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Alexander The Great: Great Leader and Hero Of Macedonia: Ancient Greece (European History, Ancient History, Ancient Greece, Roman History, Alex The Great, Greek History, Macedonia)
Alexander The Great: Great Leader and Hero Of Macedonia: Ancient Greece (European History, Ancient History, Ancient Greece, Roman History, Alex The Great, Greek History, Macedonia)
Price: $2.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfying, February 17, 2016
Alexander the Great: Great Leader and Hero of Macedonia by Viktor Maddox

“Alexander the Great" is a brief and unsatisfying account of the life of Alexander the Great with a focus on his conquests. This twenty-seven page eBook includes the following six chapters: 1. Who is Alexander the Great?, 2. Conquering Persia — Then the World, 3. The Siege of Tyre, 4. His Last Few Triumphs, 5. Alexander’s Many Alexandrias, and 6. The Spread of Greek.

Positives:
1. Succinct and straight forward. Can be read in one short bus trip.
2. The fascinating topic of Alexander the Great.
3. Easy format to follow.
4. Interesting tidbits. “One of his most notable companions when he was young was the famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who had been one of Alexander’s tutors.”
5. Goes over the most important battles during Alexander’s time. “Upon being crowned King of Macedon at the young age of 20, Alexander immediately went on with his quest to conquer the world. After the success of his military campaigns in Balkans and Thrace, Alexander quickly advanced to Thebes upon learning about the revolt in the Greek city-state.”
6. Alexander’s greatest regret. Find out.
7. The many Alexandrias in the world. “Throughout his campaigns all over the world, Alexander had managed to conquer numerous cities and named more than 70 cities after himself in commemoration of his great conquests. He even named one after his horse!”
8. Alexander’s enduring legacy in the world. “Alexander’s greatest legacy lies in the many cities he founded and the over-all influence of the Greek culture in the whole world.”

Negatives:
1. Too brief even for a short book.
2. The book doesn’t flow very well. It feels more like a school report than a book.
3. Lack of supplementary materials. I can’t stress that enough. No maps, diagrams, charts, timelines that would have added value.
4. The writing style is dry and dare I say tedious.
5. No explanation on why the phalanx formation was so effective. Show a diagram of the formation, have fun with the material.
6. Nothing provided about the author.

In summary, brief books serve a valuable purpose to educate the reader in a short period of time. However, this book doesn’t live up to the appetizer it was intended to be. The lack of supplementary materials and lack of writing imagination holds this book down. Read if you must through the free Kindle Unlimited service.

Further suggestions: “Alexander the Great” by Phillip Freeman, “The Campaigns of Alexander” by Arrian, “Alexander the Great” by Thomas R. Martin, “Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C., and “Dividing the Spoils” by Robin Waterfield.


Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $3.99

112 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Social-Science Book, February 11, 2016
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Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

“Originals" is an entertaining social-science book on how we can become more original. Referencing research and many studies, best-selling author Adam Grant explores what it takes to be creative and champion new ideas. This enlightening 335-page book includes the following eight chapters: 1. Creative Destruction, 2. Blind Inventors and One-Eyed Investors, 3. Out on a Limb, 4. Fools Rush In, 5. Goldilocks and the Trojan Horse, 6. Rebel with a Cause, 7. Rethinking Groupthink, and 8. Rocking the Boat and Keeping It Steady.

Positives:
1. A well-researched, well-written book. It’s entertaining and fun to read.
2. Interesting topic, the social science of originality.
3. Very good format. Each chapter beings with a chapter-appropriate quote and it’s broken out by subtopics. Grant also does a good job of introducing the main goal for each chapter.
4. Does a good job of defining originality and staying on topic. “By my definition, originality involves introducing and advancing an idea that’s relatively unusual within a particular domain, and that has the potential to improve it.”
5. In many respects this narrative resembles books from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel H. Pink and that’s not a bad thing.
6. The faults in defaults. “To get Firefox or Chrome, you have to demonstrate some resourcefulness and download a different browser. Instead of accepting the default, you take a bit of initiative to seek out an option that might be better. And that act of initiative, however tiny, is a window into what you do at work.” “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.”
7. The odds are you will learn something that can be applied to your everyday life. “Regardless of political ideologies, when a candidate seemed destined to win, people liked him more. When his odds dropped, they liked him less.”
8. Interesting tidbits of knowledge throughout the book. “The word entrepreneur, as it was coined by economist Richard Cantillon, literally means ‘bearer of risk.’”
9. Debunks some myths or preconceptions that I carried. “Entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33 percent lower odds of failure than those who quit.” “Having a sense of security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another.”
10. The barriers of originality. “The biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation—it’s idea selection.”
11. The book is loaded with examples and interesting characters. The story of the great inventor Dean Kamen is a highlight. “When it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.”
12. The limitations of originality. “Our intuitions are only accurate in domains where we have a lot of experience.”
13. An interesting and practical chapter on when to speak up and how to do it effectively. “Power involves exercising control or authority over others; status is being respected and admired.”
14. An interesting look at procrastination. Pioneers vs settlers. “Power involves exercising control or authority over others; status is being respected and admired.”
15. How to overcome barriers that prevent coalitions from succeeding. “To form alliances with opposing groups, it’s best to temper the cause, cooling it as much as possible. Yet to draw allies into joining the cause itself, what’s needed is a moderately tempered message that is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.”
16. Interesting look at the impact of birth order as it relates to originality. “Laterborns were twice as likely as firstborns to support radical changes.” “The evidence on birth order highlights the importance of giving children freedom to be original.”
17. Observations to live by. “In general, we tend to be overconfident about our own invulnerability to harm.”
18. Some lessons on groupthink. “The evidence suggests that social bonds don’t drive groupthink; the culprits are overconfidence and reputational concerns.” “Bridgewater has prevented groupthink by inviting dissenting opinions from every employee in the company.”
19. The positive power of negative thinking. “Most people assume it’s better to be a strategic optimist than a defensive pessimist. Yet Norem finds that although defensive pessimists are more anxious and less confident in analytical, verbal, and creative tasks, they perform just as well as strategic optimists.”
20. A practical overview. “Actions for Impact”

Negatives:
1. Social science is not a hard science. Though fun, entertaining and even enlightening we engineers are skeptical of it.
2. Limited use of charts and diagrams to complement the excellent narrative.
3. Lack of supplementary materials. I would have added an appendix explaining methodology used to come up with conclusions.
4. References included but no direct links to access them in the body of the narrative thus eliminating one of the great advantages of eBooks.

In summary, this was a fun book to read. The first section of the book on managing risks involved in generating, recognizing, and voicing original ideas I felt was its strongest. The second section dealt with the choices that we make to scale originality. The third section dealt with unleashing and sustaining originality, and Grant closes the book on emotions. The biggest criticism of this book is the fact that social science is not a hard science so some of the conclusions come across as coincidental or speculative. Grant is a master of noticing patterns but I still have a little reluctance to take all at face value. Interesting nonetheless, I recommend it!

