I've listened to A History of Britain (both volumes) all the way through twice and have learned something new each time. The pace is generally brisk and sensible, although Schama is far more fascinated with doctrinal disputes circa 1600-1640 than most listeners are likely to be. The narration is good, too.
Drawing on new materials, letters, and family papers, Eve LaPlante restores Abba May Alcott to her rightful position as nurturing mother and friend to Louisa May Alcott, her daughter and the author of Little Women and many other books. LaPlante fills in the missing background on Abba's life: her wealthy (for a time) family, her close relationship to her crusading abolitionist brother, Samuel Joseph May, and her extraordinary lifelong support and guidance of all her family, especially Louisa.
The family member who does not come off especially well here is her husband, Bronson Alcott. With an ego the size of Concord or maybe Boston, Bronson did not feel "called" to work or support his family. He had to have space to think, after all, so he would leave Abba with three children under 10 (and no money) so that he could rent a room in downtown Philadelphia or Boston for months at a time and work on his intellectual development.
For Bronson, bringing in money was the job of Abba and her daughters. So Anna taught school, Louisa sewed and wrote, May gave lessons, and Abba worked as a social worker and begged what support she could from family and friends. Marmee and Louisa tells the story of these hardworking women and their extended family in the context of the social and political turmoil of their times. It's an excellent listen.
This is an interesting, well-written history that provides more information about 1815-48 than you thought could fit into one book. Yes, it covers religion, as one reviewer said, but then again, it covers everything: electoral politics and newspapers of the 1830s, technological innovations, and even the execrable American diet and levels of drinking that had foreign visitors like Frances Trollope commenting on our peculiar ways.
Several heroes emerge, including John Quincy Adams in the Amistad trial, but there's one villain glowering over every bad decision that the U.S. made in this period: Andrew Jackson. Not that Howe isn't scrupulous in his reporting of history--he seems to be--but if this book were a melodrama, Jackson is its malign guiding force.
The editing is poor, as a few reviewers have commented. All the natural pauses have been snipped out, which makes the narration seem breathless. In fact, although the material is fascinating, it's hard to listen to this book for a long stretch of time without feeling tired, given the dense level of information and rushed delivery.
A hugely entertaining book first published in 1970. Although it's loosely arranged in chapters, FROM THOSE WONDERFUL FOLKS . . . is really a collection of well-polished, funny anecdotes about the advertising business during the "Creative Revolution" of the 1960s. The narrator is excellent, too--a lively, engaging voice for a book that sounds as if someone is telling you great stories at a party.
Della Femina's tales of creative types, stuffy clients, outrageous stunts, and, yes, lots of sex and drinking within the firm will be familiar to you if you're a fan of the series Mad Men, as a newly written introduction points out. You'll also gather information about advertising that will give you new respect for the series and what really happens in the creative process.
Some audiobooks are ones that you feel you have to finish, and others are ones that you look forward to listening to every day. This is a "look forward to" book.
The title of this review should have read "Informative and opinionated--not that there's anything wrong with that."
Ethan Mordden's THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS is an interesting book. Mordden describes the house style for each studio effectively, and he has some surprisingly good insights into some of the movies. Paramount's stock in trade in the 1930s, for example, was its European directors (not just Lubitsch but others) and the theme of "sex as theft" in its films. MGM relied on style rather than distinguished directors; Twentieth Century-Fox was "nineteenth-century Fox" for its folksy rural dramas, etc.
If Mordden doesn't like a movie, though, look out: he'll pick at anything--a minor factual error in a headline in a newspaper montage, for example--to trash it.
The narration is all right except for some mispronunciations, and it's an interesting listen.
An interesting look at the life of Woody Allen, a man who always manages to get what he wants, mostly through dint of hard work and talent. If that fails, Meade suggests, he's not above manipulation and blaming others. This isn't a sympathetic biography, but it isn't destructive, either: Meade acknowledges Mr. Allen's talent as a filmmaker while continually reminding readers (toward the end of the book) about his indifference to anything that gets in the way of getting him what he wants, including Soon-Yi Previn. Meade reports that whole episode in detail, although other features of his life and creative process generally get equal attention (except for his work with Diane Keaton, which gets less).
The book ends before Mr. Allen's recent hits such as MATCH POINT, so its conclusion hints that his career as a filmmaker is pretty much over because of his personal life. But Meade forgets that the American public has the historical attention span of a gnat when it comes to news and an infinite capacity for forgiving anyone who provides entertainment. You won't like Woody Allen more after reading this book, and you may be inclined to buy Meade's thesis that he's stuck at about age 18 emotionally, but you will be impressed at his work ethic and his attempts to protect his art from all outsiders, especially his fans.
You have to be a Python fan to make out the voices and content here; the recording quality is poor. But like the person who complains that the food quality is poor and then complains that there's too little of it, I wonder why Audible chose to abridge this. Once you've gotten used to the sound quality, as always it's a pleasure to hear the Pythons talking about their work.
It may be the fault of the abridged version, but after reading the original BY MYSELF years ago, I found a lot of the material about Ms. Bacall's earlier life missing; the making of DARK PASSAGE isn't mentioned, for example. Instead, as is common in updated memoirs, preference is given to lists of lifetime achievement awards won, praise given, etc., which for some listeners will be less compelling than the how-to details of moviemaking and the actor's craft.
As an abridgment this isn't bad, but other reviewers have complained that this version focuses on gardens instead of Wharton's works. That's true, but it seems to have been a conscious decision to give a more rounded picture of Wharton than another retelling of Ethan Frome might have done. Lee's biography is huge (800+ pages) but well worth reading in full fpr those whose interest is piqued by this version.
The Kennedy that emerges in this book is a brilliant businessman and a charismatic figure who had the foresight to invent new ways of structuring companies to maximize profits for himself, although in a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses have escaped, many of these methods were later regulated out of existence, due perhaps in part to the wreckage that he left behind. Beauchamp points out that to Kennedy's way of thinking, this kind of wreckage was not his problem: if Gloria Swanson or others who trusted him did not look out for themselves, that was their fault for being too naive. The women left in the wake of his serial and incessant womanizing (as described here) were similarly at fault, in his mind, if they didn't manage to escape the charm offensive (and occasionally hands-on groping) that he continued to engage in throughout his life.
Lest this sound too negative, Beauchamp stresses Kennedy's love for his children despite absences from home that seem from this book to stretch for months at a time. Kennedy had charm, energy, intelligence, and charisma, and he could read a balance sheet like nobody's business. Ethics in business seems to have eluded him as a concept, but he had a powerful grasp of the idea of public relations. Although he used these in damaging ways (as during his isolationism in WWII), he's still a fascinating figure to read about.
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