A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
This short collection of writings done by Christopher Hitchens detailing his experience with cancer, dying and mortality reminds me in no little way of a 21st century Montaigne. While I was expecting Hitchens stoic materialism to jump off the page, I was also surprised by his gentleness. This is a man who loved life. He loved his family. He loved his friends. He loved to think, to write and to speak. Is there any greater testament to a life well-lived than to read or listen to a man's final words and walk away from that experience made better by his spirit and his strength. If "death is", to re-use Bellow's phrase, "the dark backing a mirror needs before it can give off a reflection," than Hitch's life and words were that same mirror's silver.
There are parts of this book I absolutely loved. There are also parts of it I definitely hated. I think Eggers' talent is obvious, his playfulness kinetic, his abilility to make his own grief/history both gruesome and beautiful by basically eating every experience and person surrounding him (disposal of his mom's ashes is a good example). Eventually his thinking about the thinking and thinking about the thinking about thinking kinda drove me a little nuts.
I do want to distinguish my own discomfort with this early Dave Eggers book from the current jealous-hipster backlash against Eggers. Yes, my hipster MFA people, Eggesr isn't Henry James, certainly, but still he manages to subvert the artificial separation between fiction and memoirs in aHWofSG. So, just admit that part of your animosity towards this book is that you didn't think of it, write it, or end up actually being able to make a living/achieve fame from a book you wrote in your twenties (same feelings that bubbles up whenever a Foer brother publishes something)
I'm also glad I waited to read/listen to this until Eggers had proven through McSweeney's, and his more recent books of nonfiction and fiction, that he wasnt just a gimmicky one-hit-wonder.
Oh, and Dion Graham's read of aHWofSG was kindof amazing.
With this biography, Meacham appears to continue to float in that narrative sphere between popular journalist-historians (Alter,Woolfe) and popular academic-historians (Ellis, Kearns Goodwin, Morris). His writing most closely resembles (in many, many ways) Walter Isaacson and David McCullough. They write similar types of biographies and seem to inhabit a similar clumped intellectual range.
That said, while Meacham's style will never perfectly thrill academic historians, this biography is interesting and paced-well and shouldn't trouble too many presidential history buffs. Meacham has never had a real boat-tipping agenda with his biographies. He certainly wants to make Jefferson's life, times and experiences (told largely through secondary sources, anecdotes and at times brilliant story-telling) relevant to our current political and social setting. He did this wonderfully with FDR and Jackson and has continued his record with this excellent bio of Jefferson.
As far as narration goes, Hermann seems to have a talent for reading big books. He was blessed with one of those voices that don't make you want to drive your car off the road after listening for a couple hours straight. This quality makes him perfect for long narrative histories and biographies. He reads with clarity, but also manages to largely float behind the text. Also, his voice works well for Audible's 1.5 & 2x speed, but 3x speed was just a little much.