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J. Horyski

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A Great Story Paired With a Great Reading

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

Reviewed: 2019-12-02

Given the near universal praise for this, I'll just say that this is now one of my favourite books. The character of Circe is complex and well drawn, and the writing nails the style of Greek myths. Without spoiling anything, I will say that this book pairs really well with Emily Wilson's recent translation of The Odyssey.

I also think the quality of the narration deserves an extra call out: it is fantastic! The voice actor suits the main character perfectly, and she manages subtle changes in tone for each character that lets you easily tell who's speaking, but without coming off as cringey impersonations.

Overall Excellent, But Maybe Overly Broad in Scope

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

Reviewed: 2019-11-16

Overall, this is an excellent book that suffers a bit from over-breadth. It essentially describes how humans make decisions, from a few seconds to a few minutes to a few millennial before that decision is made. It starts with an in-depth look at what's going on in a brain, pulls the camera out to look at hormones, then to genetics, and then all the way out to evolution and society.

It's fascinating, but the breadth means there's not as much time for depth. For example, the book lightly touches on human morality and its evolutionary roots. Other books have devoted their entire content to that topic (see for example the excellent The Moral Animal). I can't really knock the book too much for this - that's just going to be a given with a book that has such a broad scope.

However, the very broad scope of the book also gives the author too much leeway in what he can discuss. At times the book feels like a grab bag of the author's various interests, sometimes only tenuously connected to the main topic (e.g., a section on the non-existence of free will and the criminal justice system). These are topics that would be interesting books on their own, but here they seem like a bit of a diversion from the main course of the narrative.

The only other issue is that this doesn't always work well as an audio book. The first few chapters in particular are a bit of a slog, with the author dropping frequent abbreviations for brain regions and neurochemicals. In a paper book, it would be easy enough to pop back to see what an abbreviation stands for, but in audio it's basically impossible (particularly when driving). Similarly, there are a few chapters that direct readers to appendixes (also annoying to navigate to), or that involve long lists of examples. Some audiobook specific editing would have been nice to tidy these things up.

An excellent and important work that holds up

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

Reviewed: 2019-03-17

Truly an excellent book that only occasionally reminds the reader that it was written in the 90s. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in really understanding the origins behind our shared moral inclinations, and an exploration of what those inclinations are.

And despite the book ruining some of the "magic" of altruism and brotherly love, it ends on a surprisingly upbeat note.

Far More Religious Than You'll Expect

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

Reviewed: 2019-02-18

In the beginning, the book offered some advice that I found basic but useful - par for the course for a book of this type. The author interjected the right amount of humour, with only some of it being cringey "dad jokes", and he's a good speaker which helped immensely. Keep that "in the beginning" in mind, because I'll be getting back to it.

Content-wise, the first half was essentially a collection of the author's musings and interests, loosely structured into a "system" for improving your life. Basically just the author's thoughts on meditation/prayer (good), yoga (bad because it lets demons into your body), logic (good), making your bed (good) and faith (super good). Most of this is presented in a completely shallow way. For example, the segments on meditation don't tell you how to meditate, only that you should, and the segments on logic similarly provide only a few pointers but don't get into what makes a good argument.

Tonally, the first half was all over the place. It went from folksy, g-rated wisdom about being a generalist vs. specialist, would slam the shifter and start carrying on about how the literal devil makes you resist writing your sc-ifi novel about a sex-robot uprising, and then drop a joke about premature ejaculation. It honestly felt at times like the author had found God half-way through writing, but didn't want to go back and edit anything for consistency.

I'm not religious, but the author clearly is and interjects this throughout the book. Initially, I didn't have an issue with it - it's helpful to know where an author is coming from, and I don't need to agree with everything in the book to get value out of it.

However, about halfway through the religious interjections went from a background hum to a full sermon delivered by a sidewalk preacher with a megaphone. There's a section on the importance of faith where the author goes on a long meander about good and evil, which reaches its nadir when he talks about how kids with cancer are a good thing because they make people nicer to each other. Really? God gives kids cancer so people will be nicer to their parents and feel better about themselves because they aren't dying in agonizing pain? Great, I'm sure those kids and their parents will appreciate being used as a prop in other people's uplifting life lessons.

This was the point where I decided I needed to see other books.

I flipped through the reviews for this book on Audible and Amazon, of which there seemed to be a curiously high number (and virtually all of the reviewers giving a perfect 5-stars), and the heavy-handed religious messaging isn't mentioned once.

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