The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates
By Peter T. Leeson; Read by Jeremy Gage
Audible Download – Approx. 7 Hours 41 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible, Inc.
Published: September 4, 2009
Themes: / Economics / Piracy / History / Slavery / Democracy / Anarchy /
Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss–it’s time to go a-pirating! The Invisible Hook takes readers inside the wily world of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century pirates. With swashbuckling irreverence and devilish wit, Peter Leeson uncovers the hidden economics behind pirates’ notorious, entertaining, and sometimes downright shocking behavior. Why did pirates fly flags of Skull & Bones? Why did they create a “pirate code”? Were pirates really ferocious madmen? And what made them so successful? The Invisible Hook uses economics to examine these and other infamous aspects of piracy. Leeson argues that the pirate customs we know and love resulted from pirates responding rationally to prevailing economic conditions in the pursuit of profits.
I love non-fiction, and I love books that look at history, books that look at history through one lens or another are even better! And so there is much to love in The Invisible Hook. The title is a play on Adam Smith’s elegant metaphor for how markets work, the invisible hand. Most of the examples cited deal with the Atlantic and Caribbean pirates, rather than earlier Roman era or modern day pirates. But we get a sense of how it likely worked in other regions and times. Chapters on the paradoxical attitudes towards pirate slavery, the wildly contradictory stories about piratical impressment, and the chapter on the Jolly Roger, the pirate flag, are absolutely fascinating. And, as something of a piratical hobbyist myself, I’m pleased to report they deliver clear insights only hinted at in other non-fiction books about piracy. You know you’ve got a good book in hand when you find yourself relating the premises, arguments, and conclusions of whole chapters to friends.
How good is the analysis really? That’s kind of hard to tell. Democracy and equality as a function of economics? Wonderful! Seems logical, seems plausible. And that’s the sort of thing you don’t hear often enough. Indeed, economist Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, gets a shout out early on in The Invisible Hook. This is a book in that vein, a kind of entertaining pop-economics, well written, and very thoughtful. But it also boasts the same kind of inarguable psychohistory-style post-analysis of such books. It reminds me of books like William Rosen’s The Most Powerful Idea in the World, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Well written history looked at through the lens of a soft science makes the seemingly inexplicable events of history seem almost inevitable. That is to say, this book should be just one of many such on such topics. In the end though how can you not wanto to read a book that makes piracy, as depicted in The Princess Bride, actually very plausible?
But this is not as merry a ship as it might be. As with many book published these days, there’s some bit of puffery. Concepts well illustrated in a paragraph or two are revisited, whole passages nearly reworded, and I’m betting that this for reasons of market driven economics. It might be that each chapter can be looked at on it’s own, textbook style, but listened to as I did, back to back the chapters have a tendency to revisit the same ports too often. This is one of my major complaints about books these days. Too many books are being published with too many words that don’t say different things. At under eight hours even this relatively slim volume, by today’s market standards, but it’s still puffier than any pirate’s shirt really ought be. It is like a pirate cutter on the stalk, slowed down by a sea-anchor of unneeded repetition. Saying the same thing over and over and over. Get my point? Okay, its the market, and to be fair Adam Smith’s own The Wealth Of Nations is a bloody long book, 36 hours! I’d be willing to bet my strong right arm that the original article, as published by Levitt (mentioned in the book), would be an even better audiobook than this very fine one, and no doubt it’d measure at least a peg leg shorter.
Narrator Jeremy Gage is from the old school of audiobook narration, the kind I like. He doesn’t so much as perform a book as read it. His conspiratorial tone typically him a great choice for first-person POV novels, like Lawrence Block’s Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. This is the first non-fiction book I’ve heard him narrate. So now I can say he’s great for non-fiction too.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Sphinx (Area 51 #4)
By Bob Mayer; Performed by Eric G. Dove
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
11 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / military sci-fi / aliens / hybrids / nuclear /
Dr. Lisa Duncan and Special Forces officer Mike Turcotte know better than anyone that no secret is safe for long — especially one that offers untold power. Case in point: no sooner does Turcotte’s elite Area 51 team uncover a dormant alien ship in earth orbit than a group of alien-human hybrids seizes it and uses its technology to commandeer a satellite array bristling with nuclear missiles. Now they’re demanding that humankind hand over the key to an ancient stash of alien technology…or watch an entire continent be reduced to atomic rubble. Doom seems certain, as the required key is believed lost to the ages — until an unwitting anthropologist discovers the first of many clues to its hiding place. As Duncan and Turcotte race to reach the key — and the powerful treasure it can unlock — ahead of their alien foes, the quest leads them deep into a deadly maze within the Great Sphinx of Giza. The prize? Nothing less than the legendary Ark of the Covenant.
For fans of this series, Bob Mayer delivers a story that lightly scratches the military SF itch but never arrives at satisfaction. If you don’t mind foreshadowing and rather flat characters that encounter somewhat predictable puzzles, then I think you’ll like this installment of the Area 51 series. I’d say that Mayer has written the equivalent of a bacon cheeseburger. You know what you’re going to get before you order it, and if you are in the mood for a run of the mill bacon cheeseburger, then I say “Dig in and don’t be shy about using napkins.”
