• 12
  • reviews
  • 36
  • helpful votes
  • 13
  • ratings
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-24-15

An engaging account of Roman society during the Pu

Polybius puts you in the middle of Roman society during the wars with Hannibal

Polybius was a Greek military commander who spent most of his life in Italy. In his History he describes many battles of the First and Second Punic Wars that he was an observer at along with many others that he was able to reconstruct from first-hand accounts. He starts his History with a clear thesis, how the rise of Rome from a small parochial, inward-looking alliance of a few cities in southern Italy came to dominate the whole of the known world. The timeline is roughly confined to the 140th Olympiad (220 BCE - 167 BCE). Polybius clearly sees himself as a sort of Roman Thucydides as opposed to someone akin Herodotus. He's a hardnosed, fact-based historian who has clear ideas about how good history should be done and there's a lot of academic sniping at the best-selling Timaeus (the Herodotus of the day) who extensively employs supernatural explanations of many developments and parades his personal biases in making his judgments on his subject historical figures. In stark contrast to such armchair historians, Polybius contends that a good historian should attempt to strictly state the facts as best he can reconstruct them and to consult primary sources wherever possible. At first I was a bit annoyed about Polybius dilating on his historiography but when you consider what it would have been like (hypothetically) to pull down any typical history scroll from a good collection in the ancient world, you’ll realize that it would have been more likely than not to have to wade through many Timaeus-like works before you came across gems like Polybius. There are all sorts of interesting aspects of Polybius' history that could be cited: There's an extensive well-informed discussion of battle formations and logistics (setting up and dismantling military camp, patrols, discipline, Roman military practice and laws, strategy, etc.); a critical, updated Aristotelian look at the relative merits of the various forms of governments vis-a-vie the Roman republic; a personal biography of the early life of the younger Scipio; and an admiring bio of Hannibal and other Carthaginians. Though Polybius may profess himself as a detached, completely objective historian offering an account of just the facts, he’s a moralist in the tradition of Plutarch which makes his writing much more engagingly readable (or listenable). If you aren't familiar with the history from other sources then I think there would be genuine moments of tension in the story-telling.

As many other reviewers have noted, it's sad that out of the 39 books of the History only the first 15 seem to be mostly intact so many of the discussions of the later chapters can seem sketchy, incoherent, and confusing. Charlton Griffin's reading is excellent as always. But I followed along with the Penguin edition (also translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert) and noticed that there's a page or two missing in Book 5 that is available in the Penguin edition. This concerns Cleomenes' scheme to escape from Ptolemy Philopator's Egypt. But otherwise a great production!

Read More Hide me
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-30-13

Sententious tone mars an otherwise enjoyable histo

There is a lot of useful, insightful, and informative info in this a-book. I particularly enjoyed the story of Marc Dreier, Lou Pearlman, and the PIPEs manipulations. If this were a book about the law it's equivalent would be the 20th century history of some of the most notorious mass murderers. And if one were writing about these villains it would be beside-the-point to take up a highhanded, moralistic stance pedantically going on and on about how awful the things they did were. I think most people get that and don't need the sermons. I think we just like the salacious details of their doing, delving into their sociopathic personalities, and the frisson of horror they inspire. This enlightening and thoroughgoing history could perhaps have been presented with a better overarching theme with: How to Avoid Being a Victim of Financial Frauds, or How to Deceive and Cheat People: Mastering the Dark Arts of Financial Fraud, or just an objective, non-moralizing The Greatest American Financial Schemes and Scandals of the 20th Century.

I also think that there was maybe a bit too much comparatively on the Bernie Madoff affair.

Ignore the ratings on performance and story. Also, I wasn't able to complete the title.

Read More Hide me
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-17-13

It's Just a Long Series of Descriptions of Charts

I think writing on financial crisis can be interesting like Charles P. Kindleberger's Manias, Panics, and Crashes or Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. But this requires setting of the historical scene and character development and a humanistic look at bygone times. This isn't at all what Reinhart and Rogoff are trying to do in This Time Is Different. They offer a 5000 mile view of what hundreds of these sorts of financial disasters have in common using a universalist perspective and all set in a dry pedestrian prose. They have some interesting insights but it doesn't make for fun listening. Most of the audiobook consists of just elaborating on the graphs. I can see the graphs but don't you have some interesting historical insights to add? They pointlessly cite past economists for having written some paper on obvious things that don't require any citations. They annoyingly repeat the book's title way too many times along with the trite idea rehashed from all the other financial crisis books about which they don't have anything more interesting to say. They keep calling the current crisis we're in as the Second Great Contraction and use their strange, newly coined phrase excessively. Like most economists they have too high an opinion of their own limited findings and their field of study in general. I could go on...the whole thing is excruciatingly painful to listen to.

The careless reading by Sean Pratt didn't help. All his many small misreadings are too numerous to list. The most glaring was that he read the probability of x, P(x), as "P meaning that x."

This isn't something to enjoy on your morning commute but something to help you through a difficult book if it were required reading in an economics class.

Read More Hide me
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-12

There's something amiss in Ottawa

American politics seems by default prone to obstruction and inaction due to its excessive checks and balances with its division of the legislative and executive powers. But Canadian federal politics seems vulnerable to the other extreme of a despotic leader or an overmighty party consolidating too much power and subverting the democratic workings of parliament. Lawrence Martin in his admirably fine book details how Stephen Harper's PMO has acquired this dangerous expanse of executive authority.

