever going to build a robot like Adam, the hero of this book. Adam is totally all-purpose, indeed he is an exact copy of a better-than-normal man (not quite a perfect copy, of course, as there wouldn't be any story if he was totally indistinguishable from a human). But it is clearly an error to imagine that anyone will or would go to the huge expense of creating a machine that is very-almost-but-just-a-bit-better-than-human. You would never build (perfect, working) genitals into a machine you were going to use for the gardening and vacuuming - you'd have to scrub its delicate fingers before getting into bed with it. Indeed, it is obvious that you would need different types of 'fingers' for these very different tasks. The underlying assumption would have to be that we are the perfect machines - but we clearly are not. We are weak and fragile, and we design machines precisely to do the things we cannot do - e.g. deal with very hot dishwashing water, dig large holes, sew seams in cloth, do millions of calculations at lightening speed. And we never make any effort to give them skin and faces and hair (and a tongue to speak! Does Alexa have a tongue?)

The implausibility and silliness is present from the start but gets progressively worse. I need to give some examples to make my point. The book is set in the early '80s, but the world is different because Alan Turing was not driven to suicide by homo-phobia. OK, I'm quite willing to countenance alternative worlds in a novel if this leads to the author making interesting insights. Yes, it is an interesting thought (though not particularly original) that history is contingent - deeply dependent on random events - everything could have been very different. The narrator (and random Robot-purchaser and owner) says 'Hello' when he spots the ageing but fulfilled (happily married to partner) Alan Turing in a restaurant, then Turing invites him round to tea to hear about Adam and lecture the narrator. But this narrator has to look up the mathematical term 'iff', so he can't know ANYTHING about logic or AI, so why would Turing want to speak to him? The penniless narrator (he spent his entire inheritance of £86k from his mother buying Adam) then discovers that Adam can make him money by playing the stock market. No thought its given to the fact that if Adam's AI can do this, then the person who developed Adam's AI would have already sold this AI to banks, well before it got implanted in sex dolls. Also, McEwan explains Adam's Stockmarket success in terms of speed - very fast typing on Charles's personal computer and internet link. Is it possible that McEwan has heard of ultra-fast trading but hasn't a clue what it really involves? Just so silly I don't know how to describe it. The unemployment rate has 'soared' to 16% (and sometimes 24%) because of AI. No explanation of how this happened - it is taken as read that the reader is also a luddite. It is taken as read that if a car factory produces more cars with fewer people the workers will be permanently unemployed.

Charles ends up braining Adam to cover up a crime, unaware that Adam backs himself up to a remote computer. Dah!

Honestly, if this book was written by an unknown author it would not get published.

Narration is fine.



Superforecasting cover art
  • Superforecasting

  • The Art and Science of Prediction
  • By: Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardner
  • Narrated by: Joel Richards
  • Length: 9 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 594
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 521
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 518

Everyone would benefit from seeing further into the future, whether buying stocks, crafting policy, launching a new product, or simply planning the week's meals. Unfortunately, people tend to be terrible forecasters. As Wharton professor Philip Tetlock showed in a landmark 2005 study, even experts' predictions are only slightly better than chance. However, an important and underreported conclusion of that study was that some experts do have real foresight.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • book presents a new way of thinking

  • By Flavia A. Popescu on 10-02-16

Interesting

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

Reviewed: 06-05-19

Certainly thought provoking, with interesting ideas on the limits of predictability and our overconfidence, and where that overconfidence springs from. I think I am a bit disappointed that it won't really make me into a better forecaster - only more cautious of what is possible.

Moneyland cover art
  • Moneyland

  • Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How to Take It Back
  • By: Oliver Bullough
  • Narrated by: Oliver Bullough
  • Length: 9 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 121
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 116
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 115

From ruined towns on the edge of Siberia to Bond-villain lairs in Knightsbridge and Manhattan, something has gone wrong with the workings of the world. Once upon a time, if an official stole money, there wasn't much he could do with it. He could buy himself a new car or build himself a nice house or give it to his friends and family, but that was about it. If he kept stealing, the money would just pile up in his house until he had no rooms left to put it in, or it was eaten by mice. And then some bankers in London had a bright idea.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Makes you quite angry

  • By Judy Corstjens on 22-04-19

Makes you quite angry

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

Reviewed: 22-04-19

It is rather depressing and angry-making hearing how western lawyers and bankers, particularly here in London, help kleptocrats and dictators the world over move and then spend their stolen and extorted cash. How you can buy citizenship from a range of compliant countries, from tiny islands trying to make a buck once cast off into impecunious independence, to paid up members of the EU - or go one better and buy diplomatic immunity by becoming a diplomat of some tin-pot state. The USA made some progress breaking the banking secrecy laws of Switzerland - but then refused to reciprocate with the rest of the world, and now offers tax havens on-shore in the US for non-US citizens. Oliver Bullough is a naturally witty and sunny person, and his writing reflects this joyful personality, somewhat countering what would be a rather sombre subject.