Eric G. Dove acts as narrator and I am on the fence with his delivery. So here’s the down and dirty with Dove. When he reads dialogue, Dove is on top of his game and carries this audio performance. When Dove is left to recite, I mean read exposition; he becomes the human equivalent of narrator elevator music. Seriously, Dove reads exposition like most people might read a road map but with less enthusiasm. But when Dove engages a character, everything changes and this somewhat average audiobook becomes almost enjoyable.
Final thoughts. If you’re even thinking about reading this book then it’s a fair assumption to think you’ve read the previous books in this series. If you have and are considering reading on, I encourage you to do so as I think you will be happy. If you have read the books in the series are aren’t sure if you want to continue, then I say “Turn back when you still can.”
Posted by Casey Hampton.
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Mel Foster
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
6 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / Humanity / Future / Artificial Intelligence
After the twentieth century’s devastating series of wars, the world’s governments banded together into one globe-spanning entity, committed to peace at all costs. Ensuring that peace is the Vulcan supercomputer, responsible for all major decisions. But some people don’t like being taken out of the equation. And others resent the idea that the Vulcan is taking the place of God. As the world grows ever closer to all-out war, one functionary frantically tries to prevent it. But the Vulcan computer has its own plans, plans that might not include humanity at all.
Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick was first published in 1960. The book’s origin however is an expansion of a novella that has been published previously and therefore places this story among some of the author’s very earliest science fiction works. The book’s central theme of what makes us human versus that of a machine is one that continued into many of Philip K. Dick’s later and more popular novels.
The plot revolves around that of a supercomputer named Vulcan 3 which acts as the world’s leader. Most of the characters (including the main protagonist William Barris,) are Directors of an organization called Unity which represent various regions of the world on behalf of Vulcan. Another more mysterious group that call themselves the Healers appear to be trying to thwart the will of Vulcan 3. Another key character, Father Fields, is from this counter-group.
Narration is handled by Audie award winner Mel Foster whose many other audiobook titles also include Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun. I enjoyed his performance of the material here and plan to give his take on The Zap Gun a listen also. I recommend Vulcan’s Hammer as I found interesting the development of a theme which continued into many of the author’s later novels.
In the Unnatural Quarter, golems slave away in sweatshops, necromancers sell black-market trinkets to tourists, and the dead rise up — to work the night shift. But zombie detective Dan Shamble is no ordinary working stiff. When a local senator and his goons picket a ghostly production of Shakespeare in the Dark — condemning the troupe’s “unnatural” lifestyles — Dan smells something rotten. And if something smells rotten to a zombie, you’re in serious trouble… Before his way of life, er, death, is destroyed, Dan wants answers. Along the way he needs to provide security for a mummified madame, defend a mixed-race couple (he’s a vampire, she’s a werewolf) from housing discrimination, and save his favorite watering hole, the Goblin Tavern, from drying up. Throw in a hairy hitman, a necro-maniac, and a bank robber who walks through walls, and Dan Shamble’s plate is full. Maybe this time, the zombie detective has bitten off more than he can chew.
This is book 2 of Kevin J. Anderson’s Zombie P.I. series. If you listened to the first book, you pretty much know what to expect from the second book. If you haven’t read the first book, this book is a hard-boiled detective novel with a silly, monster slant on it. The problems being investigated are unique to the “unnaturals” and tend to have some amount of humor involved in a Terry Pratchett/Douglas Adams kind of way. You can easily start with this book but if you care about spoilers, I would definitely recommend starting with the first book since the conclusion of that book is apparent in book 2.
If you like awkward or silly situations dealing with the paranormal, this is your book. If you like groan-worthy puns dealing with the paranormal and sex, this is definitely your book (I’m not kidding when I say I inadvertently groaned at some of them). If those kinds of things can get on your nerves, this may not be your kind of book. That said, the book keeps up a good pace and wraps up to a good conclusion at the end. There are quite a few threads in this book but they weren’t too difficult to follow (Reading the first book helped in knowing a decent number of the characters already). Most of the main characters are likable caricatures of what you’d expect in a typical hard-boiled detective story so they’re easy to relate to and understand.
The book has some themes related to current events within the past couple of years. Issues with the definition of marriage and picketing of events are portrayed in monster fashion here. If you’re tired of hearing about that stuff in the news, this may not be for you although Anderson puts a lighthearted spin on those issues.
All in all, I have to admit I liked this book better than the first one. It wasn’t as predictable and I think I’ve had some time to get over the fact that the main character was made a zombie by being shot in the head (I thought you shot people in the head to prevent them becoming a zombie?).
As for the audiobook performance, Phil Gigante did a fantastic job. He has several different types of voices (main character, nervous guy, werewolf, sultry female, etc) that are completely unique. I particularly like his werewolf voice! He was easy to understand and added a bit of a performance to the book. I would definitely listen to books read by him again.
