On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President. Three days later, I read a nice piece in the Washington Post by Wil Haygood. "A Butler Well Served by this Election" was the too brief story of Eugene Allen, a Black butler who served eight presidents, retiring during the Reagan administration. Later, watching the inaugural on television, the camera panned to Allen, and a commentator mentioned he was there as a special guest of the President's. Allen must have had interesting stories, but he was discrete and I thought they had died with him in 2010.
I was thrilled to find "The Butler: A Witness to History" (2013) at the top of the Audible crawl. "Wow," I thought. "A story I always wanted to hear more of, and one of the narrators is Forest Whitaker!" I like his voice so much I'd listen to him reading a refrigerator repair manual. It was the fastest Audible purchase I've made, and I don't regret it.
I thought I would be listening to a lengthier biography of Allen, or perhaps a novelization of the movie, but "The Butler" book is really a companion to the movie. According to this book, the movie "The Butler" is partially fictionalized, and a dramatic conflict was created between Allen and a radicalized son. This book first discusses how Haygood came up with the original story idea, and his lovely interviews with Allen and his wife, Helene. The book discusses Allen's relationships with the presidents he served, but briefly -it's a short book. It also discusses the tragedy Allen honored to vote for Obama, and then his physical struggle to attend the inauguration.
There's also a section on the difficulty bringing "The Butler" to the screen. Oprah Winfrey discusses the history of Blacks in film, as actors, directors and producers. I am familiar with all of the actors she mentioned, but the directors in the 1920's and 30's were new to me.
I'm giving the book a story rating of "3" because, as an Audible, it wandered. I wasn't always sure what point was being raised.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by clicking 'helpful'.]
In 1642, Dutch Golden Age Master Rembrandt van Rijn completed "The Night Watch". The three most important subjects of the painting are in sunlight, and the other 31 people - the military company of the two men in sunlight - are shaded, using a technique called chiaroscuro. Someone looking at "The Night Watch" quickly would notice the featured soldiers and the girl watching them, but miss the other people in the background, who are doing very interesting things - and make up most of the picture.
When I listened to Denise Kiernan's "The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II" (2013) I realized that I knew about the stars of the atomic program - Robert J. Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, General Leslie Groves - but the whole story of making the atomic bomb has been in chiaroscuro.
Kiernan focuses on the women involved in the project, from Caddy (spelling may be wrong, since I was listening), a black woman janitor who worked overtime to help buy a B-25 bomber; unskilled high school graduates recruited from the surrounding area; well educated female statisticians and scientists who, before the war, had been discouraged from their 'unsuitable choices' for degrees; to Lise Meitner, a German physicist of Jewish descent who fled Nazi Europe whose research on fission was crucial to engineering the bomb itself. Clinton Engineering Works (CEW) was the operation of huge plants that extracted enriched uranium. One of the largest plants was built by woman-owned HK Ferguson, Inc, in just 66 days.
These accomplishments are astounding - especially for blacks and women who were paid less for doing the same jobs as white men, because, after all . . . Well, they could. That was as stupid then as it is now. I was pretty saddened to hear that blacks were segregated both from whites, and men from women - even if they were married. One black man, injured in an accident, had medical experiments conducted on him without his consent. A very well qualified black scientist wasn't sent to Oak Ridge because he would have had to live in a Hutment (shack).
"The Girls of Atomic City" made me realize that, like a quick glance at "The Night Watch," I'd missed most of the picture - and I didn't even know it. It's a great listen.
About the audio - well, I wasn't wild about Cassandra Campbell's narration. Her character narration was good, and I particularly liked the Italian accent she needed to use for some people. However, on the explanatory prose - well, there's no reason to elongate one syllable words interminably.
[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]
I am not a particularly paranoid person. Well, that's not quite right any more.
Until I listened to Annie Jacobsen's "The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency" (2015), I didn't realize that the NSA (National Security Agency) has had the ability to figure out where I've been pretty much the entire last 5 years. And no, not just that trip to China I took a few years ago that required a visa and customs.
If someone at the Puzzle Palace wanted to figure out if I'd been going into work on time every single day, what my favorite beach is, or what park I watched 4th of July Fireworks at in 2013, they probably could. I've had an iPhone with a GPS (global positioning system) since 2010, and GPS is DARPA originated technology. There's facial recognition software, too, used in large crowds, also developed under DARPA auspices, and that technology became urgent after 9/11. The only reason I haven't gone completely conspiracy theory mad over the whole situation is that I can't imagine who would care what I've done 24/7 for the last half decade.
Jacobsen's book on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Is fascinating and frightening. She starts with its founding in 1958, before the 'D' had been adhered to the acronym, but after the Soviet Union had shocked the United States by launching the first-in-space Sputnik. The Vietnam War was a major driver of ARPA projects - and in hindsight, some of those projects were dangerously crazy. Yes, you can track people contaminated with depleted uranium, but fortunately, that idea ended up round filed before it went anywhere.
ARPA didn't invent what's widely recognized as the first of the non-human calculators, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator). The US Army did, in 1946. J.C.R. Licklider, working for an ARPA contractor, originated the concept of an 'Intergalactic Computer Network' in 1963. ARPA contractors hardwired the first nodes and created TCP/IP protocol and half a century later the world's on the Internet. And, while the whole galaxy isn't networked, the solar system is. It's always a kick to get tweets from the International Space Station, especially when it's dark out and the Earth's rotation is right, so you can see it flying across the night sky.
There's a lot more to DARPA and to Jacobsen's book. Her discussion about medical data collection, medical advancements, and related developments in artificial intelligence - well, there's so much information there, each subject could be a separate book or 5. And the fact that recent mandatory changes in medical reporting and the use of ICD-10 coding (medical diagnosis codes) probably has more to do with tracking nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks than anything else never even occurred to me - and I work with ICD codes all the time. What a revelation.
Annie Jacobsen narrated her book, and she was good - not in a performer kind of way, where she was making up different voices for people - but in a 'let me read my book to you' way.
[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]