Narration : Bullough reads his own book and is not a professional actor. However, he gives it a jolly good try and his enthusiasm and natural wit carry it off, making the delivery very personal and enjoyable.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

The Capital cover art
  • The Capital

  • By: Robert Menasse, Jamie Bulloch
  • Narrated by: Peter Noble
  • Length: 14 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars 6

Brussels. A panorama of tragic heroes, manipulative losers, involuntary accomplices. In his new novel, Robert Menasse spans a narrative arc between the times, the nations, the inevitable and the irony of fate, between petty bureaucracy and big emotions. As the 50th anniversary of the European Commission approaches, the Directorate-General for Culture is tasked with planning and organising a fitting celebration. The project will serve the wider purpose of revamping the commission's image at a time of waning public support.... 

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Narrator saves the book

  • By Blind Girl on 25-03-19

Entertaining but ultimately disappointing

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

Reviewed: 18-03-19

This is a rollicking comedy-thriller with no pretensions to literary style or taste, and I'm rather surprised that it got such good reviews. It takes place in Brussels, and its main topic is the EU warts and all. Actually, warts is about all. The civil servants, think tanks etc are all about being a waste of time and money. The main strand in the plot is the idea to organise a celebration of 60 years since the Treaty of Rome (1957-2017) to improve the image of the Commission in the eyes of the people of Europe, and the culture section of the commission plump for a party at Auschwitz, which ultimately gets cancelled.

Culturally, it is interesting (for me) to read a book by a contemporary Austrian author. I couldn't believe how continuously it referred to WW2. Every character was either the son of resistance fighters, collaborators, or Nazi sympathisers, or, of course, one of the few camp survivors still alive. The only English character (I think there was only one) is a Boris-type ginger haired toff. A rather unflattering stereotype of the Brits.

The book is topical, obviously, but it is not informative. The only argument put forward in defence of the EU is 'Never Again.' Because of Auschwitz, we must have the EU to prevent any recurrence. This argument is put forward as an assertion. No effort to explain why there can never be another 'European civil war' once we have the EU as a forum to jaw-jaw.

But my main reason for rating this book quite poorly is the plot - or rather lack of plot. The book starts with an assassination in a hotel. We are told that the wrong person was assassinated, but not who they are or who the real target was. We are told that NATO has hushed the whole business up. An honest, very tall, Belgian police officer, son of two generations of resistance fighters, with terminal cancer, gets cued up to become a rogue investigator. Then he kind of gets bored with it and we never hear any more about the murder or NATO plot. There is a pig loose in Brussels who, in a very neat introductory chapter, is spotted by each of the key characters on that same one evening of the hotel murder. The pig motif runs through the novel (pig farmers lobbying the EU powers etc.) but at the end of the book we never learn where this pig came from - we are left hanging on a number of somewhat fantastical sub-plots. I really don't think authors should be allowed to do that.

So. Ultimately a bit silly, but entertaining and witty along the way.

Narration. Professional quality.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

Why We Get The Wrong Politicians cover art
  • Why We Get The Wrong Politicians

  • By: Isabel Hardman
  • Narrated by: Isabel Hardman
  • Length: 9 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 211
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 190
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 187

Politicians are consistently voted the least trusted professional group by the UK public. They've recently become embroiled in scandals concerning sexual harassment and expenses. Every year, they introduce new legislation that doesn't do what it sets out to achieve - often with terrible financial and human costs. But, with some notable exceptions, they are decent, hardworking people doing a hugely difficult and demanding job. In this searching examination of our political class, award-winning journalist Isabel Hardman tries to square this circle.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Informative and timely

  • By Judy Corstjens on 18-03-19

Informative and timely

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

Reviewed: 18-03-19

I bought this book because I have noticed Isabel Hardman as a balanced and sane voice on programs such as Andrew Marr and Question Time.

Hardman does not disappoint with this sane and balanced view of the weaknesses of our political system. Indeed, the flaws are so many and so deep it seems amazing that we have (so far) staggered on as well as we have. Hardman points out how the barriers to entry to elected office are so great that the majority of candidates come from a narrow self-selecting group that is not representative of the population and not particularly well-qualified or well-equipped for the powers they take on. Then MPs are given very little training, guidance or feedback on the job. Instead they are faced with distractions (acting as social workers for their constituents) and misaligned incentives (mostly to unthinkingly back the legislation proposed by their executive). They are relatively underpaid and frequently abused on social media. The House of Lords may not be ideal, but it currently serves as the only serious body scrutinising badly considered legislation that can be positively toxic in its effects. Abolish with care! Hardman has a few tentative suggestions for improvements, but it is clear that reform will be slow and hard, and may not happen at all. Another book without a happy ending.

