Maraniss does a nice job providing the context for Barack Obama's life, with extensive treatment of the lives of his grandparents and parents. The story ends with a young Barack Obama as a community organizer in Chicago, so the "politician" aspect of Obama must wait for a later volume. Michelle, the future First Lady, has not even come along in Barack's life by the conclusion of the book. Place matters to this author. The reader learns a lot about the dusty plains of 20th century Kansas and Oklahoma; post-colonial Kenya and Indonesia; the basketball courts of an elite private school in Hawaii; college life at Occidental and Columbia. The result is richly descriptive.
I was surprised at the relatively limited role Obama's mother played in his life, virtually abandoning him to the care of his grandparents in order to pursue her various lovers and career goals. We learn much about her life, as well as the complex life of Obama senior...long after he has any direct connection to his son's life. Much of the work seems to be Maraniss providing a more balanced, much needed corrective to Obama's memoir Dreams of My Father.....especially some of the characters Obama "invented" or combined in his memoir. Maraniss does this gently and soberly, with no apparent desire to engage in Obama-bashing, merely to help provide a more accurate first draft of history based on extended interviews with the President and many, many friends and family members.
I have mixed emotions about Maraniss as narrator. There is something genuine, comforting, and authentic about hearing the author read his own words. On the other hand, he speaks with a thick Wisconsin accent (I happen to like it, others might find it an acquired taste). What's more, his voice often sounds dry and raspy...like a friend who is recovering from a bad cold or allergies. One often wishes he would take a break, drink some tea, and get some rest before continuing. This results in some rather abrupt transitions from hoarseness to a sudden new, seemingly refreshed voice(the next day in the recording studio?)
Late in the novel, the father of Julia (the main character) asks his daughter "Do you know what a paradox is?" which kind of sums it up. This novel is a strange brew of contradictory aims and voices, ultimately leading to disappointment. As other reviewers have noted, the story is mostly about teenage (actually preteen) angst with mean behavior from the popular cliques at school, played out in lunchrooms, school buses, and pool parties. It is hard to fit in and figure out who you are, make sense of your parents troubled marriage, say the right things to the boy you have a mad crush on, and keep up with math homework, soccer practice, and piano lessons. Oh and the world is coming to gruesome, horrible end as the Earth stops revolving.
If you are looking for a poignant coming of age story this might be the book for you, although I wonder if the "end of the world" context really adds anything. If you are a hard core scifi/futuristic/dystopia fan, there isn't much here. Bad stuff is apparently happening out there, but without the details or imagination that would make it truly scary or plausible.
If there is a "message" here (not that there needs to be one) it may have to do with the human capacity to tune out larger catastrophes as we remain focused on the day to day crises of life.
The narration is excellent.
This book helped enhance my interest in this era of American history (I have much greater familiarity with postwar history) and I found myself consulting maps and looking up various names as I listened. I could take or leave the serial killer aspect of the book, but found it interesting and (for the most part) effectively integrated into the flow of the overall story. The strength of the book was Larson's capacity to make the details of life in the 1890s come to life...the intriguing mix of similarities and differences between that era and the present day....and to feel some sense of the awe and attraction fair-goers must have felt when they visited this exposition. Civic boosterism, the fascination with new technology, and the bold spirit to create something bigger and more breathtaking than had been experienced before (along with the series of hurdles standing in the way of achieving those goals) makes for an engaging story. Great narration.
This was my first Audible book, and it was a terrific way to start. Like any good biographer, Brinkley provides a sense of history, culture, and setting as he tells Cronkite's story. To me, the most interesting aspects of the book involved Cronkite's role in creating what would become the standard format for the evening news, political convention coverage, and special bulletins (including the iconic moment when Cronkite confirms the news of the JFK assassination). The jostling for ratings between the networks, the forging of news standards (e.g. what kind of delivery, scripted or unscripted, is most appropriate for television news?), inside battles between Cronkite and other famous egos at CBS News, all provide rich material in this biography. They made it up as they went along with this new, unfolding technology....figuring out what worked and what didn't as television journalism evolved...and Cronkite was in the midst of virtually all of those decisions and developments.
Although this installment of Caro's multi-volume series on LBJ ostensibly covers only the years 1958-early 1964, the author does a tremendous job exploring this period and presents a rich, engaging portrayal of a significant transition in the life of a politician. One drawback of an audible presentation of nonfiction is the reader's inability to peruse the footnotes or examine sources. There are, at least, several helpful references to other volumes of Caro's work where certain themes (e.g. LBJ's relationship to Sam Rayburn) have been explored in greater depth so one can explore the cross references in earlier installments. Passage to Power also makes several promises of issues to be addressed more fully in the final, forthcoming volume which I eagerly await. Although I have not read the earlier volumes in this series (but now plan to do so) this book has a stand alone quality. There's enough here---the rivalry between LBJ, Bobby Kennedy, and the other Kennedy men; the 1960 presidential campaign; Johnson's frustration with the powerlessness of the vice presidency; the ongoing or emerging issues surrounding civil rights, early phases of Vietnam, Cold War politics, etc--- to make for a satisfying, self-contained volume. Even the familiar events surrounding the Kennedy assassination are presented with a fresh, balanced perspective: one gets a sense of how this traumatic event must have seemed from LBJ's vantage point. Grover Gardner's narration is pitch perfect, much like the narration for an excellent, absorbing documentary, and kept me engaged from start to finish. Really a top notch effort all the way around.
I heard great things about Dorsey's books and started with this one which left me disappointed. So many characters are introduced for no apparent reason, a long series of disjointed and implausible plot lines, and the humor fell flat for me at least. Part of this could be due to poor narration (or perhaps poor editing). One can hear the narrator taking long breaths, clearing his throat, (maybe sipping on a drink?) etc and the reading is flat. But I'm willing to give this author a second chance and have already begun another more recent work with a different narrator. I like the concept and the Florida setting. Who knows? Maybe the series gets better.
The baseball team at a small Wisconsin college provides the context for a rich cast of characters, each striving to achieve some of their innermost dreams
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