"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
There is something bold and yet quiet about 'Zeitoun' the book and Zeitoun the man. There is also something bold about Dave Eggers. I don't always like the flashier parts of Eggers. The sparkle and the shake of 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' or the fur-covered binding of 'The Wild Things' didn't really capture me like they did some. But after reading 'A Hologram for the King' I've started recognizing it for what it is -- David Eggers is simply enthusiastic, ebullient about ideas and people. He can't help himself. He has an idea and he wants it big or bigger. He wants Zeitoun's story written across the sky. For most of us the wish or desire is enough. It fills us up. We are done there and can go to bed and rest comfortably. The brilliance of the idea quickly gets burned out as the sun of the rest of our lives burns our dreams away. The brilliance (or genius) of David Eggers is his ability to follow up on these quirky little ideas. He has tremendous follow-through. He doesn't forget, he doesn't dispose, he uses and crafts and makes and publishes.
Not every book written by Eggers will be genius, but his ENERGY is always genius. His momentum is always brilliant. And, 'Zeitoun' the book was brilliant. It showed the beauty of people and the inhumanity of bureaucracies. It is the story of America. How America can contain both the best and the worst of humanity, often lit by the same light and drowned/baptized by the same waters.
Wow. It is amazing to me to think this book was written in 1794/95. One of the most influential thinkers/writers/pamphleteers of the American AND French revolutions. You can't read Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or Bart D. Ehrman and not feel that these authors ALL owe huge debts of gratitude to Thomas Paine and his last book. 'The Age of Reason', which essentially advocated deism, promoted humanism, reason and freethinking, and violently quarelled with ALL institutionalized religion (especially Christianity, viz the Bible), turned one of the heroes of the American Revolution into a social pariah. Only 6 people showed up for his funeral in 1809 (15 years after 'The Age of Reason' was first published) because many were still horrified by 'The Age of Reason'. Thomas Paine was an amazing thinker and like Hitch, I might not always agree with the end result of his thinking, but I am always amazed at the energy, force, originality and bravery of his thought.
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.