Enough with the abnormal psychology, already! The detective and his mismatched assistants are interesting, but I can't say the extended passages detai...moreEnough with the abnormal psychology, already! The detective and his mismatched assistants are interesting, but I can't say the extended passages detailing the depredations of the sickos they are up against did much for me. I didn't really learn anything, didn't particularly enjoy it... oh, except the narrator for the audiobook was rather good. That's pretty much why I finished it, I think. (less)
This book wasn't what I'd hoped it would be, but it was fairly interesting, nonetheless. I was hoping it would be more of a general exploration of how...moreThis book wasn't what I'd hoped it would be, but it was fairly interesting, nonetheless. I was hoping it would be more of a general exploration of how the brain processes and perceives music, but the emphasis here is largely on neurological case studies, many of them recycled from Sacks' previous books such as An Anthropologist on Mars, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and The Island of the Colorblind, all of which I have read and enjoyed at various times but which, frankly, I hadn't needed or wanted to hear about again.
However, Musicophilia did strike a chord (pun intended) in many ways as it made me think more deeply about my own involvement with music and my own brain's peculiarities, limitations, and features. Sacks is a tireless explorer and chronicler of his own mind, and at times I wished I possessed his tenacity of purpose. What intrigued me most was his hypothesis that when one hemisphere or portion of the brain is damaged, other sections may "step it up" to compensate. Indeed, the examples he provided of how patients coped with and adapted to extremely debilitating conditions were fascinating and heartening. As I age and deal with hearing issues, for example, it is useful to understand the mechanisms behind hearing loss and to learn of how others cope with far more striking afflictions.
While many of the cases that Sacks details are interesting, about halfway through the book hearing of one case after another became repetitive. What I was hoping for, but never really got, was a deeper analysis of how the "normal" brain perceives and relates to music. His neurological patients are the exception, not the norm, and he focuses almost exclusively on fairly talented (or, indeed, brilliant) classical performers and composers. There are few examples of people involved in, say, jazz or rock. This reflects Sacks' own interests and experiences, of course, but it seemed like a significant shortcoming.
Ultimately, I couldn't really complain, though, as the title says it all: this is a collection of tales of music and the brain. The book does not claim to be a comprehensive examination of the topic. (less)
I can't fathom why this reader was chosen for this book. His voice and delivery are incredibly annoying. Not only does he sound like a heavy smoker su...moreI can't fathom why this reader was chosen for this book. His voice and delivery are incredibly annoying. Not only does he sound like a heavy smoker suffering from a cold, but his staccato delivery is odd, to say the least. In addition, there is quite a bit of variance in the timbre of his voice, with obvious differences between recording sessions.
This is one of those rare cases where the author would have done a much better job reading the book than the hired pro. (Exceptions to my "authors should never narrate their own books" dictum, however, are Oliver Sacks, Simon Winchester, Bill Bryson, and Neil Gaiman.) I heard Nathaniel Philbrick read excerpts from one of his work at the National Book Festival in DC a few years back and I'm sure he'd have done a much better job than this reader.
I tried to get used to this narrator, as occasionally I find I can mentally tune out the more annoying features of some voices, but I finally gave up in exasperation at the end of the first of ten CDs, just as I was becoming engrossed in Philbrick's account. Guess I will have to find this book in print, which is annoying as I'm having eye trouble and have been relying on books on CD to get my reading fix. (less)
The insights in this book have much broader societal implications than how we behave on the road -- or perhaps how we behave on the road merely reflec...moreThe insights in this book have much broader societal implications than how we behave on the road -- or perhaps how we behave on the road merely reflects our species' failings?
"We have met the enemy and he is us," Walt Kelly once famously penned, but on the road, it seems we fancy ourselves much better drivers than all those people we wish would go away -- the tailgaters or those who leave too much space between cars; the lane-changers or those who stubbornly sit in one lane; those who merge too late or too early; drivers who are going too fast or too slow; and particularly all those S.O.B.S who drive (insert favorite hated type of car here). Yet, as Tom Vanderbilt notes, but we are contributors to whatever traffic jam we're stuck in and by default fall into someone else's notion of a bad driver. We are the enemy.
Vanderbilt begins his straightforward yet complex book with an analysis of traffic jams and their contributing factors, but he soon ranges much further afield, citing studies from a wide range of disciplines. I found much information in this book surprising, not the least of which was learning that the road and car safety features that we rely so heavily upon -- lines on the road, signage, anti-lock brakes, seat belts, driving bigger cars -- can be contributing factors to a false sense of security. I was intrigued to learn that removing road signs could actually lead to fewer collisions in many places.
Other things I was surprised to learn were that drivers tend to pass closer to cyclists wearing helmets than those who are not (perhaps assuming the helmet-wearing cyclists are more "serious" and will not veer in front of them), that cars rather than trucks are the cause of most truck-car collisions, that a surprising amount of the traffic on city streets consists of people looking for parking, and that suburbs can be riskier places to drive than cities.
