Read me a book

Posted in Reviews at 17:50 by RjZ

While I haven’t been keeping up with book reviews lately, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up reading. People are still handing me books to read and I am slogging through them. Recently, for the first time, I had a book read to me. I received a trial audiobook from Audible.com and decided to give it a try.

I was immediately faced with a dilemma: how to choose. One of the advantages of reading books that people let me borrow is that my choices are dramatically limited. I choose faster in restaurants, too, now that I don’t eat meat, since there’s simply fewer things on the menu. Audible, meanwhile has thousands of titles to choose from and seeing their website I’d suddenly forgot all the books I’d heard about and hoped to borrow some day soon.

One did pop up pretty quickly, so I decided to listen to Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. Dr. Diamond is a credited as an evolutionary biologist and teaches geography at UCLA, but, above all, this book promised to address a question I think about quite a bit. Why are the artifacts one group of people so much more advanced than the artifacts of another. During my recent trip to Peru many tourists were amazed by the fantastic rock masonry of the Inca. I too was impressed, but, let’s face it, the people who built the beautiful Machupicchu around 1460 CE hadn’t yet discovered the wheel. Europeans had been building gothic cathedrals for a few centuries and were moving on to the renaissance  around this time, and Gutenberg invented the printing press.

I recommend Machupicchu to anyone, but not necessarily because of the heavy stone that was moved around. Egyptians were built the even more impressive pyramids only 4500 years previous. Seeing these monuments, and even the people living in one place or another, I have often wondered why one society lives one way and another seems to require cars and laptops. The short answer is that it has nothing to do with the relative intelligence of one group of people over another, and much more to do with the luck of location and the geography of the land around them. It’s easier to trade ideas and advance when you live near other societies, and it’s equally easy to get by without even the wheel if you’re able to feed your people and no one else comes along to kill you.

The book was excellent and has filled me with new stories and new insights. I highly recommend it to anyone who travels the world where you can experience Diamond’s observations first hand. As far as having it read to me? It certainly is easier than reading it yourself. The reader had excellent diction and, in retrospect, it’s quite the impressive achievement to read the entire volume out loud. The production values were top notch and it was as if the reader never even had to take a breadth. The experience, on the iPhone was satisfactory enough; the media player remembered where I was each time I stopped and I could easily read while driving; a feat I otherwise can’t recommend.

In the end, though, I didn’t remain an Audible member. Reading is a simple pleasure. When the pilot says to turn off all electronic devices, the book can remain open. When I get in a car to go somewhere I put down the book, saving it for a quieter, more focused time. It’s convenient to listen to an audiobook supported by hundreds of dollars of technology, but it’s not as simple as just opening a book. And simple is how it shall remain for me. Unless someone wants to lend me another audiobook.


  1. drunkencatinsuit said,

    December 25, 2008 at 19:58

    Assuming you truly enjoyed the experience, the library has a decent selection of audio books you can check out for free…

  2. aaron said,

    December 25, 2008 at 21:59

    Weird, I just watched part 1 of the documentary based on that book earlier this week. (All 3 parts are streamed on google video)

    Although there must be more
    (although perhaps vastly less important)
    factors to “cultural” development
    than just geographically available resources.

    Thailand has had plenty of grains and livestock
    for thousands of years and really hasn’t developed
    any technological or cultural breakthroughs.

    Japan had some resource problems
    for many years and caught up quickly.

    But I still have 2 parts of the series to watch.
    So maybe that’s addressed.

  3. Nomad said,

    January 4, 2009 at 0:21

    I’ve been quite a fan of (and regular subscriber to) Audible for quite some time. I admit that books have their own special place in our lives, but I don’t think of audiobooks as the same experience as reading. Rather, they are a way to learn interesting new things while doing things that take up a lot of my time, but not so much of my brain power, like driving, running, or (for hours every week, in my case), knitting. When my eyes and hands are free again, I’ll curl up with a real book, and enjoy the experience all the more.

    On the other hand, some folks (including Timothy Ferriss, one of my favorite authors/bloggers these days. Check him out. I think you’d like him.) suggest that information overload is bad for one’s creativity and productivity. If I decide to cut back, I’d eliminate TV first, then audiobooks, then books, keeping music in my life, no matter what.

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