Further recommendations: ”Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink, “Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World” by William Bratton and Zachary Tumin, “Outliers” and “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, “Just Start” by Leonard A. Schlesinger, “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath, “Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business” by Thor Muller and Lane Becker “inGenius” by Tina Seelig, “Work with Me” by Barbara Annis and John Gray, “Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t” by Jeffrey Pfeffer, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success” by Rick Newman, and “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 7, 2016 1:39 PM PST


The Problem with "God": Classical Theism under the Spotlight
The Problem with "God": Classical Theism under the Spotlight
Price: $4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative Collection of Articles, February 8, 2016
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The Problem with “God”: Classical Theism under the Spotlight by Jonathan M.S. Pearce

“The Problem with “God” is a provocative collection of blogged articles. Professor of Philosophy, Jonathan M.S. Pearce provides the readers with a series of articles that covers a wide-philosophical spectrum of theological topics regarding the Christian God. This entertaining 178-page eBook includes thirty-seven topics and a forward by James A. Lindsey

Positives:
1. Accessible and entertaining. Pearce is engaging.
2. The always stimulating topic of religion in the capable hands of Professor Pearce.
3. The tone is provocative and prodding but never disrespectful. It has an informal feel at times like armchair philosophy with a touch of humor.
4. Interesting selection of topics covered. Links to articles and supplementary material provided which is one of the big advantages of an eBook.
5. The foundation of philosophy exuded throughout this eBook, asking the right questions. “If there was nothing but God, then what good reason could God have for creating us, that thing there, cancer, some fluff, or, well, anything?”
6. A look at free will. “What’s more, according to Paul (who said in Romans 6:7 “he who has died is freed from sin”) people who die and go to heaven are freed from sin, but potentially from the will, too. Does this mean that free will is not available to those in heaven?”
7. Does a good job of defining concepts. “Process Theology is a position that involves an understanding that God is fluent and evolving, not classically immutable and unchanging.”
8. One of the strongest features of this book is Pearce’s insistence on addressing the strongest arguments against his position. The frequent reference to William Lane Craig lends to better and more challenging responses since he is considered one of the best defenders of the Christian faith. “Craig’s approach is to establish our morality in a reflection of God’s commands (such as “Love thy neighbor”), but to deny God the same moral obligation: Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfil.”
9. Persuasive argument, God is a consequentialist. “From every design facet to every death in the bible, to every unit of pain and suffering experienced in the world, God must be valuing his own actions and omissions on the basis of their consequences. I can see no way around this conundrum.”
10. One of the most provocative articles, “God Loves Abortion!” “It is estimated that three out of four eggs that are fertilized do not fuse their DNA correctly, and therefore either do not attempt to implant or fail at implantation.”
11. The problem of evil takes center stage. “The fundamental dilemma of theodicy is the problem of evil, its continuing existence and God’s apparent inability or unwillingness to eradicate it.”
12. Thought-provoking statements. “The fact that Judaism was based on a monotheistic idea of God whereas Christianity was based on a Trinitarian idea of God (who had been a Trinity of persons from all eternity) reveals that both religions were man made and not divinely revealed.”
13. Provides a better version of the Problem of Evil.
14. Explains the problems with the Divine Command Theory (DCT). “The first problem with any DCT is that we have no evidence that there even is the requisite God, much less which God’s commands are the commands of that God.” “
15. The issue of conditional love. Love me or else. “Why does God continually require acceptance (belief) from humans in order for them to receive his love?”
16. One of Pearce’s favorite arguments. “Why don’t humans and all animals photosynthesize?”
17. Valerie Tarico contributes to this anthology, “Rather than evoking the humility, wonder and delight of the unknown, they offer the comfort of false knowledge.”
18. A fascinating look at Yahweh and why such concept is disconnected from current conceptions of God.
19. A look at heaven and hell. “If there is free will in heaven, and no suffering in heaven, why cannot this be made so on earth?”
20. And much more…

Negatives:
1. The anthology is a little uneven and at times repetitious.
2. I was disappointed that the topic of slavery never took center stage.
3. The problem with the soul was not addressed.
4. There are many good book references, a consolidated bibliography would have added value.

In summary, as expected Pearce doesn’t fail to be provocative and entertaining. This anthology actually gets better as you read on and everyone will have their favorite topics and aha moments. The only minor issue is a bit of repetition and the problem of slavery not getting its due. That aside, I recommend it.

Further recommendations: “Beyond an Absence of Faith” and “The Little Book of Unholy questions” by the same author, “Everybody is Wrong About God” by James A. Lindsay, “Fighting God” by David Silverman, “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity", "The End of Christianity”, and “The Christian Delusion” by John W. Loftus, “Natural Atheism” by Dr. David Eller, "Man Made God: A Collection of Essays" by Barbara G. Walker, ”Faith vs. Fact” by Jerry A. Coyne, “Why I’m Not a Christian” by Richard Carrier, “Atheism for Dummies” by Dale McGowan, “The Atheist Universe” by David Mills, “Nailed” by David Fitzgerald, “The Portable Atheist” and “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, “The God Argument” by A.C. Grayling, “50 popular beliefs that people think are true” by Guy P. Harrison, “Godless” by Dan Barker, “Moral Combat” by Sikivu Hutchinson, and “Society Without God” by Phil Zuckerman.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 17, 2016 3:20 PM PST


Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice
Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice
Price: $9.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearly and Methodically Explains Runaway Inequality, February 1, 2016
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Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice by Les Leopold

“Runaway Inequality” is a fantastic plea for a common movement against increasing income and wealth inequality. Co-founder of the Labor Institute and author of multiple books on the economy, Les Leopold takes the reader on an enlightening journey on how banks, equity firms, and hedge funds extract wealth from society. This stimulating 320-page book includes a total of twenty-three chapters broken out by the following four parts: 1. Causes of Runaway Inequality, 2. The Decline of American Exceptionalism, 3. Separate Issues, Common Cause, and 4. Solutions.

Positives:
1. A well-written and well-researched book.
2. A very important topic, the causes of income inequality and its impact.
3. Les Leopold is a gifted author. His writing style is straightforward and professorial. He has a great grasp on the topic.
4. The book is well organized. Intended to be educational and it shows. Leopold does a wonderful job of preparing the reader for things to come and ends each chapter with a series of chapter-specific questions. It’s a great format for book clubs!
5. Great use of charts to complement the narrative. Leopold makes extensive use of charts and it is very effective.
6. Clearly lays out the four main aims of the book in the introduction. “We will show that runaway inequality is at the root of many of the problems we face, including the meteoric and disastrous rise of the financial sector, defunding of the public sector, environmental destruction, increased racial discrimination, the gender gap in wages and the rise of our mammoth prison population.”
7. Clearly shows the worsening inequality between workers and CEOs. “In 1970, for every dollar earned by the average worker, the top 100 CEOs earned on average $45. By 2013, the ratio had jumped to $829 to $1.”
8. Provides great examples that clearly illustrate how economic rules in America compare to other developed countries. “In Denmark, companies like McDonald’s and Burger King pay workers $20 an hour plus benefits with no complaint. These same companies, which are actually based in the U.S., pay American workers less than $9 with no benefits.”
9. One of the most important topics discussed in the book, the Better Business Climate which has the following three major economic prescriptions: “1. Cut taxes, especially on the wealthy and large corporations, 2. Cut government regulations, especially on high finance, and 3. Reduce government social spending.” Which leads to, “The Better Business Climate model has clearly led to runaway inequality.”
10. The important concept of Financial Strip-mining of America. “They transformed the corporate ethos of ‘retain and reinvest’ into ‘downsize and distribute.’” “Corporate managers became obsessed with cashing in on those stock options. Growing profits through slow and steady corporate growth – the old capitalist way of doing business – was too slow and unpredictable. Instead, managers could spike stock prices by cutting wages, slashing the workforce, raiding pensions, starving R&D, outsourcing jobs, reducing capital expenditures, and using borrowed money and retained earnings to buy back existing shares to drive up their short-term price. And then collect on their hefty stock options.”
11. Explains how runaway inequality impacts: longevity and happiness, health care, upward mobility, paid leaves, education expenditures, child poverty, worker rights and the environment. “We have among the fewest regulations to protect employees – union, non-union, management, full-time and temporary workers alike.”
12. The issue of taxes. “A significant fraction of global private financial wealth – by our estimates, at least $21 trillion to $32 trillion as of 2010 – has been invested virtually tax free through the world’s still expanding black hole of more than 80 “off shore” secrecy jurisdictions.”
13. Makes the persuasive case that there is a strong correlation between rising debt and runaway inequality. “To pay back their mounting loans, corporations squeezed their own workers. They downsized, moved abroad, cut wages and benefits and replaced full-time workers with temps. CEOs became financial engineers looking to make money through debt, leaving their companies and workers to foot the bill. And so, corporate capitalism morphed into financial strip-mining.”
14. A fascinating look at the state bank of North Dakota. “If we had 50 state banks, instead of just one, we could limit the income-distorting power of rising debt.”
15. A troubling look at incarceration business in America. The four key factors behind the rise of incarcerations starting in 1980. “1) overt racism; 2) Nixon’s ill-fated War on Drugs; 3) punitive laws like New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s “three strikes” legislation; and 4) the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act, which forced judges to issue harsh minimum sentences.”
16. The impact of trade agreements. “So neo-liberalism, plus NAFTA, caused economic hardship for the poor in Mexico, and this accounts for the dramatic rise in immigration into the U.S.”
17. The issue of gender inequality. “One proven way to equalize pay for women is to adopt family-friendly work policies (like flexible hours) that make it easier for both men and women to raise children and take care of other family members.” “Among all the developed economies, only the United States does not pay maternity benefits.”
18. Explains how everything is connected. “Climate change only compounds the inequality created by the Better Business Climate model.”
19. The impact of lobbying and revolving door policies. “If you help out a particular industry when you’re in Congress or a regulatory body, that industry will be eager to pay you richly for your services and inside information later on.”
20. A look at solutions. And so much more…

Negatives:
1. No formal bibliography.
2. My progressive views line up quite well with Mr. Leopold’s, the only thing I would like to see a bit more of is how to break the gridlock in Congress.
3. The icing on the cake would have been two charts showing the views of Senators and Representatives with respect to the key issues discussed in this book.

In summary, this is an excellent book the clearly shows the driving forces behind income inequality. Leopold does an outstanding job of clearly and methodically explaining the key issues regarding inequality and closes out the book with well-reasoned solutions. Kudos! I highly recommend it!

Further recommendations: “Looting America” by Les Leopold, “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality“, “Perfectly Legal”, “The Fine Print” and “Free Lunch” by David Cay Johnston, “Divide” by Matt Taibbi, “Saving Capitalism” and “Beyond Outrage” by Robert B. Reich, “Protecting Capitalism Case by Case” by Eliot Spitzer, “The Great Divide” and “The Price of Inequality” by Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Winner-Take-All Politics” by Jacob S. Hacker “Republic, Lost” by Lawrence Lessig, “The New Elite” by Dr. Jim Taylor, “ECONned” by Yves Smith, “The Great Divergence” by Timothy Noah, and “Bailout” by Neil Barofsky.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 17, 2016 1:03 PM PST


Human Universe
Human Universe
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Complement to the BBC Series, January 28, 2016
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This review is from: Human Universe (Kindle Edition)
Human Universe by Professor Brian Cox

“Human Universe" is a very good complementary book to the BBC documentary series of the same name. Professor Brian Cox takes the reader on an uplifting journey of the big questions that has taken humanity from ape-man to space-man. This entertaining 256-page book is broken out by the following five sections: 1. Where are We?, 2. Are We Alone?, 3. Who are We?, 4. Why are We Here?, and 5. What is Our Future?

Positives:
1. Innate ability to make science accessible and fun for the masses.
2. An excellent topic, answering big philosophical questions based on the best of our current knowledge. “This book asks questions about our origins, our destiny, and our place in the universe.”
3. Cox is a gifted author and educator; his books are fun and educational. His passion for science and love of humanity is exuded throughout the book.
4. Great use of charts and illustrations to assist the reader.
5. Excellent, easy-to-follow format. Each section begins with a big philosophical question followed up by bite-size supporting topics.
6. As you would expect, the book is full of interesting factoids. “The Sun is one star amongst 400 billion in the Milky Way Galaxy, itself just one galaxy amongst 350 billion in the observable universe.”
7. The impact of the grand theory of General Relativity. “Many physicists regard General Relativity as the most beautiful piece of physics yet devised by the human mind.”
8. Great examples where science clashed with religion, handled with the utmost respect and care. “Catholic dogma asserted that the Moon and the other heavenly bodies were perfect, unblemished spheres. Previous astronomers who had viewed the Moon, either with the naked eye or through telescopes, had drawn a two-dimensional blotchy surface, but Galileo saw the patterns of light and dark differently. His training in chiaroscuro revealed to him an alien lunar landscape of mountain ranges and craters.”
9. The beauty of science at work, evidence for the Big Bang Theory. “It is sufficient to say that the discovery that the universe is still glowing at a temperature of 2.7 degrees above absolute zero was the final evidence that convinced even the most sceptical scientists that the Big Bang theory was the most compelling model for the evolution of the universe.”
10. The science method applied. “It is scientific only to say what is more likely and what less likely, and not to be proving all the time the possible and impossible.”
11. A fascinating discussion on the possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations. The Drake equation. “If there are any civilisations making a serious attempt to contact us with technology at least as advanced as our own within a thousand light years, the Allen Array will hear them.”
12. The recipe for life discussed. A look at alien worlds and what’s considered the habitable zone.
13. A brief history of life on Earth. “We are mammals, which first appeared 225 million years ago in the Triassic era.”
14. A look at space exploration.
15. Human evolution. “It is believed that around 7 or 8 million years ago we split from the chimpanzees and the process of evolution into bipedal Homo sapiens began as these monkeys started to spend more time on the ground than in the trees.”
16. A brief explanation on how the laws of nature allow for human beings to exist. “The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory that explains the interactions between subatomic particles in the form of the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces.” “General Relativity and the Standard Model are the rules of the game. They contain all our knowledge of the way that nature behaves at the most fundamental level.”
17. An amusing look at the snowflake.
18. Was the universe made for us? An excellent response worth repeating, “Our universe appears to be made for us. We live on a perfect planet, orbiting around a perfect star. This is of course content-free whimsy. The argument is backwards. We have to be a perfect fit for the planet because we evolved on it.”
19. A great case for science. “Science and reason make the darkness visible. I worry that lack of investment in science and a retreat from reason may prevent us from seeing further, or delay our reaction to what we see, making a meaningful response impossible.”
20. A picture section included.

Negatives:
1. Solid effort but not quite to the standards of previous outstanding books.
2. The book is quite ambitious and loses focus.
3. Let’s face it some topics even at its simplest (quantum mechanics) are a challenge to follow.
4. No formal bibliography or book recommendations.

In summary, this is an inspirational and fun book to read. Brian Cox is one of my favorite science personalities and his books reflect his warm, engaging personality. However, this is not his best effort. This book though very good does not live to the standards of some of his previous outstanding books like Wonders of the Universe. That aside, this is an excellent complementary piece to the documentary series of the same name and is worth your time. I recommend it.

Further recommendations: “The Quantum Universe”, “Wonders of the Universe”, “Wonders of Life” by the same author, “Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution” by Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Faith vs. Fact” by Jerry A. Coyne, “The Vital Question” by Nick Lane, “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari, “The Big Questions” by New Scientist Collection, “To Explain the World” by Steven Weinberg, “The Universe” edited by John Brockman, “A Universe From Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss, “The Upright Thinkers” by Leonard Mlodinow, “The Neanderthals Rediscovered” by Papagianni and Morse, and the Grand Design by Stephen Hawking.


The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Chronicle, January 24, 2016
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

“The Innovators” is the solid chronicle of how innovation led to the digital age. Best-selling author and CEO of the Aspen Institute, Walter Isaacson, provides the public with an ambitious effort that highlights the biggest technical breakthroughs that led to the birth of the digital age. This well-organized 561-page book includes the following twelve chapters: 1. Ada, Countess of Lovelace, 2. The Computer, 3. Programming, 4. The Transistor, 5. The Microchip, 6. Video Games, 7. The Internet, 8. The Personal Computer, 9. Software, 10. Online, 11.The Web, and 12. Ada Forever.

Positives:
1. A well-organized, well-written book. A professional treatment of an ambitious project that is accessible to the masses.
2. A fascinating topic, how innovation led to the digital age.
3. Isaacson is a best-selling author with pedigree that allows him unprecedented access to key innovators.
4. A sound and easy-to-follow format. Each chapter covers a technical innovation and the people behind them.
5. Does a very good job in the introductory chapter of preparing the reader on what this ambitious book will cover and most importantly stays focused throughout the book in doing so. “For the birth of the digital age, this included a research ecosystem that was nurtured by government spending and managed by a military-industrial-academic collaboration. Intersecting with that was a loose alliance of community organizers, communal-minded hippies, do-it-yourself hobbyists, and homebrew hackers, most of whom were suspicious of centralized authority.”
6. Provides a very helpful pictorial timeline. The addition of photos throughput the book helps complement the narrative.
7. A homage to Ada Lovelace and how her “Notes” provided foundational contributions to the future digital world. “This insight would become the core concept of the digital age: any piece of content, data, or information—music, text, pictures, numbers, symbols, sounds, video—could be expressed in digital form and manipulated by machines.”
8. Throughout the book, Isaacson emphasizes innovation and how it takes place. “Innovation occurs when ripe seeds fall on fertile ground. Instead of having a single cause, the great advances of 1937 came from a combination of capabilities, ideas, and needs that coincided in multiple places.”
9. Does a wonderful job of introducing innovators and their contributions to the digital world. “Church was not only generous; he introduced the term Turing machine for what Turing had called a Logical Computing Machine. Thus at twenty-four, Turing’s name became indelibly stamped on one of the most important concepts of the digital age.”
10. The influence of the military to innovations. “Many of the paramount technological feats of that era—computers, atomic power, radar, and the Internet—were spawned by the military.”
11. So who invented the computer? Find out.
12. The importance of programming and the contributions of women. “But what the women of ENIAC soon showed, and the men later came to understand, was that the programming of a computer could be just as significant as the design of its hardware.”
13. A fascinating look at artificial intelligence. “In it he devised what became known as the Turing Test. He began with a clear declaration: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’ ” With a schoolboy’s sense of fun, he then invented a game—one that is still being played and debated—to give empirical meaning to that question. He proposed a purely operational definition of artificial intelligence: If the output of a machine is indistinguishable from that of a human brain, then we have no meaningful reason to insist that the machine is not ‘thinking.’”
14. The impact of BellLabs. “The key to innovation—at Bell Labs and in the digital age in general—was realizing that there was no conflict between nurturing individual geniuses and promoting collaborative teamwork.”
15. The impact of Moore’s Law. “There was a key lesson for innovation: Understand which industries are symbiotic so that you can capitalize on how they will spur each other on.”
16. The invention of the microprocessor. “Inventions sometimes occur when people are confronted with a problem and scramble to solve it. At other times, they happen when people embrace a visionary goal. The tale of how Ted Hoff and his team at Intel invented the microprocessor is a case of both.” “Because it was essentially a computer processor on a chip, the new device was dubbed a microprocessor. In November 1971 Intel unveiled the product, the Intel 4004, to the public.”
17. A look brief history of videogames. “Using a $75 Hitachi black-and-white TV set, Alcorn hard-wired the components together inside a four-foot-tall wooden cabinet. Like Computer Space, the game did not use a microprocessor or run a line of computer code; it was all done in hardware with the type of digital logic design used by television engineers. Then he slapped on a coin box taken from an old pinball machine, and a star was born. Bushnell dubbed it Pong.”
18. A fascinating look at the rise of the internet. “The Internet was built partly by the government and partly by private firms, but mostly it was the creation of a loosely knit cohort of academics and hackers who worked as peers and freely shared their creative ideas. The result of such peer sharing was a network that facilitated peer sharing. This was not mere happenstance. The Internet was built with the belief that power should be distributed rather than centralized and that any authoritarian diktats should be circumvented.”
19. The vision of Doug Engelbart. “In short, Engelbart showed, back in 1968, nearly everything that a networked personal computer does today.”
20. A book of this ilk would not be complete without Gates and Jobs. “The greatest innovation would come not from the people who created the breakthroughs but from the people who applied them usefully.”
21. Setting the record of Al Gore straight.
22. A look at the web.
23. An interesting look at Google. “That’s when it dawned on the BackRub Boys that their index of pages ranked by importance could become the foundation for a high-quality search engine. Thus was Google born.” “Page and Brin began by trying to license their software to other companies, and they met with the CEOs of Yahoo!, Excite, and AltaVista. They asked for a $1 million fee, which was not exorbitant since it would include the rights to their patents as well as the personal services of the two of them. “Those companies were worth hundreds of millions or more at the time,” Page later said. “It wasn’t that significant of an expense to them. But it was a lack of insight at the leadership level. A lot of them told us, ‘Search is not that important.’”
24. Sound conclusions. “Most of the successful innovators and entrepreneurs in this book had one thing in common: they were product people. They cared about, and deeply understood, the engineering and design.

Negatives:
1. Requires an investment of your time.
2. Unlike, Isaacson’s excellent biography on Steve Jobs in which he had three years of unprecedented access this book suffers from logically not having the same access and covering many more topics and with that comes technical errors and not having all the sides of some of the stories. Such is the risk of such an ambitious effort.
3. The book is on the dry side.
4. The book does not flow as smoothly as I expected. This may be the result of admittedly working on it for more than a decade.
5. Probably better suited for a technical historian than albeit an accomplished, best-selling author.

In summary, The Innovators does a wonderful job of highlighting how innovation led to the rise of our digital world. This was an ambitious effort that focused on a dozen or so technical breakthroughs and the people behind them. The main premise is that collaboration and the intersection of humanities-technology led to the evolving human-machine symbiosis. An ambitious effort of this degree does not come without some faults and the reading can be dry at times but in general the book succeeds. I recommend it!

Further recommendations: “Steve Jobs” by the same author, “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance, “Emotional Design” and “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman, “In the Plex” and “Hackers” by Steven Levy, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” by Klaus Schwab, “Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and-the World” by Rachel Swaby, “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen, and “How We Got to Now” by Steven Johnson.


Surviving AI: The promise and peril of artificial intelligence
Surviving AI: The promise and peril of artificial intelligence
Price: $4.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introductory Book on AI, January 20, 2016
Surviving AI: The Promise and Peril of Artificial Intelligence by Calum Chace

“Surviving AI" is a very interesting book that looks at the formidable challenges and potential enormous benefits of artificial intelligence. Best-selling author of fiction and non-fiction books, Calum Chace provides readers with keen insights into AI and espouses the need to adopt policies which will encourage the best possible outcomes. This concise 208-page book includes nine chapters broken out by the following four parts: 1. ANI Artificial Narrow Intelligence, 2. AGI Artificial General Intelligence, 3. ASI Artificial Superintelligence, and 4. FAI Friendly Artificial Intelligence.

Positives:
1. A well-written and succinct book.
2. The fascinating topic of artificial intelligence and its potential implications.
3. Chace has great command of the topic and is able to convey at an accessible level.
4. Easy format to follow. Chase breaks the book up in logical pieces and ends each chapter with a conclusion that summarizes well his main points. “The bottom line is that we don’t know for certain whether we can build a brain, or a conscious machine. But the existence of our own brains, producing rich conscious lives (or so we believe) in seven billion humans around the world, is proof that consciousness can be generated by a material entity – unless you believe in a dualist soul, or something similar. Evolution, although powerful, is slow and inefficient, and science is relatively fast and efficient, so in principle we should be able to build a brain.”
5. Does a good job of defining key terms. “Intelligence measures an agent’s general ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments.” “The easiest way to do this is to say that artificial general intelligence, or AGI, is an AI which can carry out any cognitive function that a human can.”
6. Provides a brief history of AI research.
7. Provides many examples of AI today. “For many people, the embodiment of AI today is Siri, Apple’s digital personal assistant that first appeared pre-loaded in the iPhone 4S in October 2011. The name is short for Sigrid, a Scandinavian name meaning both ‘victory’ and ‘beauty’.”
8. The basic principle of startups and future AI. “Take X and add AI.”
9. A look at important practical topics that affect us now and into the future, digital disruption and economic singularity. “So there may well come a time when a majority of jobs can be performed more effectively, efficiently or economically by an AI than they can be done by a human. This could be called the economic singularity.”
10. One of the strengths of this book is the philosophizing of AI that is, asking the right questions. “The three biggest questions about artificial general intelligence (AGI) are: Can we build one? If so, when? Will it be safe?”
11. The grand theory of evolution makes its presence known. “Evolution: the slow, inefficient way to develop a brain.” “Evolution does not have a purpose or a goal. It is merely a by-product of the struggle for survival by billions and billions of living creatures.”
12. Discusses three reasons why we should be doubtful on developing an artificial mind. “These are: The Chinese Room thought experiment The claim that consciousness involves quantum phenomena that cannot be replicated The claim that we have souls”
13. Discusses three ways we may be able to build a mind. “We can break the problem down into three components: scanning, computational capacity, and modelling.”
14. A look at how soon Artificial General Intelligence may be created. “Expert opinion is divided about when the first AGI might be created. Some think it could be less than a decade, others are convinced it is centuries away.
15. A look at superintelligence. What is the significance? Find out.
16. A very good discussion on the optimistic arguments for superintelligence and the pessimistic ones.
17. One of the most important questions addressed in the book. “Can we ensure that superintelligence is safe?” “Anything smart enough to deserve the label superintelligent would surely be smart enough to lay low and not disclose its existence until it had taken the necessary steps to ensure its own survival. In other words, any machine smart enough to pass the Turing test would be smart enough not to.”
18. The need to have a very important discussion on superintelligence for the sake of our existence. “What we need now is a serious, reasoned debate about superintelligence – a debate which avoids the twin perils of complacency and despair.”

Negatives:
1. A wonderful book for introductory purposes but lacks technical depth.
2. Due to the complex nature of this topic and the fact that neuroscience is in its infancy a lot of what’s in this book albeit fascinating and worth reading is speculative.
3. I think one of the most underrated ways that advanced AI can be discovered is by accident.
4. Lack of supplementary material.
5. Missed opportunities to add material of interest. As an example, the evolution of the robot.
6. No formal bibliography.

In summary, this is a wonderful brief book on AI that is accessible to the masses. Chace does a great job of philosophizing about AI and presenting the arguments for and against superintelligence. If you are looking for an accessible and succinct book that asks the right questions about AI this is a great start. I recommend it!

Further recommendations: “Rise of the Robots” by Martin Ford, “What to Think About Machines That Think” edited by John Brockman, “Our Final Invention” by James Barrat, “When Computers Can Think” by Anthony Berglas, “The Artificial Intelligence Revolution” by Louis Del Monte, “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” by Nick Bostrom, and “Artificial Superintelligence” by Roman V. Yampolskiy,


Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $15.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Biographies I've Ever Read, January 16, 2016
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

“Elon Musk" is one of my all-time favorite biographies of an engineering genius. This is a brilliantly written biography that masterfully captures the genius behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity. Award-winning feature writer, Ashlee Vance provides the public with a certifiable gem. This fascinating 421-page book includes the following eleven chapters and a Photographic Insert: 1. Elon’s World, 2. Africa, 3. Canada, 4. Elon’s First Start-Up, 5. PayPal Mafia Boss, 6. Mice in Space, 7. All Electric, 8. Pain, Suffering, and Survival, 9. Liftoff, 10. The Revenge of the Electric Car, and 11. The Unified Field Theory of Elon Musk.

Positives:
1. A masterfully written biography on the life of Elon Musk.
2. One of the best and most interesting biographies I have ever read. For anyone interested in technology and engineering this is a real treat.
3. Ashlee Vance is a gifted writer that captures beautifully the essence of Elon Musk and his vision for humanity. He’s fair, insightful and is able to keep the narrative flowing in a smooth and interesting way. Vance must also be commended for gaining access into a very unique world. “He seems to feel for the human species as a whole without always wanting to consider the wants and needs of individuals.”
4. Right from the onset Vance captivates and teases the reader with what is to come. “Musk had somehow delivered the biggest advances the space, automotive, and energy industries had seen in decades in what felt like one fell swoop.”
5. One of the joys of reading this book comes from the realization of big dreams turning into big accomplishments. “Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to . . . well . . . save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.”
6. As a lover of technology, I’m fascinated by Musk’s accomplishments. “Musk has taken industries like aerospace and automotive that America seemed to have given up on and recast them as something new and fantastic. At the heart of this transformation are Musk’s skills as a software maker and his ability to apply them to machines.”
7. Interesting and amusing stories from his youth that provides insights into this fascinating life. “Musk sampled a handful of ideologies and then ended up more or less back where he had started, embracing the sci-fi lessons found in one of the most influential books in his life: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.”
8. The college days. “College suited Musk. He worked on being less of a know-it-all, while also finding a group of people who respected his intellectual abilities. The university students were less inclined to laugh off or deride his opinionated takes on energy, space, and whatever else was captivating him at the moment. Musk had found people who responded to his ambition rather than mocking it and he fed on this environment.”
9. A fascinating look at his first start-up. ““Elon said, ‘These guys don’t know what they are talking about. Maybe this is something we can do,’” Kimbal said. This was 1995, and the brothers were about to form Global Link Information Network, a start-up that would eventually be renamed Zip2.”
10. The genius behind PayPal. “Musk wanted to build a full-service financial institution online: a company that would have savings and checking accounts as well as brokerage services and insurance. The technology to build such a service was possible, but navigating the regulatory hell of creating an online bank from scratch looked like an intractable problem to optimists and impossibility to more level heads.”
11. Musk’s great eye for talent is exemplified throughout the book. “PayPal also came to represent one of the greatest assemblages of business and engineering talent in Silicon Valley history. Both Musk and Thiel had a keen eye for young, brilliant engineers. The founders of start-ups as varied as YouTube, Palantir Technologies, and Yelp all worked at PayPal. Another set of people—including Reid Hoffman, Thiel, and Botha—emerged as some of the technology industry’s top investors.”
12. Find out how close Musk came to dying.
13. Musk and his quest for space. “Musk would inspire people to think about exploring space again by making it cheaper to explore space.” “Musk declared that SpaceX’s first rocket would be called the Falcon 1, a nod to Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon and his role as the architect of an exciting future. At a time when the cost of sending a 550-pound payload started at $30 million, he promised that the Falcon 1 would be able to carry a 1,400-pound payload for $6.9 million.”
14. The book captures the essence of what appears to be insurmountable challenges. “Lots of people soon found out, as major problems abounded. The avionics, which included the electronics for the navigation, communication, and overall management of the rocket, turned into a nightmare. Seemingly trivial things like getting a flash storage drive to talk to the rocket’s main computer failed for undetectable reasons. The software needed to manage the rocket also became a major burden.”
15. Covers the stories of prominent engineers. “Straubel gave his car a hybrid boost, building a gasoline-powered contraption that could be towed behind the Porsche and used to recharge the batteries. It was good enough for Straubel to drive the four hundred miles down to Los Angeles and back. “
16. The drive behind Tesla Motors. “The Tesla founders felt like they had lucked into the perfect investor. Musk had the engineering smarts to know what they were building. He also shared their larger goal of trying to end the United States’ addiction to oil.”
17. The technical challenges behind Tesla. “Tesla’s engineers mostly needed to focus on developing the battery pack systems, wiring the car, and cutting and welding metal as needed to bring everything together. Engineers love to muck around with hardware, and the Tesla team thought of the Roadster as something akin to a car conversion project that could be done with two or three mechanical engineers, and a few assembly people.” “The carbon-fiber body that looked so good turned out to be a huge pain to paint, and Tesla had to cycle through a couple of companies to find one that could do the work well. Sometimes there were faults in the battery pack. The motor short-circuited now and again. The body panels had visible gaps. The company also had to face up to the reality that a two-speed transmission was not going to happen. In order for the Roadster to achieve its flashy zero-to-60 times with a single-speed transmission, Tesla’s engineers had to redesign the car’s motor and inverter and shave off some weight.”
18. A look into Musk’s personal life.
19. Captures how perilously close Musk was to losing it all. “That ability to stay focused in the midst of a crisis stands as one of Musk’s main advantages over other executives and competitors.”
20. The successes. “For Elon Musk, this spectacle has turned into a familiar experience. SpaceX has metamorphosed from the joke of the aeronautics industry into one of its most consistent operators. SpaceX sends a rocket up about once a month, carrying satellites for companies and nations and supplies to the International Space Station. Where the Falcon 1 blasting off from Kwajalein was the work of a start-up, the Falcon 9 taking off from Vandenberg is the work of an aerospace superpower.”
21. Notes, photo inserts, appendices and much more.

Negatives:
1. At over 400 pages it will require an investment of your time but nowhere near as long as Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” that was over 600 pages.
2. No formal bibliography.

In summary, I absolutely loved this biography. As an engineer myself, Elon Musk is currently the icon of our profession. Ashlee Vance should be commended for first of all to gain access to such a unique world and having the ability to convey and weave all the aspects of Elon Musk’s fascinating life into one coherent and beautifully written biography. Kudos! For anyone in the STEM profession this is a must read and for the rest, a high recommendation!

Further recommendations: “Steve Jobs” and “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson, “Gates” by Stephen Manes, “The Everything Store” by Brad Stone, “Made in the USA” by Vaclav Smil, “Rise of the Robots” by Martin Ford, “Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age” by W. Bernard Carlson, “How to Fly a Horse” by Kevin Ashton, “The Virgin Way” by Richard Branson, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, “Rocketeers” by Michael Belfiore, “iWoz” by Steve Wozniak, “Average is Over” by Tyler Cowen, “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson, and “The Google Guys” by Richard L. Brandt.


The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge
The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge
by Matt Ridley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.69
81 used & new from $12.41

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating, January 12, 2016
The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge by Matt Ridley

“The Evolution of Everything" is a book on social Darwinism and it’s wide reaching effect from a libertarian perspective. It’s highly readable and provocative but misses the mark on two very important topics: climate change and the 2008 financial crisis. Well known journalist, scientist and educator; Matt Ridley, makes the persuasive case that evolution explains virtually all of human culture changes: from morality to technology, from money to religion. This stimulating 368-page book includes the following sixteen chapters covering the evolution of: 1. Universe, 2. Morality, 3. Life, 4. Genes, 5. Culture, 6. Economy, 7. Technology, 8. Mind, 9. Personality, 10. Education, 11. Population, 12. Leadership, 13. Government, 14. Religion, 15. Money, and 16. Internet.

Positives:
1. A highly readable, optimistic and provocative book.
2. An excellent topic, evolution is happening all around us.
3. Ridley is a gifted author; he pulls ideas from multiple disciplines and is able to persuade the reader that successful ideas emerge more so than planned for.
4. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from Lucretius’s poem De Rerum Natura (Of the Nature of Things) and covers a specific topic and subtopics. The books lends itself quite well to be used as a future reference.
5. Does a good job of introducing Lucretius and his influence on major thinkers. “Voltaire’s contempt for theodicy derived directly and explicitly from Lucretius, whose arguments he borrowed throughout life, styling himself at one point the ‘latter-day Lucretius’.”
6. An interesting chapter on morality. “Smith went one step further, and suggested that morality emerged unbidden and unplanned from a peculiar feature of human nature: sympathy.” “Morality therefore emerged as a consequence of certain aspects of human nature in response to social conditions.”
7. The foundation of Darwin’s grand idea of evolution. “That is the essence of Darwin’s idea: that beautiful and intricate organisms can be made without anybody knowing how to make them.” “The more we understand genomics, the more it confirms evolution.”
8. A very persuasive look at how language emerged. “Languages mutate, diversify, evolve by descent with modification and merge in a ballet of unplanned beauty. Yet the end result is structure, and rules of grammar and syntax as rigid and formal as you could want. ‘The formation of different languages, and of distinct species, and the proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously parallel,’ wrote Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man.”
9. Ridley is a great defender of the free-market enterprise. “The central feature of commerce, and the thing that distinguishes it from socialist planning, is that it is decentralized.” “The Smithian economy is a process of exchange and specialization among ordinary people. It is an emergent phenomenon.”
10. Interesting look at technology and science. “Again and again, once you examine the history of innovation, you find scientific breakthroughs as the effect, not the cause, of technological change.” “Technology comes from technology far more often than from science.”
11. Solid chapter on the mind. “The self is a consequence, not a cause, of thought. To think otherwise is to posit a miraculous incarnation of an immaterial spirit.” “The study of the brain has found no pearl, no organ or structure that houses the self or consciousness or the will. It never will, for these phenomena are distributed among the neurons in the same way that the plan for how to make a pencil is distributed among the many contributors to a market economy.” “We are nothing but the neural signals of our brain, multiply caused by the multiple influences upon us.”
12. An interesting look at personality. “Instead, the truth is that personality unfolds from within, responding to the environment – so in a very literal sense of the word, it evolves.”
13. A very key founding disclosed on sexual innateness. “Never was the consternation of the establishment more acute than in the 1990s, when it became clear that homosexuality was much more innate and irreversible than people had been assuming, and much less a matter of early life experience or adolescent indoctrination.”
14. A fascinating look at violence. “They argued that the cultural-determinist explanations did not fit the facts, and that it was far more likely that men were more violent for similar reasons that other male mammals were more violent – because they had in the past been forced by biology to compete for mating opportunities.”
15. Explains how we learn. “We learn by reading, by watching, by emulating, by doing.” “The lesson that schooling can be encouraged to emerge from below was ignored in favor of the theory that it must be imposed from above.”
16. Debunks myths on how to slow down populations. “The way to get population growth to slow, it turns out, is to keep babies alive, to bring health, prosperity and education to all.” “Malthus’s poor laws were wrong; British attitudes to famine in India and Ireland were wrong; eugenics was wrong; the Holocaust was wrong; India’s sterilization programme was wrong; China’s one-child policy was wrong. These were sins of commission, not omission. Malthusian misanthropy – the notion that you should harden your heart, approve of famine and disease, feel ashamed of pity and compassion, for the good of the race – was wrong pragmatically as well as morally. The right thing to do about poor, hungry and fecund people always was, and still is, to give them hope, opportunity, freedom, education, food and medicine, including of course contraception, for not only will that make them happier, it will enable them to have smaller families.”
17. A counterintuitive look at poverty. “The real cause of poverty today – now that it is avoidable – is the unchecked power of the state against poor people without rights, says William Easterly.”
18. How religions evolve. “To anybody who has read the history of the ancient world, it is crystal clear by contrast that, in the words of the title of Selina O’Grady’s book on the subject, Man Created God. God is plainly an invention of the human imagination, whether in the form of Jahweh, Christ, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus or Anygod else.” “My argument will be that this phenomenon can only be explained as an instance of cultural evolution: that all gods and all superstitions emerge from within human minds, and go through characteristic but unplanned transformations as history unfolds. Thus even the most top–down feature of human culture is actually a bottom–up, emergent phenomenon.” “In short, you can tell the story of the rise of Christianity without any reference to divine assistance. It was a movement like any other, a man-made cult, a cultural contagion passed from mind to mind, a natural example of cultural evolution.”
19. The emergence of money. “Money is an evolutionary phenomenon. It emerged gradually among traders, rather than being created by rulers – despite the heads of kings on the coins: those just illustrated the tendency of the powerful to insist on monopolies.”
20. The evolution of the internet. “Few can doubt that the internet is a force for liberty of the individual.”

Negatives:
1. No direct links to sources.
2. Libertarian perspective that can rub some folks the wrong way. In his defense, I generally found Ridley to be fair. My personal progressive views at times conflicted with Ridley’s but I’m open to an intelligently written book which this is.
3. My biggest disagreement with Ridley is his lack of concern for climate change to put it mildly. His point is that climate change supporters are acquiring religious overtones against deniers. The truth is that Mr. Ridley is underselling the overwhelming global scientific consensus for climate change. We can disagree on the approach to address this real problem but we can’t deny the scientific facts.
4. I disagree with his characterization of the 2008 financial crash. Ridley defends the free-market enterprise at the expense of the facts. No mention of predatory lending, abuse of the banking industry, golden parachutes, lobbying to benefit the powerful, and the fact that you can help those with lesser incomes to purchase affordable homes without compromising the entire economy. In fact a lot of the financial crisis can be attributed to emerging cancer cells of greed that manipulated the market to their benefit at the expense of society. In short, banks privatized the earnings and socialized the losses.
5. The chapter on money may be above the heads of most laypersons.
6. Underestimates the power of government to fund projects that are too high risk for private industry.

In summary, a very stimulating and interesting book to read. I debated myself whether to give three or four stars to this book and concluded that despite my vehement disagreement on climate change and the financial crisis of 2008 that the book is stimulating and well written enough to justify four stars. In general, I agree with the premise that ideas emerged or evolved than planned for from the top down. Despite my aforementioned strong disagreements worthy of four stars. I recommend it!

Further recommendations: If you like books with a libertarian bent you will enjoy anything from John Stossel “No, They Can’t”, “Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity” and “Give Me A Break”, “The Rational Optimist” and “The Red Queen” by Matt Ridley, “The Vital Question” by Nick Lane, “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” by Bill Nye “The Greatest Shown On Earth” by Richard Dawkins.


Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality
Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality
Price: $11.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Collection of Essays, January 6, 2016
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Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality edited by David Cay Johnston

“Divided” is a very solid collection of essays regarding the growing inequality in our society. The essays come from a wide range of influential sources that include the likes of President Obama, economists, lawyers, journalists, educators and politicians. Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Cay Johnston put together this fine collection that ranges from the rare ordinary to some real standouts. This stimulating 352-page book includes a total of thirty-nine essays broken out by the following seven main topics: 1. Overview, 2. Income Inequality, 3. Education, 4. Health Care Inequality, 5. Debt and Poverty, 6. Policy, and 7. Family.

Positives:
1. A well-written, accessible book.
2. A good collection of essays that cover many aspects of the growing inequality in our society. Can be read in any order.
3. The book is well structured. The essays are broken out by inequality occurring by theme.
4. The book succeeds in covering the most important point sought out by Johnston, “The single most important point of Divided is: keep in mind who benefits and who does not. It’s our choice. We decide.”
5. President Obama kicks of this solid collection of essays with a great speech he delivered on December 6, 2011, at Osawatomie High School in Osawatomie, Kansas.
6. The following positives will highlight the best essays of the book. Elizabeth Warren’s makes the compelling case for creating a Financial Product Safety Commission (FPSC) on the model of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect consumers from abusive banking practices. Her idea became law as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Professor Warren helped set up in 2010–2011.
7. Joseph E. Stiglitz states four reasons inequality is holding our recovery back. “The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth.”
8. Kim Bobo provides a 5-star essay on how unions protect the interests of workers. “Unions not only raise wages, benefits, and working conditions. They stop wage theft. Unions are one of the most effective wage-theft deterrents around.”
9. Interesting essay by Christopher Jencks that explains why many jobs pay so poorly. “The logic of a market economy is that we should all be paid the smallest amount that will ensure that our work gets done, and that is what low-wage workers generally receive.”
10. Beth Shulman explains the reason behind the ever expanding service-producing sector. “In 1947, service-sector industries accounted for only half of all hours of employment. A half century later, approximately 80 percent of the 134 million nonfarm jobs are in the service-producing industries: retail trade, transportation, telecommunications, utilities, wholesale trade, finance, insurance and real estate, federal, state, and local government, and services.”
11. Two leading advocates for a fairer economy, Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel, explain how great fortunes were assisted by taxpayer’s investments. “Thoughtful Americans are advancing a variety of proposals that would narrow the wealth gap, ranging from expanding worker ownership to creating universal asset-building accounts.”
12. Paul Krugman debunks the myth that education alone is responsible for our inequality. “What we’re seeing isn’t the rise of a fairly broad class of knowledge workers. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of a narrow oligarchy: income and wealth are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of small, privileged elite. The proof is right in the data we economists get paid to analyze and understand.”
13. Sean F. Reardon exposes what’s really behind children’s success in school. “Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.”
14. Mary E. O’Brien provides an analysis of unequal quality of care. “Quality of health care has little meaning if millions are unable to access care in the first place.” “What we need is a system that scrupulously guards our medical privacy and confidentiality while affording health care professionals immediate access to a patient’s medical history.”
15. Authors Olveen Carrasquillo and Jaime Torres show how racism pervades the provision of health care in America with severe consequences. “Disparities in health are due to a variety of factors—including environment, housing, poverty, education, and racism—that go far beyond just having insurance.”
16. Leo W. Gerard explains the benefits of universal health care. “A national single-payer system would relieve corporations of the burden of health-insurance administration, stabilize costs, and give corporations, the global level playing field they want.”
17. My favorite essay goes to Inequality Kills by Stephen Bezruchka. “The forty-seven infant deaths occur every day because of the way society in the United States is structured, resulting in our health status being that of a middle-income country, not a rich country.”
18. Robert Kutter explains why inequality is as much a political problem as an economic one. “A prosperous economy demands investment in children, in health, in education, in job training, in public systems, in the commons generally.”
19. Two scholars Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, show how Social Security does more to reduce income inequality and prevent poverty among the old in the United States than any other program, public or private, while providing crucial protection for orphans and the disabled. “The reality is that Social Security is not a government handout. It is a benefit that is earned and paid for through hard work.”
20. Ernest Drucker closes out the best of the rest with his excellent essay titled, A Different Kind of Epidemic. “A subtle but significant factor in inequality is America’s use of long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, which has hit black Americans especially hard. A prominent epidemiologist explains this as a new kind of public health problem.”

Negatives:
1. Some essays did not live up to the quality established overall. Adam Smith’s (yes that Adam Smith) essay or excerpt on necessaries was underwhelming.
2. Barbara Ehrenreich’s satirical essay on the other end of the pay scale falls flat.
3. Herrera was misspelled throughout one of the best essays of the book, Wage Theft by Kim Bobo.
4. Unless you look closely you would think that this book was written by David Cay Johnston. The book cover does not make clear it’s a book of essays, the term edited implies that but I would venture to say many will miss that.
5. Lack of supplementary materials. I would have added a chapter of interesting tidbits that highlight the main theme of the book. Perhaps a table that showcases what CEOs of top companies make versus the average employee.

In summary, this was an interesting and accessible book of essays covering the hot topic of income inequality. These are generally high-quality essays that cover a wide-range of topics within inequality. A worthwhile read, I recommend it!

Further recommendations: “Perfectly Legal”, “The Fine Print” and “Free Lunch” by the same author, “Divide” by Matt Taibbi, “Runaway Inequality” and “Looting America” by Les Leopold, “Saving Capitalism” and “Beyond Outrage” by Robert B. Reich, “Protecting Capitalism Case by Case” by Eliot Spitzer, “The Great Divide” and “The Price of Inequality” by Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Winner-Take-All Politics” by Jacob S. Hacker “Republic, Lost” by Lawrence Lessig, “The New Elite” by Dr. Jim Taylor, “ECONned” by Yves Smith, “The Great Divergence” by Timothy Noah, and “Bailout” by Neil Barofsky.


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