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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

MAY 2013
by Jonathan Lowe

Why are newspapers shuttering and big businesses shuddering? Because David is the new Goliath in the new open source internet age. According to THE END OF BIG by Nicco Mele there are good things coming from this, and bad things. Among the good is the Arab Spring, and the flight of the corrupt despot that ran Tunisia. Being a political strategist and Harvard professor, Mele talks about the melee happening within cyberspace, where fundamentally volatile and independent groups of people gain power over brick-and-mortar institutions, (and the ramifications of this.) Do we need big institutions to keep chaos and unaccountability from degrading society? Mele says that in many cases, yes. There has to be big in order for certain things to be exist, like high concept movies and research hospitals. But in other cases, such as taking on the corruption within a Congress and Senate now more about maintaining power with money than anything else (plus Wall Street's buying of politicians), grassroots efforts to expose the frauds and kickbacks (while imposing term limits) may be the only way to save America. This book offers a broad view of the situation, with both pros and cons examined, in an effort to avoid the unintended consequences of rampant technological advances. The world is becoming smaller and more open, but also more volatile and unpredictable. Our old policy of shaping nations through military power projection is coming to end, not only because we can't afford it anymore, but because we can't plan or understand. The world is moving too fast, and cultures changing daily in art, music, literature, science, and in values. With fossil fuels going to possibly $14 a gallon in twenty-five years, big business, dependent on cheap oil, is doomed. What will replace it small, local, craft-based businesses, and this even goes for energy, food production, clothing, and transportation. Sharing companies are already here, where you can join a network to rent your idle car or idle room. The promise of small is survival and a reversal of the degradation of the planet in the name of profit. Narrated by Sean Runnette, who is often tapped to do non-fiction due to his authoritative yet conversational style, this audiobook is well worth hearing and contemplating because, in the end, it offers promise to those whose diet of zombie films and survival shows relates to a grim outlook on the future. The alternative to this is individuals working to save their communities, and thereby the world.

JUMPSTART TO SKINNY by Biggest Loser coach Bob Harper is a simple one-hour audiobook for those who need motivation to lose weight quickly for a big event (like a wedding or going to the beach with former college friends.) The audiobook is read by the author, who sounds like your typical Pilates coach (or perhaps a male Suze Orman), and includes a PDF of recipes and exercise routines. The timeline here is 3 weeks, and the tricks to losing weight involve rules such as giving up salt, replacing high caloric foods with others, not eating complex carbs after a certain hour, and (surprisingly) drinking coffee (particularly dark roast or espresso.) Co-author Greg Critser is also author of FAT LAND and ETERNITY SOUP.

GOING CLEAR by Lawrence Wright has the subtitle "Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief." Read on audio by Morton Sellers, whose straightforward narration style and voice is similar to Dylan Baker, who read the Steve Jobs bio. It is an in-depth examination of the history and principal characters involved in creating or spreading the religion around the world. Wright covers the church's tax exempt classification with the IRS, and the church's multiple run-ins with the press. The church denies practically everything in the book, most vehemently the depictions of humiliation, physical abuse, and the methods used to attract followers and keep them obedient. The experiences of Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Will and Jada Smith, Anne Archer, Paul Haggis, and many lesser known disciples are laid out (more or less chronologically), but it is the other material that makes this the most exhaustive book yet on the subject. Wright himself is dismissed and vilified as a liar by the church, yet his reputation as a staff writer for The New Yorker is augmented by six previous books of nonfiction, plus the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. Is Wright right, or is Scientology right? To everyone on the outside, it is obvious, and notable that among all the bizarre claims made by the church, two facts stand out: 1) L. Ron Hubbard once stated that the easiest way to make money was to start a religion, and his church then later forged documents related to his supposed war injuries and education. 2) Scientology claims that the universe is several quadrillion years old, not merely under 15 billion, (as science has determined by multiple means.) A quadrillion is either a thousand million million OR a million million million million OR a thousand trillion. So while the church attempts to appropriate science to attack psychiatry, it isn't "clear" about its own decimal points.

At age 17, Nick D'Aloisio has become a rich boy genius who, following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, is out to change the world. Will he succeed to the extent that Jobs did? Time will tell. Like Steve as a teen, he's self taught, inquisitive, focused on the future, and determined to extend the limits of technology. Unlike Steve (except in his later years), he's humble and not focused on the money. So far. No, there is no book "Summly." In fact, the app is gone from Apple's app store, and the algorithm that runs the summarization program is being absorbed into Yahoo's systems at their reported $30 million purchase of the app. Which begs the question: are algorithms already ruling the world, even Pre-A.I.? Such is the premise of Christopher Steiner in AUTOMATE THIS, an audiobook read by Walter Dixon. Robotic trades on Wall Street have caused immense damage, but also promise much in detecting the likelihood of success in human interactions. This will come in handy in diplomacy, business styles, and a host of applications from space science to music. Power comes from knowledge, and new tools for calculation of data can be used for good or ill, depending on the motives of the user. Will future wars be automated? What can't be automated? What shouldn't? Another audiobook I recommend on this subject is THE FILTER BUBBLE.

Finally, The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination is a tongue-in-cheek collection of stories introduced by editor John J. Adams, including offerings by 22 authors such as Daniel H. Wilson and Diana Gabaldon. Some are funny, some ghoulish, some foolish. Hand a beaker to an evil genius in a lab, and you aren't likely to get your typical romance or mystery story. Chief narrator is veteran Stefan Rudnicki, with Mary Robinette Kowal and the always engaging actress Justine Eyre.
Your reviewer's new book, out this month under an assumed name, is the sports satire "The Umpire Has No Clothes," an ebook from Crossroad Press for Kindle, Nook, and iPad.

2013 Past Columns