This is a horrifying and depressing story, but an important one. Richard Evans is a careful historian, not given to hyperbole and dramatic flourishes, and Sean Pratt matches his tone with a comfortable pace and even tone. Yet in its methodical way, the book lays out a gripping tale.
One point Evans makes is that the Nazis did NOT come to power democratically; they never won more than about 38% of the popular vote. Their victory was a result of PR, brutal street violence, and "backstairs intrigue," with their participation in the electoral process mostly for show. Once in, they proceeded to infiltrate and dominate every aspect of German society, down to the smallest blue-collar singing club in the smallest rural village. Everything was made to point in the same direction in a massive program of "coordination."
One of the most depressing aspects of this whole dismal saga, to me, is the way the Nazis were able to take over German culture, science, and higher education. Jewish musicians were fired; "non-Aryan" physicists and biologists were forced out of the universities and out of the country, to the great impoverishment of German science; philosophy was dominated by Martin Heidegger, who fully embraced the Nazi program. Gung-ho college students tore through bookshops and libraries, seizing "anti-German" material and throwing it onto a bonfire.
The book stops in the spring of 1933, just after the Nazi revolution and before the brown shirts were decimated in the "Night of the Long Knives." The second volume in the trilogy, "The Third Reich in Power," is available on Audible with the same narrator. (I'm going to wait a few weeks before I tackle that one: I need some time to recover from the first volume.)
Andrew Wilson's book provides a wonderful expansion of the Titanic story. What he's done is gather and organize a series of lives: what happened to the survivors of the wreck? Some found happiness with new life partners they met in the lifeboats; others struggled to make sense of the tragedy, and more than a few committed suicide.
Wilson does a great job capturing the unique qualities of each person's life and personality. (I do have two criticisms: one is that he sometimes tends to speculate about psychological states that can't be verified; another is the recurrence of the phrase "lay at the bottom of the ocean.") We hear about Jack Thayer, the scion of a main line Philadelphia family; Dorothy Gibson, star of silent film who wrote and acted in her own film about the Titanic within weeks of her arrival in New York; the haunted and reclusive Bruce Ismay, who lost a leg to diabetes; the affable Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, who spent the rest of their lives trying to justify their escape from the wreck in a lifeboat that held only 12 people; the obsessive Edith Russell, the woman who had a pig-shaped music box, and who was horrified when the film version of "A Night to Remember" showed her wearing a dress she would never have worn; and Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the Titanic, who was only 9 months old at the time of the wreck and who died in 2009.
Most of the stories are of first-class passengers, with a handful from second-class and virtually no one from third-class. Of course the first-class passengers were more likely to survive and more likely to leave accounts in newspapers and books: by percentage, more first-class men survived the sinking than third-class women and children.
There's quite a good account of the wreck as well, obviously much shorter and more selective than Walter Lord's narrative. But as he discusses the lives of the survivors, Wilson returns again and again to the story of the sinking to fill in stray details.
The book is read brilliantly by Bill Wallis, whose gravelly voice sounds like it's been through a few shipwrecks of its own. I found myself holding my breath as Wallis took me through Ismay's appearance before the Senate inquiry in America and the British Wreck Commission inquiry; cringing at the obtuseness of the Duff Gordons during their own time in what became, for them, the dock of public opinion.
I'm usually listening to three or four audio books at a time, switching between them at different times of day or depending on mood. One of the best things I can say about this enthralling listen is that I set aside all the other titles I was working on till I finished this one.
Shelby Foote is a brilliant storyteller, and his history of the Civil War is a masterpiece. Other histories give you the view from a thousand feet; Foote shows you what it must have looked like to the birds in the trees. It's often said that he's biased toward the South, but I think that's an exaggeration. He may not be overly fond of Grant, but he lavishes praise on Abraham Lincoln. His "bias," such as it is, comes partly from the narrative device of trying to give equal time to Jefferson Davis, as if he were in the same league as Lincoln. (Sorry, Shelby, but Jeff was a pill and even you can't make him sympathetic.)
I like Grover Gardner's narration a lot. There is some variation in audio quality, as others have noted, but for the most part Gardner is clear and forceful, and the story unfolds almost effortlessly. I can listen to it for hours at a time without fatigue.
The only drawback to listening to this, rather than reading it, is the absence of maps. Foote's book is peppered with maps, large and small, strategically placed throughout the text, and they support the narrative descriptions with economy and precision. I was fortunate in having the book at hand and could follow the maps. Wikipedia also has a number of excellent Civil War maps that can be used for this purpose.