Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
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'.]
I am a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" (2013). I thought Lily Koppel's "The Astronaut Wives Club" (2013) would be the antithesis of "Lean In", but I was intrigued by a great review on NPR's Morning Edition. One of my earliest memories is of the January 27, 1967 fire that killed three astronauts on the launch pad, and I suddenly wondered how those wives had handled that.
Curious, and bolstered by Audible's no questions asked return policy in case I didn't like the AWC (as the members of "The Astronaut Wives Club" refer to the group) I decided to listen.
The AWC is a fascinating study of a place (Texas) and time (late 1950's and the 1960's) where NASA created what appeared to be the perfect community to nurture astronauts into space and eventually to the moon. The wives, followed by Life magazine and hoards of hungry press, presented a convincing facade of suburban living , cooking streak-and-eggs breakfasts, wearing exquisite dresses, with carefully coifed hair. The wives were expected to be rocks of support, not letting their own families or the rest of the world know how frightening what their husbands were doing was.
The facade was just that - a mask, and the members of the AWC joined together to support each other and mortar the cracks that inevitably formed. While their husbands competed on making history in space (and sometimes on the ground with the number of 'Cape Cookies' they could bag), the AWC supported each other with ham loaf, tuna casseroles, jello molds, and chats over plenty of coffee and cigarettes.
Most of the AWC didn't work outside the home, but most middle and upper class women didn't at the time. Being an astronaut's wife was like being an unwilling star of an unrelenting reality show.
I had initially held the members of the AWC in disdain because they seemed to derive their identities from their husbands, but like other women of that era, they did not have the options we do half a century later.
The AWC was and is a space pioneer "Lean In" group.
The narration was a bit off - not everyone could have had a Texas accent - but the pace was good.
Audible, you're safe. I won't be returning this one.
[if you found this review helpful please let me know by pressing the helpful button. Thanks!]
First of all, kudos to Deborah Blum and her publishers for picking Coleen Marlo to narrate this book. Marlo is fantastic narrating Amy Stewart’s “Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects” and “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks,” pronouncing complex scientific names and using foreign pronunciations easily (well, at least in the five languages I know well enough to know if she’s saying the words correctly.)
Blum’s “The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York”. Rather than focusing solely on a particular crime or group of particular poisoners, Blum’s chapters are (in order): Chloroform; Wood Alcohol; Cyanides; Arsenic; Mercury; Carbon Monoxide Part I; Methyl Alcohol; Radium; Ethyl Alcohol; Carbon Monoxide Part II; and Thallium.
“The Poisoner’s Handbook” describes how the poisons were developed and used, and how the forensic science developed techniques to uncover the poisons. Blum weaves the tales of the scientists who worked so hard to make sure that cruel, careful murders by poisoners were detected. She also discusses a plethora of unintentional poisonings, and the public health risks that caused them.
The biggest cause of accidental poisonings was, in Jazz Age New York, prohibition. Blum describes New York City in the early 20th century so completely, I can see it in my mind, with horses and buggies, Model-T Fords, and a scrum of long-vanished air pollution.
"The Poisoner's Handbook" is lively and intriguing, and well worth the listen.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by pressing the helpful button. Thanks!]
Some things are best understood after time has past and Dave Cullen's book "Columbine" does a great service by bringing perspective to the assault. True crime readers will be impressed by the breadth and depth of coverage he provides to the topic. Professionals from all kinds of disciplines will be pleased. Cullen's description of neuro plasticity and problems of a student recovering are good. His chapter on psychopathy alone is worth the price of the book. Every technical aspect of the Columbine experience is described in easy to understand language.
The opening portions of the book tell the story as reconstructed and it is a page turner. Cullen informs the reader as he describes the influences of the media on public perception, deception of the authorities, and the emotional trials of the families touched most deeply by the crimes. Myths built around a few of the students and their book publishing deals are examined. I cannot image a stone unturned or an aspect of the crimes not discussed in this book.
The book is troubling until explanations for the behavior of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebod are finally understood.
I am looking forward to the next work by Cullen, but I don't know how he will be able to do it. He has done a great service to the public.