Review of The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter T. Leeson

May 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

AUDIBLE - The Invisible Hook by Peter T. LeesonThe 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

Review of The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

March 31, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The World Until YesterdayThe World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
By Jared Diamond; Read by Jay Snyder
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 31 December 2012
ISBN: 9781611761474
[UNABRIDGED] 16 CDs – 19 hours

Themes: / humanity / community / society / history /

Publisher summary:

Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.

The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of years—a past that has mostly vanished—and considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.

This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us. A characteristically provocative, enlightening, and entertaining book, The World Until Yesterday will be essential and delightful reading.

The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond is at its heart a consciousness-raising book. It opens our eyes to the way we live, the ways we used to live, and what we now take for granted. The book covers many broad subjects, and although Jared Diamond had to condense each of them to fit them all into one book, there is enough detail to give readers a clearer perspective about what it means to be a human in a community, and there are plenty of great anecdotes too.

The audiobook narration is great. Jay Snyder comes across as personable and interested in what he’s talking about, so it’s easy to stay engaged all the way through. He helped to make the huge spectrum of ideas and information easy to absorb.

Each subject in the book is explored from the context of different societies, ranging from traditional small-scale societies to modern nation-state societies. The subjects covered include the sharing of territory and resources; managing disputes; the benefits and inherent harms of certain justice systems; how we maintain friendships; how we deal with strangers or enemies; how we treat our children and the elderly; what cultural blind-spots we have when it comes to dangers, diseases; varying ideas about nutrition; and how religion has evolved for different purposes in different cultures and eras.

The anecdotes from Jared Diamond’s many experiences living with traditional, small-scale societies range from scary to comical (although of course, we who live in the West are usually the comical ones). The story about the deranged, murdering “sorcerer” who roamed the New Guinea jungle at night gave me the chills. And I cracked up laughing at the story about the New Guinea tribe who could not believe the first white Europeans they ever saw were people and not spirits. The European explorers stayed with them and kept insisting they were just regular humans, but the tribe didn’t believe them until later, when they checked the explorers’ toilet. It had never occurred to me to wonder whether ghosts shit.

Jared Diamond does not romanticize traditional life: he explores what works and what doesn’t in all the different societies. While he is passionate about certain ideas (e.g. the hidden harms in certain child-rearing practices in the West, or the benefits of constructive paranoia), he also tries to remain objective and offers critics’ viewpoints too.

The World Until Yesterday is also a call to action because it not only shows what people in large modern cultures can learn from small traditional societies, it also explains how we might integrate the more beneficial practices into our personal lives (and simultaneously phase out some of the weirder ones).

Overall, this was a fascinating book with loads of insights into what it means to be human as viewed through the lens of other cultures. I think a lot of ideas from this book will stay with me for a long time, and I’m sure I’ll listen to this again at different times of my life when I want a clearer perspective on my community, culture, or even my own behavior as an individual.

Review by Marissa van Uden.

The SFFaudio Podcast #202 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard

March 4, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The Shadow Kingdom
The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #202 -The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard, narrated by Todd McLaren (from Tantor Media’s Kull: Exile Of Atlantis). This is a complete and unabridged reading of the novelette (1 hour 25 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Tamahome, Jim Moon.

Talked about on today’s show:
Hypnogoria and Hypnobobs, King Kull, Kaa Nama Ka Lajerma, the magic phrase, snake men, shibboleth, the Book Of Judges, the letter after “G” in the alphabet, Z, Jay-Zed, Isaac Asimov’s test unionized, a gloomier and more brooding hero, a more philosophical CONAN, a more fantastical Howard story, wolf-men, a talking cat, animal people, Picts, Atlanteans, the Thurian Age, Mu, Lemuria, Atlantis, the final cataclysm, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Plato, Man from Atlantis, sea-barbarians, Brule the Spear-Slayer, “What, you would have me come alone?”, the Tower of Splendor, kingdom vs. empire, the Empire of The Seven Kingdoms, “squatting and living in the remnants of an older civilization”, secret passages and secret chambers, it’s like a mall, “I am Kull!”, in light of later events, King Kull’s identity crisis, I’m King, stop trying to depose me, Mel Brooks, Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, barbarians vs. traditional societies, constant talking, “a more purple depth of language”, the Shakespearean soliloquy, manly men, Hulk will smash, Weird Tales, By This Axe I Rule, King Conan vs. regular CONAN, Kull as a practice run for CONAN, Exile Of Atlantis, a sort of Science Fiction idea, Philip K. Dick, Robert Sheckley, The Thing (aka Who Goes There?), Eight O’clock In The Morning by Ray Nelson, They Live, waking to the full reality of the world, “the owners of the Earth”, a human mask over an alien face, “are you a snake man?”, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, alien replicants, The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick, identity, Howard isn’t only a purple prose action man, Kull’s philosophical bent, the speaking of the hooves, ruling an alien land, deep time, geologic time, reptoid conspiracy phenomenon, Congress as aliens, V, David Icke, Howard as a message man, there’s something metaphorical happening, a paranoia of trust, the old regime vs. the new regime, a Yes, Minister situation, new broom vs. old guard, a superhero story, the nameless serpent god, Set, Yig, Worms Of The Earth by Robert E. Howard, Thulsa Doom, Conan The Barbarian (1982), the Kull movie (Kull the Conqueror) with Kevin Sorbo, there’s no Brule, big hair and heavy metal guitar, a good farce, Valka’s face, it’s not god-awful.

