Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
I listened to the audible of Mark Owens and Kevin Maurer's "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden" (2012) shortly after it came out. I liked the book well enough to rate it 5's - it was really great to hear about that mission from someone who was there. I went back and reread my review (which was lackluster and not well received) and realized what I wasn't saying in that review was that I didn't like 'Mark Owens' and I thought it was a "me, me, me" story. There had to be more to being a SEAL than that - and this is the book that shows there is.
"Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown" (2012) is the story of a flawed, heroic man who was genuinely admirable and truly loved. I'm not sure 'Mark Owens' has a conscience. I am certain Adam did. Adam was the kind of kid who stood up to a bully in middle school who was picking on Down Syndrome kid, and packed his rucksack with shoes for children in Afghanistan so they wouldn't have to endure winter barefoot. No one told him he had to do either - he was just that kind of person.
Adam wasn't always heroic. He was a crack addict with 11 felony arrests, spent a long stint in rehab, and relapsed several times. He enlisted in the Navy at 24, and worked with determination to ascend to DEVGRU, and was the best of the best. Adam overcame severe injuries that could have let him retire on full disability - he crushed his right fingers and lost his right eye, but he still passed all of the qualifications tests and reached the pinnacle of his profession.
"Fearless" was published by The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group, and the audio production is by Christian Audio. I was worried that this was going to be a preachy "you should" book, or a tale of unsupported faith. I almost didn't listen - but I remembered that Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption" (2010) had an important spiritual element for Louis Zamperini. Adam Brown's faith, and his family's faith, love and support were even more essential to him than his M4 Carbine.
Even though I knew how Adam's story ended - author Eric Blehm tells of Adam's death at the beginning - I so wanted Adam to live for his beloved wife, Kelley, and adored children, Nathan and Savannah.
Listening to narrator Paul Michael was like listening to a favorite uncle telling a well-loved family story after Thanksgiving dinner.
There's a bonus at the end - an interview with the author. That's heart wrenching, too, because of the loss of so many of Adam's SEAL team members.
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The joke is that prostitution is the world's oldest profession, and there's a debate about the second. Is it politics? Ronald Reagan joked at a business conference in Los Angeles on March 2, 1977, that "Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first." Is it motherhood, as Erma Bombeck claimed in "Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession" (1983)? Or is it spying - as both Phillip Knightley says in his 1986 book, "The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the 20th Century" - and Professor Vejas
Gabriel Liulevicius in this Great Courses lecture series "Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History" (2011)?
Whenever spying started, it is the world's most versatile profession. Liulevicius points out that a spy can be anyone. A 13th Century merchant on the Silk Road might be gathering intelligence for Genghis Khan's Mongol Hoards. A highly respected but deeply in debt American Revolutionary War general, feeling slighted by being passed over for promotion, might sell secrets to the British - as Benedict Arnold and his wife did. An arrogant Southern Confederate Army Command might believe the propaganda that Blacks were subhuman and could not pass on military plans to the forces fighting to free them, and speak improvidently in front of a 15 year old black girl serving dinner. A politically idealistic and unrealistic group of young men might agree to spy for the communists, and rise high in a democratic government before being discovered, but after betraying hundreds (Kim Philby and the Cambridge 5). Spies can be soldiers, mothers (Valerie Plame), prostitutes (Mata Hari, arguably), friends and enemies.
Liulevicius does discuss the reasons people become spies - including idealism (Jonathan Pollard, a Naval Intelligence Analyst who spied for Israel); money (Aldrich Ames, CIA, for the USSR/Russia), the desire to "get one over" on people who underestimated him (Robert Hanssen, FBI, also for USSR/Russia).
Liulevicius lectures are fascinating, and emphasize the development of the tools of the profession - the tradecraft - over the last two millennia. He also discusses how tradecraft failures lead to the discovery of spies. Liulevicius doesn't throughly discuss the reasons for the failures, but the situations he mentions appear arise from a combination of hubris, laziness and arrogance of spies themselves and handlers, rather than a lack of technical resources or expertise. That psychology alone warrants another lecture.
Liulevicius does not discuss the morals and ethics of spying, other than to mention the oft repeated maxim that "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail" which is credited to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, who disbanded the OSS (Office of Special Services) at the end of World War II. The OSS was reconstituted in fairly short order as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).
Liulevicius mentions Pvt Chelsea Manning (formerly PFC Bradley Manning), an intelligence analyst who stole hundreds of classified communications and gave them to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Former NSA (National Security Agency) contractor Edwin Snowden's intelligence leaks didn't become public until 2013, two years after this Great Course was published. Liulevicius didn't argue that Manning was a spy, and I'm sure he'd agree Snowden wasn't one either. Both men used brute force spy techniques (they were present with the intelligence and copied it), but neither were employed by any outside entity when they acquired the intelligence. Both sold the information to the "highest bidder", although the goal wasn't money for either man. It was an expression of moral belief, a desire fame, or both.
In light of these recent revelations, it would be great to hear Liulevicius talk about whether the US government's intrusion into the privacy of its citizens - its spying - is a reflection of paranoid politicians, an insular society, or just business as usual - made unusually transparent. Perhaps an updated course, Audible/Great Courses?
This is a good course, but like all Audible versions of Great Courses, there's no accompanying course material. I'm fine with that - I wouldn't have read a book along with it anyway. A true Table of Contents would have been nice, and that's available at the Great Courses website.
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When we read text, we don't read every word - our mind tells us what is there; we get the gist of a paragraph; and we move on. When we are read to, it takes longer - but we hear every word.
Laura Hillenbrand's writing is an exquisite orchid to Jane Austin's massive flowering rose bush. Both write beautifully and are and will long be remembered, but every word and sentence in Hilebrand's book is carefully trained and pruned to support an astonishing story. With Austin's work, a rose or three could be removed without notice.
That's not to say Louis Zamperini's story is austere or lacks details. Hillenbrand evokes Pre-WWII Southern California so clearly that 70 years later, you expect to see Zamperini on one of his long runs.
The description of his survival after an ocean crash is so detailed you feel Zamperini's despair as he realizes just how useless some of the survival gear stowed in the raft was.
Most of all, this is a story about the loss of dignity at the hands of captors, and the redemption of dignity. Hillenbrand shows that dignity should be first on Maslow's heirarchy, because without dignity, is anyone truly alive?
Rewind if you miss something thinking about the exit you need to take, because some of the most crucial details and changes in circumstances are in a few spare phrases . Don't miss a word of this book.
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I write my reviews under my wife Karen's account. Retired USN Russian linguist/analyst; actor; director; producer. Biography & History focus
One word describes this comprehensive look at a man who was, arguably, the greatest military leader in history...Fascinating! In "Hannibal: One Man Against Rome" we learn the reasons that compelled Hannibal to wage unending war against the Roman state, how he accomplished truly remarkable feats of leadership, why his army followed him into battle against overwhelming odds, and, perhaps most importantly, insights into Hannibal's psyche that led him to attempt these campaigns.
Written with the clarity that comes from painstaking research we gain a glimpse at the true man, rather than the character. Read with poise, humour and understanding, this is an audio experience not to be missed.