Martin's extensively researched and well-supported arguments portray Harper as a secretive, paranoid, and vengeful autocrat who brooks no dissent, who's bypassed legitimate opposition by using dirty tricks in padlocking parliament through prorogation, ramming through omnibus bills, employing censorship controls on steroids, gumming up parliamentary commissions into Conservative misdeeds (even issuing a manual on how to do this to his underlings), muzzling members from speaking up for the interests of their constituents, engaging in underhanded backroom deals, porkbarreling favourable Tory riddings, etc. etc. etc.. There's ample evidence given to support Martin's contention that Harper is an ideologue who shows a contemptuous disregard for legitimate democratic dissent and even for empirical studies on the effect of minimum sentencing on recidivism, on the harm-reduction effect of InSite, on police commissioners' own support for the long gun registry, etc.

This isn't about Liberal or Conservative ideology but about maintaining something much more basic to a well-functioning democratic system. Many people have dismissed a lot of these criticisms out of hand by saying that politics is a blood sport, that this is mere Liberal gripping and partisan spin, or that the Grits did the like when they were in power. But all this minimizes what's going on under the Harper regime. Martin is right to decry the means used by Stephen Harper in undermining the spirit of the Canadian legislative system. And all this was written even before the Conservatives received the mandate of a majority government!

Every Canadian voter and Americans interested in Canadian politics should listen to this!

Read More Hide me

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-29-12

Vive la resistance!

Hessel sensibly enough starts with Isaiah Berlin's notion of Negative Rights; that all humans have the basic rights to be free of want and fear. But he then seems to extend this idea to oppose any curtailment of the generous French social security system, energy subsidies, and the eviction of Roma squatters. These measures are of course "crimes against humanity" and facism, and totalitarianism, blah blah blah...

It's all kept vague enough to inspire with grand concepts and not alienate listeners with partisan specifics. But if there's any substance to this essay it's a veiled criticism of Nicolas Sarkozy's modest raising of the pension age from 60 to 62, attempts at energy privitization, reforms of free university education (which is now swammed by applicants and so the paid Grandes Ecoles are thriving), refusing to submit to mollycoddled strikers' demands, etc. If you doubt this listen again to the beginning of the essay. There is also an opposition to expansionist Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank and didn't find much to object to there.

France enjoys a 35 hour work-week and about a month/year hollidays. Public spending is nearly half of GDP (compared to about a quarter in the US). The bloated French state still awaits its Thatcher! Such crazy notions as Hessel's must be resisted! For to resist is to create!

Just ignore the Performance and Story ratings as I don't believe we should be required to fill those in.

Read More Hide me

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-30-11

The next best thing to living through 1933-1973

There isn't much I can add to what other reviewers have already said but I still had to share my enthusiasm for what may be the best history I've read/heard of the 20th century. There are all the major developments but also minor stories that might seem anecdotal but are often representative of the ethos of the time they describe. My remembered consciousness only begins in the 1980s but I imagine that these are all the things people of those times sat around the kitchen table or the workplace water cooler talking about. The sound quality isn't very good with many glitches throughout and long stretches of distortions in chapters 15 and 26. The material was so spectacularily good though that the sound problems didn't appreciably detract from my enjoyment. Highly, highly recommended! 57 1/2 hours might seem long but at the end I just found myself wanting another 50 hours. I just wish there were a similar a-book covering the following 40 year stretch to the present.

Read More Hide me

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-26-11

Chock full of useful info on a rare a-book topic

I bought this tilte for its rare subject matter. It doesn't's saturated full of useful info on Canadian companies, personalities, and historical developments, all divided by industry sectors. The only small quibbles I had with the whole production was the two or three repetitions. I thought my mp3 player may have skipped but nope, the same ideas (almost verbatim) were repeated a few times. And I felt that Francis -- although she was objective and fair for the most part -- was here-and-there a bit too much of a booster of some of the companies she covered and didn't get into the juicy scandals (Bre-X, Nortel, Livent, et cetera).

PS: Please ignore the story and performance ratings...I'm against forcing people to fill those out.

Read More Hide me

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-23-11

On the Current State of Chemical Consciousness-Adj

This a-book is on the current state of chemical consciousness-adjustment in America today. I doesn't give exteneded histories on individual drugs but I does go into the early 20th century political and social fights to ban narcotics. It also goes into current unregulated drugs such as salvia and ayahuasca. I have years ago experimented with some mild drugs so this a-book was an eye-opener for me. I particularily liked the chapter on the wild west of synthetic chemical concoctions people put together in thier labs and how the authorities are always many steps behind. This book helped me appreciate how prohibition seems to be a losing proposition but the alternative doesn't look any more appealing. Good stuff even when listened to sober!

Read More Hide me

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-23-11

A Little Ho-Hum

Now, while I can't seriously disagree with any of Freedman's findings, I did feel at the end of this a-book that nothing was presented that radically (or even appreciably) changed my view on anything. He basically details how the audience is (with the aid of the internet) getting more skeptical and the so-called experts are now effectively being exposed for the frauds and hucksters they often are and how we often fall into error. I particularily appreciated how the author is willing to concede his own possible misapprehensions in this a-book. Maybe I expected too much but even while I was nodding throughout I had hoped for some unexpected insights.

Read More Hide me
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-19-11

A Thorough Pleasure

I've subscribed to the Economist for years and stumbled onto their obituaries column and it quickly became a section I would regularily read, a little guiltily though. But for those of us who love reading it makes sense why the obits would be so rewarding: They attempt to communicate something of the expanse of the stary skies of a lived life onto the circumscribed canvass of a few paragraphs. Marilyn Johnson does an admirable job of sharing this interest and her audiobook is peppered with lively examples of traditional biographies filled with the highlights of inspiring triumphs and the abject turpitude of personal failings of notable personages and the everyday greatness of simple and well-lived lives of ordinary people; the various trends in obits over the years; and Johnson's own personal wit and humor in sifting through it all. I found her abook an unqualified delight to listen to!

Read More Hide me

2 of 2 people found this review helpful