Audible listener who's grateful for 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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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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The first time I learned about code talkers was over a hot, humid summer in Missouri, during basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. One of my drill sergeants was part Native American, and he proudly told the story of the unbreakable code Navajos created in World War II.
Event though Sgt. Duke wasn't one of "the dineh" he was carrying on the Navajo tradition of telling fascinating stories, just as Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila do in "Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII" (2012).
The extended title of the book sounds almost too formal, but it is precise in a way Nez must have insisted on. At the end of WWI, a US Army battalion in France used Choctaw soldiers as ad hoc code talkers. Seminoles served as code talkers in Europe in WWII, while Navajos served in the Pacific.
Nez was one of the original 29 men, fluent in Navajo and English, recruited from schools and reservations in Arizona and New Mexico, to develop a top secret code. The military was desperate: the Japanese had broken every other code, and machine encryption using a one-use code took hours to encrypt and decrypt. Navajo was ideal: it was rarely written at the time (it was well after WWII that the Navajo Nation even agreed on an alphabet); it was extremely difficult for non-native speakers to learn; and Navajos were raised to memorize long stories.
"Code Talkers" works exceptionally well as an Audible book, especially with the way this story is told. Nez and Avila weave Navajo customs and traditions, such as a medicine bag, into 'a day in battle life' narrative, Nez served as a code talker at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Angaur and Peleliu - without ever being allowed to take leave. Nez was about to ship out to Iwo Jima when someone pulled his jacket and realized he'd accumulated enough points to be honorably discharged.
Nez shipped stateside for a few months of medical care, and then went home to his family and their land. He started to have nightmares, haunted by the 'chindi' (evil remnants) of the hundreds of dead enemy soldiers he'd seen. Nez - and the estimated 400 to 500 other Navajo code talkers - kept their work secret, even when tormented by wicked memories.
"Code Talkers" has a lengthy description of Navajo sings - including The Enemy Way, a traditional Navajo cure. Nez went through an Enemy Way shortly after his service ended. More than 20 years later, when his work was declassified and he faced too many questions, he went through another Enemy Way ceremony, followed by a Blessing Way. Absolutely fascinating - and, as Nez would have said himself - they worked because he expected them to work.
David Colacci is an accomplished narrator. Well, that's an understatement after 160+ narrated titles. I don't know if his Navajo pronunciation was correct or not, with the exception of the handful of Navajo words I've heard spoken by native speakers - and those sounded right to me. But, as good as Colacci is in this Audible, I wish Tantor had found a native Navajo speaker to narrate this. The actual language is just that important. This is the first time I'm giving a Colacci audible less than a 5, but it's not a Colacci Issue: it's a producer problem.
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