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.