I took a long time listening to this because I didn't want it to end. I also wanted to listen to the music chronologically as Jonathan Gould worked his way through each album and single; so I kept taking breaks from the audiobook to catch up on the songs.
The Beatles are THE band for me and always have been, since my brother and I took the bus into Richmond in 1964 to see the first run of "Hard Day's Night." I won't go so far as to say this is THE book about the group, but it's a fine one, and is well narrated by Richard Aspel. To the standard question, would you read / listen to another book by this writer / narrator - yes, definitely, on both counts.
It's not the most gossipy book about the Beatles. Gould doesn't have any ground-breaking new research or exclusive interviews to offer. What he has, in abundance, are two things: a rich sense of the political and cultural context in which the Beatles' career took place; and a detailed analysis, musical and lyrical, of every released single and every track on every album. His discussions of the songs are what impelled me to go back and listen to them yet again, this time with a handful of specific things to listen for in each one. (I didn't always understand the terminology Gould uses: at one point, he refers to "the elemental subdominant cadent in A-major" - at least I think that's what he said - but his descriptions are more often concrete and illuminating than over-my-head baffling.)
Gould sets the Beatles firmly against the backdrop of Elvis, Les Paul, Brian Wilson, the Stones, Dylan, and the Goon Show on the one hand; and Vietnam, assassinations, student rebellions, the Prague Spring, the Chicago riots, the Profumo affair, and the political rivalry of Edward Heath and Harold Wilson on the other. If you didn't live through those times, the book will give you a better sense of the wider world than any other Beatles book I know. If you did live through those times, it will remind you of how glorious (and sometimes gloriously awful) they were. Woodstock makes an appearance, even though the Beatles didn't show up there: they were putting the finishing touches on the "Abbey Road" album. But Woodstock was an important part of the cultural background; it's impossible to understand the Beatles' place in popular culture without taking it into account.
I haven't listened to all the Beatles-related audiobooks on Audible. Of the ones I have listened to, the only one in the same league is the book by Bob Spitz - unfortunately only available here in abridged format. (The Hunter Davies account is on my list, but even though it has a 1996 update, it's mainly focused on the period ending in 1968.) Until someone offers Spitz unabridged, or Philip Norman's Shout!, or Hunter Davies writes a fuller account of the later years, this is the audiobook I would recommend to anyone wanting an introduction to the history of the band. Gould presents the story with admirable objectivity; it's obvious that the band, and the band's music, fascinate him; but he's willing to call baloney when he sees it, and some of the Beatles tracks, especially as he moves into the troubled territory of The White Album and the Let It Be sessions, come in for particularly harsh criticism. ("Shapeless" and "gormless" are two of the adjectives employed in Gould's discussion of one of the tracks on the White Album. "A parody of a travesty" is his verdict on another.)
The only thing that could make the audiobook better, in my opinion, would be an edition that integrates the songs themselves into the narrative. But you can always do that on your own, like I did.
This audiobook is a treat. It's actually three (short) books in one. The first is a five-hour biography, based on the Ken Burns documentary. The biography is well-researched, well-written, and well-narrated, and it's loaded with quotes, some of them extensive, from Twain and the people who knew him. Other biographies (like the one by Fred Kaplan) are more detailed, but this one covers all the main points in a concise and entertaining way. It doesn't shy away from the darker years, when many of Twain's loved ones had died and his attitude became more pessimistic and deterministic than ever.
The second part is a collection of short essays and extracts by Twain, chosen to illustrate both his wit and his range. I'm not sure what the organizing principle is here, but it's fun to listen to.
The third part is a collection of essays by some of the scholars who were interviewed for the documentary. They cover a broad range of topics, some biographical, some literary, some social: race, racism, and racist language are among the topics discussed in depth. One biographical essay is by Ron Powers, another Twain biographer who is himself represented elsewhere on Audible.com. This part also includes the transcript of an interview with Hal Holbrook, developer (and actor) of the one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!". (Holbrook, at one point, remembers a quote from Twain that made me laugh out loud: "The problem isn't that there are so many fools in the world; the problem is that lightning isn't distributed right.") It's unfortunate that Audible doesn't carry Mark Twain Tonight! as a separate title (it IS available on iTunes, if you're interested).
I love Mark Twain. I loved this audiobook. The first part lays the groundwork, the other two expand on it. Taken together, they introduce many sides of this many-sided prince among writers.
Like a lot of people my age, I grew up on Walt Disney; in my case, it went way past childhood. I got a lot of ribbing in high school because I continued to insist that he was a genius. I still think that, even though there is, undeniably, a saccharine quality to a lot of his work. Disney always considered himself more a "story man" than a master animator, and the grace and strength of the story structure in his best features is one of his most enduring monuments.
Gabler's biography is a fascinating look at Disney's life and work - especially his work. The emphasis here in on the professional, and Gabler provides totally absorbing accounts of the studio's process in creating some of the great features of the 30s and 40s. Disney did go wrong at certain points in his career, some of it financial and some of it political, and the fact that he was able to oversee the creation of so many masterpieces in spite of these wrong turns is astonishing. In the 50s, with the advent of Disneyland and the weekly TV show, Disney began once again to hit his stride.
When Disney is totally committed to what he's doing, Gabler is wonderful. When Disney is bored, Gabler becomes much less interesting. The biggest weakness in the book is the overly-detailed account of the financial dealings. It's an essential part of the story, but (as Gabler himself makes clear) it's not really what Disney was about.
The book is a useful corrective to the only other biography of Disney I've read - "The Disney Version" by Richard Schickel. That was clearly hostile; Gabler takes a much more balanced and nuanced approach. While I understand from browsing the web that not everyone agrees with me, I get the sense from the book that Gabler actually likes Disney. The book isn't the celebration some would prefer, but neither is it an indictment. It's a portrait of a man who smoked too much and drank too much and never lost a yearning for the turn-of-the-century small town perfection he'd known as a child: a man with a brilliant vision of what animation could do and the ability to motivate others to join him in the pursuit of the insanely great.
I enjoyed Arthur Morey's narration (as I always do). He maintains a steady, straightforward tone that matches the material.