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

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

The SFFaudio Podcast #095

February 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #095 – Jesse talks with Professor Eric S. Rabkin about an alternate history novel: SS-GB by Len Deighton.

Talked about on today’s show:
alternate history, Luke Burrage, “if it leaves a lasting impression that says something about its artistic character”, why write alternate history, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, historical fiction, 1941 vs. 1978, what is the relationship between Science Fiction and detective fiction, tales of ratiocination, Fatherland by Robert Harris, the Fatherland TV movie, BBC audio drama, Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle, what would it be like under Nazi rule?, utopia vs. dystopia, fantasy, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Karl Marx, “alternate history does what Science Fiction does without pretending to set it in a logical future – it sets it in a logical past”, racism, bureaucracy in 1978 London, Michael Caine, Operation Sea Lion, why did Len Deighton set SS-GB in 1941?, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, are historical forces inevitable?, fate and destiny in alternate history, the great man vs. social forces, Adolph Hitler, Alexander The Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Behold The Man by Michael Moorcock, Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp, the individual vs. the community, Douglas Archer, if there was a just war it was WWII, the Holocaust, collecting militaria, Spain’s fascist dictatorship, the tale of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes, John le Carré, Agatha Christie, complicated vs. simple (le Carré vs. Christie), fathers and sons, historical fiction, The Battle Of Britain, Inside The Third Reich by Albert Speer, Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, when you’re helping the bad guys aren’t you one of them?, King George VI is a MacGuffin, The King’s Speech, Mackenzie King, police are the most cynical people in the world, the role of ambiguity in fiction, Channel Islands, every fiction is alternate history, is history a collection of things that happened or is it forces and rules?, The Sun Also Rise by Ernest Hemingway, The War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells, Startide Rising by David Brin |READ OUR REVIEW|, uplift, The Island Of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, disarming puns, Arma virumque cano, “I can’t imagine anyone smarter than me”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Remains Of The Day, Pavane by Keith Roberts, Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, Inglourious Basterds vs. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Most Powerful Idea In The World by William Rosen, steam engines (and atmospheric engines).

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #075

September 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #075 – Jesse and Scott talk to Hugh McGuire, the founder of LibriVox.org.

Talked about on today’s show:
LibriVox’s Wikipedia entry, Ear Ideas, Book Oven, Hugh’s top secret audiobook project [coming soon], the free software movement, Richard M. Stallman, Lawrence Lessig, how are things going on the web, viruses and spam, WordPress, Internet Archive, volunteer staffing, the 2010 $20,000 fundraiser, the Wayback Machine, Project Gutenberg, TV Archive, the Library Of Congress Twitter archives, better Twitter than Facebook, “if the aliens ever arrive and look at the YouTube comments we’re screwed”, innovation comes from a wealth of public commons, a looser copyright system will result in more innovation to the benefit of society, The Iliad by Homer (translated by Samuel Butler), the Recorded Books version of The Iliad, solo vs. collaborative recordings, The Most Powerful Idea In The World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention by William Rosen, patents, rewarding innovation with temporary monopolies, the captains of capitalism, innovators should be given prizes vs. a permanent monopoly, extracting rent, rent seeking behavior, legislation to extend copyrights and patents is damaging, the orphan works problem, the chilling effect of a murky copyright regime, Bill C-32 (Canada’s crappy copyright legislation), Canadian libraries don’t promote LibriVox, the Dewey Decimal system, search LibriVox by genre, “I love the 714 section of the library”, redesigning LibriVox (hopefully by the end of 2010), non-English audiobooks on LibriVox, English is just too kick-ass, volunteerism is embraced by Americans, Canadians are more conservative (than Americans), short non-fiction on LibriVox, the Short Non-Fiction Collection Volume 1 on LibriVox, The Somnambulists by Jack London, ratings on LibriVox, solos vs. collaborative readings, plays on LibriVox, the dramatized LibriVox Othello, LibriVox’s King Lear, public domain materials, putting LibriVox audiobooks into the commercial marketplace (Amazon.com and eBay), creative commons vs. public domain, professional narrators getting their start on LibriVox, Mark Douglas Nelson, Gilgamesh, The King by Robert Silverberg, people write books for reasons other than money, five free audiobook editions of Anne Of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, you don’t want me asking you for permission!, a monopoly is the ability to sue your way to profits, 39 Steps by John Buchan (read by Adrian Praetzellis), Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Aural Noir, literary fiction then crime and mystery and THEN Science Fiction, going straight to the authors, “its piddly for the publisher but it’s NOT piddly for the author”, the bureaucracy of corporations, “Any authors interested getting their books turned into audiobooks…”

Posted by Jesse Willis

New Releases: Tantor Media

August 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases 

New Releases

Of the latest Tantor Media releases, here are my picks for the three most exciting titles. Check out their complete August catalog here |PDF|.