Much of this has to do with the way we seem to be hard-wired, while some has to do with social conditioning. In one of the chapters that most intrigued me, Vanderbilt analyzes traffic in other parts of the world such as China and India (two places I have been a passenger but not a driver, thankfully) as well as the much safer Scandinavian countries. I've driven in places that felt completely chaotic (Croatia springs to mind) and counted myself lucky to emerge unscathed, and also driven in places that are supposedly difficult to drive such as Italy, the U.K. and other "wrong side of the road" countries, Mexico, and the German autobahn. In these cases, I realize, my perception of being in danger kept me in a continual state of high alert and was probably the main reason I emerged unscathed.
One important dictum I took away from this book is that drivers are in more peril when they assume they're safe than when they are on the alert for danger. It is, ultimately, our own inattentiveness that is the greatest threat to our safety on the road.
Toward the end of the book, Vanderbilt mentions that after September 11, 2001, there was a marked increase in traffic fatalities. The obvious reason, of course, was that those too skittish to fly were driving instead, and so put themselves at greater risk. This was the springboard for Vanderbilt's trenchant analysis of real vs. perceived risk, which I found quite illuminating. Why do we, as a society, tolerate the great number of traffic deaths per year (approximately 40,000) yet remain on constant alert for terrorists, who, all told, have caused some 5,000 deaths since 1960 in the U.S.?
A lot of the reasons we don't recoil in horror at these grim traffic statistics, it seems, have to do with our ideas of what is acceptable: it is more acceptable to die doing something with a perceived benefit (getting where we want to go) and under our own autonomy (e.g. we are the drivers, not someone else) than to have little or no autonomy or perceived benefit.
When we are in "control," it seems, we feel that it's not such a bad thing if, for example, we have a beer or two before getting behind the wheel or talk on our cell phones or text while driving, which, studies have shown, put us at much greater risk. We might even feel quite indignant when we see other drivers holding cellphones to their ears or coming out of a bar and getting into a car. And it is speed, above all factors, that kills, yet we stubbornly resist lowering speed limits and regard it as our god-given right to proceed at a "fair" speed: e.g. ten miles over the posted limit.
Thus Vanderbilt leaves us with the undeniable conclusion that regardless of how sophisticated our machines become or how deftly we engineer our roads, it is ultimately our own psychological limitations that bedevil and endanger us. We have met the enemy. He is us.
A note on the reader, Marc Cashman: Mr. Cashman was, I thought, the ideal reader for this book. I'm a picky listener but not a single feature of his voice, phrasing, timing, or emphasis bothered me; on the contrary, I felt he greatly added to my enjoyment and understanding of the book. I'll be seeking out other books read by him. (less)
Originally read about 15 years ago. Listened to the audio version read by Derek Jacobi most recently. It was a bit harder to follow in the audio versi...moreOriginally read about 15 years ago. Listened to the audio version read by Derek Jacobi most recently. It was a bit harder to follow in the audio version with all the complex history of the Plantagenets, but I greatly enjoyed Jacobi's reading, as always. (less)
Ebert's elegiac memoir lingered so long over his youth and college years that I began to grow impatient and then irritated. Although I normally enjoy...moreEbert's elegiac memoir lingered so long over his youth and college years that I began to grow impatient and then irritated. Although I normally enjoy Edward Hermann as a reader, his avuncular tone became, in combination with the episodic material, an avuncular drone. About a quarter of the way through the book, I simply couldn't take hearing any more Life Lesson reminiscences and gave up. (less)
This bad-boy memoir is everything you expect it to be and then some. I usually listen to audiobooks while I cook, and the subject matter here, obvious...moreThis bad-boy memoir is everything you expect it to be and then some. I usually listen to audiobooks while I cook, and the subject matter here, obviously, was perfect. Liked this more than Medium Raw, which I'd listened to a few years earlier, out of sequence. Bourdain is highly entertaining as a narrator, one of the few authors I can stand to hear reading his own work. (In fact, I can't imagine anyone else doing it.) (less)
This audiobook grew repetitive, I thought, and I found that I really didn't care that much what happened to Mrs. Astor or her son. About a quarter way...moreThis audiobook grew repetitive, I thought, and I found that I really didn't care that much what happened to Mrs. Astor or her son. About a quarter way through, I gave up. (less)
As heartbreaking as the individual lives that are depicted in this book are, even more striking is Boo's unblinking asses...moreIt's a riddle... and it's not
As heartbreaking as the individual lives that are depicted in this book are, even more striking is Boo's unblinking assessment of human nature. Toward the end of this painfully honest book, the author ponders why the poor of slums like the one she writes about simply don't rise up and mount an insurrection. Then she answers her own question:
"But the slum dwellers rarely got mad together.... Instead, powerless individuals blamed other powerless individuals for what they lacked. Sometimes, they tried to destroy one another. Sometimes, like Fatima, they destroyed themselves in the process. When they were fortunate, like Asha, they improved their lot by beggaring the life chances of other poor people.
What was unfolding in Mumbai was unfolding elsewhere, in the age of global market capitalism, hopes and grievances were narrowly conceived, which blunted a sense of common predicament. Poor people didn’t unite. They competed, ferociously, amongst themselves, for gains as slender as they were provisional. And this undercity strife created only the faintest ripple in the fabric of a society at large. The gates of the rich, occasionally rattled, remained unbreached. The politicians held forth on the middle class. The poor took down one another and the world’s great unequal cities soldiered on in relative peace.”
I've read a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction, that wrestle with these problems of inequality and injustice, but few are as successful at making us understand this essential dilemma. (less)