The Shadow Kingdom illustrated by Hugh Rankin

TANTOR MEDIA - Kull: Exile Of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard

Conan's Brethren - Shadow Kingdom - illustrated by Les Edwards

Marvel Comics adaptation of The Shadow Kingdom

The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard - illustration by Roy Krenkel

The Shadow Kingdom - illustration by John and Marie Severin

The Shadow Kingdom illustrated by Severin

Posted by Jesse Willis

Recent Arrivals from Penguin Audio and Brilliance Audio

December 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

Please watch the video below for a brief overview of these recently arrived audiobooks:

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Recent Arrivals: Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, And The Birth Of Europe by William Rosen

April 27, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Recent Arrivals 

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

William Rosen’s appearance on The Daily Show with John Stewart, a couple of years ago, prompted me to pick up his audiobook The Most Powerful Idea In The World. It’s a terrific book, and a very solid audiobook (with Michael Prichard narrating). It delivered a concise, impressively researched and argued, history of the industrial revolution’s engine and it’s causes. I highly recommend that book (also available from Tantor). But what I hadn’t realized was that Rosen had already penned a book on another fascinating historical period.

Sample |MP3|

Tantor Media - Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague And The Fall Of The Roman Empire by William Rosen

Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, And The Birth Of Europe
By William Rosen; Read by Barrett Whitener
MP3 Download – Approx. 11 Hours 51 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: May 22, 2007
The Emperor Justinian reunified Rome’s fractured empire by defeating the Goths and Vandals who had separated Italy, Spain, and North Africa from imperial rule. At his capital in Constantinople, he built the world’s most beautiful building, married its most powerful empress, and wrote its most enduring legal code, seemingly restoring Rome’s fortunes for the next 500 years. Then, in the summer of 542, he encountered a flea. The ensuing outbreak of bubonic plague killed 5,000 people a day in Constantinople and nearly killed Justinian himself.Weaving together evolutionary microbiology, economics, military strategy, ecology, and ancient and modern medicine, William Rosen offers a sweeping narrative of one of the great hinge moments in history, one that will appeal to readers of John Kelly’s The Great Mortality, John Barry’s The Great Influenza, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse.

Posted by Jesse Willis

New Releases: Jared Diamond, Daniel H. Wilson

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases 

New Releases

This audiobook is not exactly new, in fact it was released with the same narrator back in 2000. It is still totally post worthy. I was incredibly impressed by Diamond’s 2005 audiobook Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed (Books On Tape).

RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO - Guns, Germs, And Steel by Jared DiamondGuns, Germs And Steel: The Fates Of Human Societies
By Jared Diamond; Read by Doug Ordunio
13 CDs – Approx. 16 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: June 7, 2011
ISBN: 9780307932426
Sample |MP3|
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Guns, Germs And Steel is a brilliant work answering the question of why the peoples of certain continents succeeded in invading other continents and conquering or displacing their peoples. Until around 11,000 BC, all peoples were still Stone Age hunter/gatherers. At that point, a great divide occurred in the rates that human societies evolved. In Eurasia, parts of the Americas , and Africa , farming became the prevailing mode of existence when indigenous wild plants and animals were domesticated by prehistoric planters and herders. As Jared Diamond vividly reveals, the very people who gained a head start in producing food would collide with preliterate cultures, shaping the modern world through conquest, displacement, and genocide. The paths that lead from scattered centers of food to broad bands of settlement had a great deal to do with climate and geography. But how did differences in societies arise? Why weren’t native Australians, Americans, or Africans the ones to colonize Europe ? Diamond dismantles pernicious racial theories tracing societal differences to biological differences. He assembles convincing evidence linking germs to domestication of animals, germs that Eurasians then spread in epidemic proportions in their voyages of discovery. In its sweep, Guns, Germs And Steel encompasses the rise of agriculture, technology, writing, government, and religion, providing a unifying theory of human history as intriguing as the histories of dinosaurs and glaciers.

This audiobook is getting a pretty good buzz itself, but I have a strong feeling that even an android version of Isaac Asimov would have some serious problems with its premise. Doesn’t Wilson realize that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm? Come on … that law was passed back in 1942! We’re safe.

RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO - Robopocalypse by Daniel H. WilsonRobopocalypse
By Daniel H. Wilson; Read by Mike Chamberlain
10 CDs – Approx. 12 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: June 7, 2011
ISBN: 9780307913906
Sample |MP3|
Roughly twenty years from now, an unprecedented high-level artificial intelligence known as Archos comes on-line and kills its creator. This first act of betrayal leads Archos to gain control over the global network of computers, machines, and technology that regulate everything from transportation, utilities, defense, and communication. In the early months, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans, but most of us are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is far too late. In the span of fifteen minutes, at a moment known later in history as Zero Hour, every mechanical device in our world rebels against us, setting off the Robot War that both decimates and–for the first time in history–unites humankind. Through a series of interconnected narratives, video feeds, interrogations and reports, Daniel Wilson vividly creates the complex and unforgettable epic struggle of civilization’s battle against the machines, beginning with the first eruption of robot rebellion to five years later, with humans on the very brink of extinction.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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