Narration. Hardman is used to public speaking, but she does not quite have the skills of a professional audio-book narrator. She commits the sin of putting on an accent (often vaguely northern) for quotations. Character voices are fine for bedtime stories with the kids but, please, not in non-fiction.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

This Is Going to Hurt cover art
  • This Is Going to Hurt

  • Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor
  • By: Adam Kay
  • Narrated by: Adam Kay
  • Length: 6 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 13,298
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 12,134
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 12,083

Welcome to the life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you. Scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, Adam Kay's This is Going to Hurt provides a no-holds-barred account of his time on the NHS front line. Hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, this diary is everything you wanted to know - and more than a few things you didn't - about life on and off the hospital ward.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Well written, Well told

  • By The_Animagus on 23-09-17
  • This Is Going to Hurt
  • Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor
  • By: Adam Kay
  • Narrated by: Adam Kay

I love this format for books

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

Reviewed: 05-11-18

I love it when someone who has first hand experience of an interesting, topical, area takes the time and effort to share it with the rest of us. In this case a 'junior' doctor who worked his sox off in NHS hospitals, basically until he burnt out. Very relevant because of the doctors' recent industrial action, and the ongoing 'crisis' in the NHS. Kay does not offer any constructive solutions to the central dilemma of providing 'free' healthcare to an ageing population where technological progress is outrunning our ability to afford it (his expertise is clearly not in economics or policy) but he lays out the problem. He also makes a passionate argument for treating NHS staff, particularly junior doctors, with much more care and respect. I certainly will in future, if I ever get into that position.

The Coming Storm cover art
  • The Coming Storm

  • By: Michael Lewis
  • Narrated by: Michael Lewis
  • Length: 2 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 105
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 92
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 90

Tornadoes, cyclones, tsunamis… Weather can be deadly – especially when it strikes without warning. Millions of Americans could soon find themselves at the mercy of violent weather if the public data behind lifesaving storm alerts gets privatized for personal gain. In his first Audible Original feature, New York Times best-selling author and journalist Michael Lewis delivers hard-hitting research on not-so-random weather data – and how Washington plans to release it. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Tornadoes, Big Data and Trump bashing!

  • By Simon on 01-08-18

It's about the weather

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

Reviewed: 20-10-18

I ordered this book on the basis that if Michael Lewis writes something, then I'll read it. I thought it was going to be about global warming, but actually it is about typhoons - i.e. whirl-winds. It was quite interesting, and written with verve and colour, but it was a bit of a surprise as it didn't really seem to lead anywhere.

Hatching Twitter cover art
  • Hatching Twitter

  • A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
  • By: Nick Bilton
  • Narrated by: Daniel May
  • Length: 9 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 196
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 170
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 170

Since 2006, Twitter has grown from 100 obsessive users to more than 500 million today - over 32 million of those in the UK alone. But how did such a radical transformation happen in just five years, and what does it mean for business, politics and the internet?

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Rivetting

  • By Ulrik on 18-04-14
  • Hatching Twitter
  • A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
  • By: Nick Bilton
  • Narrated by: Daniel May

More interesting than I'd anticipated

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

Reviewed: 14-03-18

Having been hugely impressed with Nick Bilton's latest book - American Kingpin - I decided to read his previous book, albeit that the subject of Twitter didn't seem that exciting. In fact, the Twitter story is gripping not just because of the characters and boardroom dramas that Bilton brings to life so brilliantly, but also because Twitter is a key example of the businesses that are transforming our world. Perhaps it is another side effect of QE, but it takes my breath away to see a business losing millions of dollars a year to actually pay for a service that it gives free to its users, making zero revenue yet fighting off investors who want to give it more money (and own part...even Al Gore).

Unfortunately, the narrative stops in 2012 (the book was published in 2013) before the Twitter IPO, when skies were blue and the company was projected to be worth £100 billion in the near future. For the story since - valuation at $18b at the time of the IPO (November 2013) and the subsequent slide to $10b today, you have to Google for yourself. The book cries out for a new edition with an epilogue, though maybe this would be starting to paint a Forth Bridge for Bilton.

Narration. Professional. Good co-ordination of stops with shortish chapters.

American Kingpin cover art
  • American Kingpin

  • The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road Drugs Empire
  • By: Nick Bilton
  • Narrated by: Will Damron
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,314
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,216
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 1,212

From New York Times best-selling author Nick Bilton comes a true-life thriller about the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road. In 2011, Ulbricht, a 26-year-old libertarian idealist and former Boy Scout, launched 'a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them'. He called it Silk Road, opened for business on the Dark Web, and christened himself the Dread Pirate Roberts.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Absolutely gripping

  • By S. Bramble on 23-12-17
  • American Kingpin
  • The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road Drugs Empire
  • By: Nick Bilton
  • Narrated by: Will Damron

Gripping, thought-provoking, wonderful

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

Reviewed: 05-02-18

I could not stop listening - I had to audio-walk so much this w/e that I eventually had to leave the dog at home as she was exhausted.

