I’ve listened to less than you’d think, and the episodes have been less impressive than I’ve come to expect. The books, on the other hand, have been wonderful.
A genuinely good, provocative book was The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A history of steam, industry, and invention. A very interesting book that ties a number of elements together as necessary preconditions for the industrial revolution. I particularly appreciated the details on pre-coke patents and how the change in standards–especially moving from “secrecy” to “legal protection” as the framework for patents.
The details of the development of the various improvements was fascinating; I hadn’t realized how inefficient the original engine was, and how many different improvements went into making the combustion energy efficient enough to drive a train or steamship.
For pure pleasure, it’s hard to beat Scalzi’s new Old Man’s War book, The Human Division. The world advanced interestingly; the perils of negotiation and diplomacy are a great way to expand the universe beyond a grunt’s eye view. (This follows the trend from the previous few books.) Jennifer warned me that the book ends on a cliffhanger… and threatened poor Scalzi’s life if he wasn’t at his desk writing the next episodes. So, hopefully he’s doing that. [I enjoyed the book and am intrigued by the mysterious opponents… I’m also looking forward to the finding out more.]
The Jefferson Hour, Show 1024 Etiquette (5-12-13). A conversation about a perennial thorn in democracy’s discussions. While the historical bits were interesting, the conversation never really escaped grumpy old men and “get off my lawn”.
The Jefferson Hour, Show 1025 Political Process (5-19-13). An odd mismatch; the guest host played up techno-wonder at our problems and solutions, never really addressing Jefferson’s (very predictable) counterpoints. Unfortunately, the net effect was to make the guest host look terminally naive and Jefferson look 200 years out of date. The problem came from both ends; Ms. Hedger has a great deal of practical experience with governing that didn’t come through as she delved into technological capabilities and the role of money bought too into the insiders’ perspective. To have a better debate, Jefferson might have been better playing up the inventor side, discussing with wonder the idea of observing the far side of the globe, etc. As it stood, he was able to dismiss modern complexities convincingly, but had no where to go after his “victory”.
This American Life 495: Hot In My Backyard About getting discussion of climate change “unstuck”; interesting, but not captivating.