TANTOR MEDIA - The Most Powerful Idea In The World by William RosenThe Most Powerful Idea In The World: A Story Of Steam, Industry, And Invention
By William Rosen; Read by Michael Prichard
11 CDs or 2 MP3-CDs – Approx. 13 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: June 2010
ISBN:9781400117093 (cd), 9781400167098 (mp3-cd)
If all measures of human advancement in the last hundred centuries were plotted on a graph, they would show an almost perfectly flat line—until the eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution would cause the line to shoot straight up, beginning an almost uninterrupted march of progress. In The Most Powerful Idea in the World, William Rosen tells the story of the men responsible for the Industrial Revolution and the machine that drove it—the steam engine. In the process he tackles the question that has obsessed historians ever since: What made eighteenth-century Britain such fertile soil for inventors? Rosen’s answer focuses on a simple notion that had become enshrined in British law the century before: that people had the right to own and profit from their ideas. The result was a period of frantic innovation revolving particularly around the promise of steam power. Rosen traces the steam engine’s history from its early days as a clumsy but sturdy machine, to its coming-of-age driving the wheels of mills and factories, to its maturity as a transporter for people and freight by rail and by sea. Along the way we enter the minds of such inventors as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt; scientists, including Robert Boyle and Joseph Black; and philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith—all of whose insights, tenacity, and ideas transformed first a nation and then the world.

TANTOR MEDIA - The Evolutionarty Void by Peter F. HamiltonThe Evolutionary Void (Book Three In The Void Trilogy)
By Peter F. Hamilton; Read by John Lee
20 CDs or 2 MP3-CDs – Approx. 25 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: August 31, 2010
ISBN: 9781400111848 (cd), 9781400161843 (mp3-cd)
Exposed as the Second Dreamer, Araminta has become the target of a galaxywide search by government agent Paula Myo and the psychopath known as the Cat, along with others equally determined to prevent—or facilitate—the pilgrimage of the Living Dream cult into the heart of the Void. An indestructible microuniverse, the Void may contain paradise, as the cultists believe, but it is also a deadly threat. For the miraculous reality that exists inside its boundaries demands energy—energy drawn from everything outside those boundaries: from planets, stars, galaxies…from everything that lives. Meanwhile, the parallel story of Edeard, the Waterwalker—as told through a series of addictive dreams communicated to the gaiasphere via Inigo, the First Dreamer—continues to unfold. But now the inspirational tale of this idealistic young man takes a darker and more troubling turn as he finds himself faced with powerful new enemies—and temptations more powerful still. With time running out, a repentant Inigo must decide whether to release Edeard’s final dream: a dream whose message is scarcely less dangerous than the pilgrimage promises to be. And Araminta must choose whether to run from her unwanted responsibilities or face them down, with no guarantee of success or survival. But all these choices may be for naught if the monomaniacal Ilanthe, leader of the breakaway Accelerator Faction, is able to enter the Void. For it is not paradise she seeks there, but dominion.

TANTOR MEDIA - Omnitopia Dawn by Diane DuaneOmnitopia Dawn
By Diane Duane; Read by Kirby Heyborne
12 CDs or 2 MP3-CDs – Approx. 15 Hours 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: August 2010
ISBN: 9781400118465 (cd), 9781400168460 (mp3-cd)
In an increasingly wired and computer-friendly world, massive multiplayer online games have become the ultimate form of entertainment. And the most popular gaming universe of all is Omnitopia, created by genius programmer Dev Logan. For millions of people around the world, Omnitopia is an obsession, a passionate pastime, almost a way of life. But there’s a secret to Omnitopia, one that Dev would give his life to protect—the game isn’t just a program or a piece of code. It’s become sentient—alive. And it’s Dev’s job to keep it that way.

Posted by Jesse Willis