Reviews: E-books and audiobooks: cruise culture, bad science, North Korean jails
At the Captain’s Table
by Hugh Thomson
It’s easy to imagine people on cruises reading this book while lounging on their sunbeds. That’s if they’re not flipping through Keith Richards’ biography or re-reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, as Hugh Thomson did while on a luxury liner that took him from Miami to Los Angeles the long way round. Thomson’s point about Richards, and the type of music played around the pool (Bob Dylan, for instance), is that it reminded him that many of the clientele on his boat would have been young in the 1960s – even if they probably didn’t join any protests with folk musicians. The travel writer, who was asked to lecture on the cruise and so travelled gratis on what would have been a US$50,000 experience, discusses the cruising type, why people choose to see the world in this way and how they behave when the price is allinclusive. (“People drink less when it’s free,” he writes.) Readers also hear about the “non-stop drip feed of luxurious food”, how to make the most of the brief port calls and what could spoil the journey.
This Idea Must Die
by John Brockman
(read by David Colacci and Susan Ericksen)
John Brockman's collection of writings shows that not only do new ideas triumph by replacing old ones, but also that new ideas respond to "new information made possible by new measurements", as Jared Diamond argues in one of 175 mini-essays from many of the world's most eminent brains. Linguist Steven Pinker joins novelist Ian McEwan, ethologist Richard Dawkins, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb and scores of others in presenting scientific theories that they believe must die because they are blocking progress. Some of these ideas are clearly dated, including those about IQ, race, nature vs nurture, and altruism. Those listening to narrators David Colacci and Susan Ericksen will probably jump around the book as they look for arguments justifying their own conclusions. Psychologist Adam Waytz will find supporters who feel Aristotle's aphorism that man is a social animal should be retired. Helen Fisher's thoughts on love and addiction will gain her an audience, as will Jane Gruber's ideas about so-called negative emotions such as sadness and fear.
The Last POW
by Mike Chinoy
Amazon Digital Services
The Last POW is important reading for one main reason: it underscores that joining a group tour for North Korea will not prevent your arrest or detention by authorities. For American retiree Merrill Newman, who was held for more than a month in 2013 in Pyongyang, something else learned the hard way was that "guides, as friendly as they may be, are not your friends". Newman organised his "holiday" through Juche Travel Services, a London-based agency specialising in trips to North Korea. A zoologist, he had served in the US Army during the Korean war and was keen to visit Mount Kuwol, a tourist site. He had trained a guerilla unit for missions to disrupt supply lines and kill communist soldiers; Mount Kuwol was a key area. What he hadn't realised was the "visceral hatred felt in Pyongyang for the Kuwol Regiment", writes Mike Chinoy, and how his desire to contact surviving soldiers there would be received. This book tells what it took to free Newman and points to his naivety in assuming that "like Germany or Japan or Vietnam, people forget".