A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
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.
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.
This is one of those biographies that should be read regardless of your interest in the subject. IT is important not just because of what it can teach you about Brigham Young, Mormons, the American West of the late 1900s, etc, but because of what it can teach the careful reader about how history is done. This book is history done by a craftsman who is fascinated by his subject, but also devoted to his craft.
Turner, a non-Mormon historian, is able to craft a compelling narrative of Brigham Young that avoids the hagiographic and almost propagandist tendencies of those biographies pushed out by some faithful LDS biographers. It also avoids, however, giving too much weight to aspects of Young's character and life that while in the 21st century seem bigoted and narrow (his view towards blacks and women) were actually quite common among most protestant males in America from the Jacksonian era through Reconstruction. 'Pioneer Prophet' avoids focusing too much attention on aspects of Young's life that are easily exploited for their titillation factor, but Turner doesn't avoid them. He places polygamy, Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Mormon Reformation, the Utah War, etc., all in the proper framework -- one which helps the reader to understand Brigham Young as a man and a prophet, but NOT as a caricature or a saint.
My only criticism or gripe about this audiobook is the narrator. While both Mormon culture and Utah's geography pose unique challenges to the casual reader with their funky names, part of a narrator's job is to research the pronunciation of a book's unique names. Town names like: Weber (/ˈwēːbər/ WE..Burr), Ephraim (/ˈiːfriːəm/ hard E), Manti (/ˈmantī/ hard I) were all mispronounced, as was the Book of Mormon name Moroni (/mō-rō'nī/ hard I). These are issues that could have been avoided by simply calling anyone in Utah with an area code of 435.
I am a bilingual high school teacher. I mostly read non-fiction, especially history, but I am also a sucker for science-fiction and fantasy novels.
Before I found this book, I'd never heard of the Zimmerman telegram. Being Canadian, we never went into great detail on why the Americans entered the First World War - we were involved once Britain was involved. However, once I listened to other Barbara W. Tuchman books (The Proud Tower and The Guns of August), I knew I had to listen to this one too, and it didn't disappoint me.
Although this is not a particularly long audiobook, especially in the realm of nonfiction, that doesn't mean it isn't detailed. In fact, it gives practically a day-by-day account of some of the most critical periods and plenty of background to understand who the players are and what their motivations were. It is fascinating to listen to and it gives you a really good sense of the state of the world in early 1917 - the Germans moving to unrestricted submarine warfare, the French running out of energy, the British running out of money, the Mexicans caught in a series of coups, the Americans failing to understand why no one would agree to a negotiated peace. All of the backroom negotiations, intelligence operations, and diplomatic unease made for a really engaging story. And although you know from the start that the Americans will get involved, somehow there is still a sense of suspense in the telling where you wonder whether Mexico will attack Texas and the Germans will win in Europe after all.
The narration in this book by Wanda McCaddon was excellent. She can pronounce all of the foreign-language words (primarily German and Spanish) well, one of my personal irks with a lot of audiobook narrators, and in general reads at a good pace with great voice changes to represent individual speakers.
Filled with information from diaries and official records, this book makes you feel like you know the people involved well and that you understand why they are making the decisions they are. For such a small incident, really, in the overall view of the war, it makes for an interesting story with far-reaching consequences that affect how the world is today. Although I don't have a huge interest in American history, this was so much more than just a story about how they came into the First World War. It's about Germany, Britain, Mexico just as much as it is about the US, and Tuchman does a great job of showing the events from all those perspectives. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in WWI history, Woodrow Wilson, and/or stories of diplomatic intrigue.