Posted by Tom Schreck
By Katherine Amt Hanna; Performed by Ralph Lister
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (Audible)
12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / post-apocalypse / plague / influenza /
In a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic, former rock star Chris Price leaves New York and sets out on a long journey home to England. It’s been six years of devastation since the plague killed his wife and daughter, and Chris is determined to find out if any of his family has survived. His passage leaves him scarred, in body and mind, by exposure to humankind at its most desperate and dangerous. But the greatest ordeal awaits him beyond the urban ruins, in an idyllic country refuge where Chris meets a woman, Pauline, who is largely untouched by the world’s horrors. Together, Chris and Pauline undertake the most difficult facet of Chris’s journey: confronting grief, violence, and the man Chris has become. Together, they will discover whether the human spirit is capable of surviving and loving again in a world of unparalleled desolation.
All I knew about this book when I started it was that it was a post-apocalypse story, so I went into with no expectations except that maybe it would probably be a survival story with moments of action and horror. Instead, it was a beautifully written drama set in a time of global recovery after a massive influenza plague.
The plot itself is character-driven and more mainstream than I usually read, but I was drawn in quickly and hooked by the great writing, tormented characters, and dark setting. Katherine Amt Hanna tells the story from multiple characters’ points of view, and always from a very close psychic distance so you are dropped straight into the character’s thoughts and get to know them very well. The way the characters interact is so realistic (with all their personal triggers and subtext and unsaid things) that I wondered if the author had a psychology background. I couldn’t find anything about this when I checked her bio, so perhaps she’s just one of those very keen observers of human behavior.
I also appreciated how carefully she had thought through how a post-plague would look with the survivors cautiously rebuilding their societies and getting the most essential services like the post and transport running again. There were also some interesting thought experiments about what it would be like to be a survivor in a cut-off place with family and friends scattered in different countries but no electronic communications.
The narrator of the audiobook, Ralph Lister, reminded me a lot of Steven Pacey, who gave one of my favorite audiobook readings ever for Let the Right One In. I love his narrative voice, and even though a couple of the character’s voices bugged me (Brian’s perpetual enthusiasm felt a bit out of place at times, and Pauline’s voice didn’t always strike true for me), he had a massive task to express so many different voices (and if there was any major fault with this book, it was that there were just too many characters). The few voices were pretty minor things in an otherwise awesome reading, and his great narration was one of the reasons I was always looking forward to getting back to this audiobook.
Since this story is character-driven rather than plot-driven, it moves at a very leisurely pace that might be too slow for some people, but the writing is beautiful and there is this quiet dramatic tension through the whole novel, like something terrible could happen at any moment. I love that is a first novel and independently published. This is one of those books that proves self-published titles can be just as professionally written as traditionally published works. It was a memorable read and I recommend it if you’re looking for something gentle but dark, and a little out of the ordinary.
Posted by Marissa van Uden
Themes: / fantasy / orphan / servant /
A devastating plague continues to rage through the land of Muirwood, and all hope is laid at the feet of the young woman Lia. Called as a magical protector, Lia volunteers to embark on one last quest to rescue the knight-maston Colvin – her great love – and his pupil, the alleged heir to the fallen kingdom of Pry-Ree. Undaunted by injuries, Lia sets off across land and sea warning the kingdom of the great plague that is upon them. The arduous journey leads her to the doors of Dochte Abbey, where her friends are supposedly held. However, a fallen enemy lies in wait for Lia, as well as an unbearable new truth. The revelation will pit Lia’s deepest desires against the fate of her enchanted world.
I finished this in the course of the weekend. This was partly due to various chores and activities I had to finish that allowed me the opportunity to get extra listening in, and partly due to my desire to finish the story. While I found it enjoyable, it’s ending was mostly predictable, and I didn’t think it was as strong as the previous novel.
One of the aspects of all the books in this trilogy that I didn’t hit upon in my previous reviews is the heavy use of Christian allegory. A key concept to the series is that your ability to channel “the Medium” is largely related to your belief in it. This relates to the notion of giving your will over to that of the Medium and faith that it will protect and bless you if you do so. Many of the abilities of the medium may only be used to the benefit of others and not oneself. There is also a large theme of life after death, and resurrection of the dead. While these themes are present throughout the whole trilogy, they weren’t as much at the forefront as they were in this book. The plot of this novel largely revolves around testing the main character Lea’s faith in the Medium.
I’m reluctant to throw out the term “Deus ex Machina” because I feel that all the events fall within the explained abilities of the Medium. Someone who is strong with it would be able to perform those actions, however I could see someone making a good case for it.
Overall, I think Mr. Wheeler does a good job of wrapping things up with a neat bow. There is certainly room for future stories in the world of Muirwood; the author’s note indicated he has a novella called Maia taking place many years after this trilogy available on his website.
Ms. Rudd is once again the narrator for the third and final book of the trilogy. As with the previous two, she a good, but not great reader with little variety in her character voices. She does attempt to do some accents for a few of the characters, but many of them sounded the same to me.
Review by Rob Zak.