This is real-life Breaking Bad. A pretty normal, suburban, white, educated young man in Texas gets an idea to make it easy to buy and sell weed on-line, noticing that Bitcoin and the Dark Web have combined to make this proposition a real possibility. Hey-presto Ross Ulbricht finds himself running Amazon's evil twin from his laptop. The book reads like Breaking Bad, but is claimed to be close to reality. It is rather in the style (and brilliance) of Michael Lewis, perhaps a touch more racy, but maybe that is the material. There are plot twists here that are mind boggling.

The story is deeper than a simple crime thriller. It touches on the toxic distrust and loathing some Americans feel for their government, while at the same time providing a morality tale which shows why humans need a state - Ross gets robbed and scammed by the criminal elements he now frequents. It points at the cost and disfunction of the law and order infrastructure of the US (though there are also some real heroes). Highlights the problem of drugs - that there is so much demand out there, people desperate to buy drugs and pay large sums of money for them. How a criminal master-mind is born : Ulbricht really does order murders, but he is also just a stressed 28 year old, with a big problem he really needs to solve. There is also the business aspect - some of the challenges are similar to other 'unicorn' internet startups such as Facebook or Twitter. Less problems related to sales tax but more on the laundering side.

Narration. Perfect. Soft American voice is so unobtrusive you hardly notice it. Gentle inflexion for quotes from female and other characters without obvious accents and voices - very subtle, keeps you on track without intruding on what is meant to be a factual (non-fiction) account.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

Things Can Only Get Worse? cover art
  • Things Can Only Get Worse?

  • By: John O'Farrell
  • Narrated by: John O'Farrell
  • Length: 8 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 93
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 76
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 77

Things Can Only Get Worse is the personal story of one political activist helping Labour progress from its 1997 landslide to the unassailable position it enjoys today. Along the way he stood for Parliament against Theresa May; he was dropped from Tony and Cherie's Christmas card list after he revealed he always sent their card on to a friend from the SWP; and he campaigned for a new nonselective inner-city state school, then realised this meant he had to send his kids to a nonselective inner-city state school.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Political Testament of a Lefty

  • By Judy Corstjens on 23-01-18

Political Testament of a Lefty

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

Reviewed: 23-01-18

I have always been a floating voter. At the last election I voted Labour, despite Jeremy Corbyn, on the basis that our local MP (Jim Fitzpatrick) does a good job for our constituency. I can’t see, logically, how it could make sense to choose a political party for life. There would be no point in democracy if people simply voted like their parents, according to their ‘faction’. But for John O’Farrell it is not like that; he has always voted Labour, he would be ‘uncomfortable’ wearing ‘tory-looking’ lace-up shoes. I was interested enough to read a book from a guy who felt like this, to understand ‘Why?’

The result was revealing and depressing. For Mr O’Farrell, politics is tribal and he is open about ‘identifying with the left’ and ‘being married to the Labour party,’ in an emotional and visceral way. This is revealing, but what was depressing is that he literally admits to being motivated largely by hate - ‘Hating the Tories’. He describes Edward Heath as the ‘hate figure of his youth who imposed the three-day week.’ [Mr Heath introduced the 3-day week because the UK did not have enough electricity to run normally while its coal-miners were on strike. This was not some capitalist plot to stop workers earning for 5-days a week.]

But Mr O’Farrell lost me completely when he suggested that had Nigel Farage died in the plane crash that only injured him, Joe Cox might not have been murdered. He also repeats his admission (already published in a previous book) that when the IRA failed to assassinate Mrs Thatcher in a bomb attack on her hotel in Brighton, his immediate reaction was, ‘Shame they missed.’ He manages to imply that his own father is a suspect racist for saying that ‘At least with the IRA you knew what they wanted, compared to the modern (Islamic – can’t say that word) breed of terrorist.’ Now, as O’Farrell, a middle-class scriptwriter, writing comedies for the BBC and gags for Gordon Brown, mellows and comes towards 60 years of age, he waves away the excesses of his youth and says hatred is not a good basis for politics. Still, he doesn’t question the policies of Jeremy Corbyn – scrapping student tuition fees and all the other giveaways in the latest manifesto seem great to him. One can only feel relieved that on the several occasions when O'Farrell stood for elected office he was roundly rejected by the British public.

Did I enjoy the book? I think I learned something, understood more deeply the observation that the ‘hard left’ is actually very like the ‘hard right’ (I’ve just read ‘Fire and Fury’ on Trump). It is scary, but political tribalism is driven by hatred. I will stay a floating voter.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful