Audiobook Reviews January 2017 by Jonathan Lowe


From “the most delightful MD ever” (Buzzfeed), IF OUR BODIES COULD TALK by James Hamblin is, according to the publisher, “an enlightening book about how bodies work—and how to keep them working in a world full of myths and misinformation.” In 2014, James Hamblin launched a series of videos for The Atlantic called “If Our Bodies Could Talk.” With it, the doctor-turned-journalist established himself as a seriously entertaining authority in the field of health. Now, in illuminating and genuinely funny prose, Hamblin explores the human stories behind health questions that never seem to go away—and which tend to be mischaracterized and oversimplified by marketing and news media. He covers topics such as sleep, aging, diet, and much more. Hamblin is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and has published widely in magazines and online. The subtitle of the audiobook, which he also narrates, is “A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body.” Since everyone reading this has one of those, the audience is vast. Subjects include everything imaginable, with science answers to questions involving cell phones, vitamins, probiotics, aging (like what happens in your skin), genetics, biology, CPR, psychology, metabolic syndrome, HFCS, coffee, milk, meat, sports drinks, snake oil salesmen (pseudo-science), sleeping, drugs, sex, hormones, technology, and tidbits from history (or recent examples) to keep the answers interesting. Culture figures into all this, and the author has an ear for when a topic needs some jazz notes for proper timing and stress. It’s popular science with the angle of answering questions from readers, presented with an amiable tone sensitive to the topic. It is appropriate to note that Hamblin presents various sides in arguments about some controversial topics, but applies skepticism where validity requires, and doesn’t fall for fallacies of logic in order to arrive at consensus. What will happen to the internet and the science reporting on it? This is anyone’s guess. Perhaps a rebellion against the “McNews” in which pseudo-science is reduced to being equally popular as real science due to the strategy of saying “some scientists believe?” (This is sometimes the mantra of the History Channel, presenting their “findings” as if there is a debate among legit scientists when there is not. Everyone being in favor of equality, that sounds good, when in fact that’s not how science works, and no one’s opinion counts in real science: it’s only what you can prove.) So this is perhaps the best thing about the book: walking the line of reason and discovery. Not referring to “authority” or doing the opposite, either—believing that everyone’s opinion is of equal value. Maybe one day “factoids” of truth (coined by Bradbury) will be automatically vetted and assigned a “believability” rating by an artificial intelligence like those who now already tract us. In the meantime, listening to an audiobook as balanced as this one can only have a positive effect on one’s mind and body.


Jonathan Lowe: “Could you relate how listening to books might have a calming effect to those experiencing stress while stuck in traffic or at the airport?”

James Hamblin: “I’d be speculating about calming effects of audiobooks – speaking strictly scientifically, I imagine the effects vary from person to person and book to book. But I can guarantee with 100% certainty that listening to my book will impart a positively transcendent bliss that will render any aspirations to calmness irrelevant. At least, I hope so!”

In WEAPONS OF MATH DESTRUCTION by Cathy O’Neil you’ll learn some surprising things about the algorithms that now rule our society, as an expansion of the subject matter revealed in such books as The Filter Bubble, Utopia is Creepy, and Future Crimes. This book is unique in that it focuses on how statistics are utilized by mass marketers, politicians, and media giants to extract as much advantage as they can in order to, as they say on Shark Tank, “eviscerate the competition.” For example, credit scores are utilized in hiring practices in 40 states, and so if you made the “mistake” of being laid off and then applied for a loan in which you missed a payment, you may not be hired over someone who wasn’t laid off (for whatever reason.) If you clicked on an ad for a college loan you may be swamped with calls from loan sharks looking to collect high interest rates…get one of those, and algorithms will spot this too. It will appear on records you have no access to, although future employers or loan officers might. If you don’t know the proper ways to word a resume, it might never get viewed since algorithms pre-screen the first round, in search of certain keywords relevant to job openings. You name, race, sex, and even the typeface used can affect your odds before a human ever sees your application or resume. Shoppers who log in to online stores may not get the same deals as those who don’t log in. (Why offer deals to repeat customers?) Google, Amazon, Facebook…they all track you, and know when and where to hit you with ads based on your personal buying patterns, beliefs, and social status. These “WMDs” are like bombs targeting you in their laser sights. They know who you are, and where you live. Zip codes are also utilized, and can keep poor people from getting out of poverty by victimizing them with high interest rates or preventing them from obtaining a job. All this ends up costing more in government assistance, and, once taken, locks some into a death spiral of debt and discrimination. What can you do? Start by listening to this audiobook, which is long listed for a National Book Award, and is ably narrated by the author.

Not a happy title for the New Year, but appropriate if you have children. ASSASSINATION GENERATION: Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman is an internationally recognized scholar, author, soldier, and speaker who is one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime. He is a West Point psychology professor, a professor of military science, and an Army Ranger who has combined his experiences to become the founder of a new field of scientific endeavor, which has been termed “killology.” In his audiobook he reveals new science showing that violent games such as Grand Theft Auto 5 (which sold more than $1 Billion in 3 Days—more than then entire music industry) deadens sensitivity to violence, causes depression, and leads some kids later joining gangs or getting involved in school shootings (esp. if exposed as pre-teens by parents or siblings who buy them the over-18 games.) He says that the difference between civilian gaming and military war games is discipline and accountability. Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University, served for twenty-three years as an officer in the US Army. He is the author of Washington Rules, The Limits of Power, and The New American Militarism, among other books. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, the Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. His premise is that jingoism is viral, with everyone waving (and hiding behind) flags in the “good-old-boy” school of “shoot first, ask questions later.” His book AMERICA’S WAR reveals that military contractors have lobbyists in Washington intent on keeping their grip on the American budget (we currently spend more on military arms than the next top 20 countries combined.) He also reveals that vets get the shaft of these massive deficit transactions, and Pentagon brass is worried Trump may upset their golden apple cart. What will happen next? No one knows for sure, but reading on the go via listening beats McNews and the same pop songs playing endlessly.

A few worthy fiction titles that I haven’t had time to complete yet are SWING TIME by Zadie Smith, read by Pippa Bennett-Warner; SEDUCED by Randy Wayne White, read by Renee Raudman; PARIS FOR ONE by Jojo Moyes, read by a full cast; and ODESSA SEA by Clive Cussler and his son Dirk, read by Scott Brick. I should also mention the interesting non-fiction titles FUTURE HUMANS by Scott Solomon, read by Donald Corren; and AND A BOTTLE OF RUM: A HISTORY OF THE NEW WORLD IN TEN COCKTAILS by Wayne Curtis, read by Mike Chamberlain. I have completed those, and was intrigued and entertained by both. The last also contains a PDF with drink recipes. Always good for the “holidaze.” If you want to review or read from a fav book on Youtube go to and submit, for literacy’s sake!

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