Holland, TX, United States | Member Since 2010
A mixture of narration and authentic audio recordings. Thank goodness its sections of writer biography are left out. Mr. Morris is a biographer of poetic sentiments. This along with his narration, with a soft, educated, melodious voice, somehow misses the subject’s mark and drifts again towards being about the writer. His credentials are solid, nevertheless. He was certainly given wide access to Reagan’s Whitehouse. The very best in the book are glimpses of Reagan and his minions working at this or that activity, unconscious of Morris’ presence. Missing, at least in the abridged version from Audible, are references to the financial deregulation that caused the Savings and Loan scandal, and idiotic gaffs like the USDA’s toying with categorizing ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches—for which the president was blamed. Nor does Morris mention that the Marines in Lebanon, 241 of whom were blow sky-high in 1983, were guarded by men with unloaded weapons beside traffic barriers that didn’t stop traffic. Morris paints Nancy as one tough First Lady who, Morris hints, unjustly forced Donald Regan out of his job as Chief of Staff. Ronald Reagan comes over as a gentle, inwardly-directed, principled personality whose totality was more the result of natural than environmental influences. Worth the read but disappointing given what Mr. Morris was privy to.
This is a worthwhile read for those of us who brood over the meltdown of 2008. It’s written for people who are not stupid but not well informed about the dodges of high finance. Admittedly, a few bank/government machinations are difficult to follow in the text, so that a reader must back up a bit and re-read, but that does not happen often; the authors set most of it down in clear English. They explain “derivatives” formulas well, when they pop up, so even I can understand them. The text begins in the 1980s, works its way forward, dumb move by dumb move, enabler legislation by enabler legislation, to the day when seawater floods over the gunnels of gigantic economic ships and they plummet to the ocean’s bottom. The books contention is that business and government manufactured their own submerged mines—out of greed, power and influence, ideologies, and bureaucratic ineptitude—strewing them as they went because it gained them political advantage and (in the case of the finance boys) because they just didn’t give a damn in their rush to make millions. Sound familiar? Ecce Americanus. Financial “wizards” and Washingtonian “public servants” played paddy-cake and you-scratch-my-back for twenty years before the fleet sank. The mines didn’t go off until the original ships’ officers were safe, dry, retired, and very rich. The crew drown, of course. God bless you Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barney Frank, and James A. Johnson. May history give it to you up the wazzu, like the events you precipitated did to so many of us.
This book is good most of the time but bad in spots. So are most books I read or listen to—so little offense, Mr. Rubin. If aged WWI veterans don’t say much Rubin mortars history between his blocks of interviews, and the format works pretty well. Or, he inserts interesting observations from personal tours of battlefields in France, in places specific to interviewees. Rubin became friends with the oldsters, going back to visit them every so often, an endearing thing. Grover Gardner narrates the reminiscences well, as always. The book is enjoyable until Rubin quotes lyrics from his WWI sheet music collection. Tin Pan Alley cranked out terrible stuff. Hear a few verses and you won’t want to hear more. And so, if you buy the book, listen to some of the lyrics then skip ahead because it doesn’t get any better until the chapter ends. Rubin writes that he has hundreds of examples in his collection and I guess he wanted to make use of a fair number of them—but yeeeech. Another quick criticism to an otherwise decent book: Being from the East Coast with its philosophical predilections, Rubin defines racism contemporaneously and then condemns it like it happened yesterday, rather than placing it in its particular historical context. For example, he takes a century-old comic novelty song from Vaudeville—“Indianola”—and, with the narrator reading it dead-pan, makes it sound like the KKK wrote it last week. (For an enjoyable couple of minutes listen to the old Billy Murray rendition of “Indianola” on the Internet. It’s fun.) Context? Picture a guy on stage in a loud plaid suit, carrying a cane, “selling” the song on the yokel circuit somewhere in the sticks, in 1918, at eight o’clock in the evening, on a Tuesday, and you have but one historical context for “Indianola.” Ethnic humor was everywhere at the time. That guy on the stage could have been just about any color or extraction, by the way, including Native American if one of them wanted to troop the boards. Using contemporary rules of measure, “K-K-K-Katie” might be condemned as offensive to both stutters and hillbillies. Oops! I mean vocally challenged folk and chronically under-employed rural laborers. I wonder what Rubin would say about Bill Mauldin’s WWII cartoon of an Indian on guard duty stopping a freight train because he was told not to let anything pass? Rubin needed an editor to put his or her foot down in a few spots.
Taken all-in-all, the book is worth the money if you skip the gas-bag parts. Most of it is well-written and interesting. The diversity of centenarian doughboys (and one doughgirl office worker) is unexpected. And God bless these old guys’ hearts—which have all now ceased beating.
This is simply the best social history of the Roaring Twenties in the United States I’ve ever read, better than the recently published One Summer by Bill Bryson. Written in effortless, flowing prose, published in the early 30s with the decade still fresh in the author’s memory (writing as an anti-depressant after his wife and daughter died), re-published for decades, reading it this time was better than my first time as a boy in the 1960s. It is striking how perceptive and prescient Allen is about events. He sorts through them, giving their why and wherefore as an authentic voice from out of the decade. Although a fine writer, Bryson cannot compete with such finely-tuned descriptions set down just after the era passed. Allen has a wonderful eye for detail: dress, hairstyles, morals, slang. Topics range from inventions, books, the League of Nations, crime, tent evangelism, to the American public’s emotional flip-flops of support and rejection, which at publication were recent phases and fads. The book’s phraseology isn’t antiquated and its objectivity doesn’t creak. Only Yesterday is fresh and entertaining nearly a century after it was written, and the best popular social history of America in the 1920s that I know of.
Man! Talk about the clown at midnight after the mask drops . . . sheesh! Carson was Mephistopheles to the author’s Dr. Faustus. For those old enough to remember Johnny Carson’s preeminence on television, his veneer of Mid-western values, Bushkin’s book turns things inside-out. Johnny was a misanthropic reprobate who generated millions for NBC by doing the impossible: entertaining night-after-night for decades, watched by unflagging millions. He was the network’s golden cash cow. Lawyer and friend, Henry Bushkin, was his minion, his “Swiss army knife,” always on call even in the wee hours, enamored by the glitz in orbit around his boss, catching dollars that filtered down. He served a man of quick mood swings. There was “good Johnny” and “bad Johnny,” writes Bushkin. “Good Johnny was charming, ultra-generous, and hilarious. “Bad Johnny” brooded, threw tantrums, held grudges, was thrown down stairs for putting the moves on a mob girl, was invited to fight by Wayne Newton (Carson chickened out), all the while demanding absolute loyalty from his (few) intimates. He sometimes carried a licensed 38 pistol on his hip. He detested crowds and lived in luxury. Carson quotes are sprinkled with the “F” word used as noun, verb, and expletive. Women came and went on a conveyor belt during all his marriages. “A stiff ***** has no morality,” Johnny tells Bushkin. After a while the author gives in and becomes a sort of Carson Mini-me, albeit an increasingly rich one. For those of an age to remember Johnny this is a thoroughly intriguing read worth the dough. I loved it.
This is a lousy book to listen to or read. From what I understand Mr. Conquest deserves credit for writing the truth about Stalin long before other would. That said, his writing is an expanse of obscure facts and names, following one after another, chapter after chapter, filling an ocean with boredom. Skip this one boys and girls.
This thoroughly enjoyable book is a collection of essays previously published in New Yorker magazine. The text is a jumble of subjects Lepore seems to have bumped into while professing at Harvard, then turned into articles targeted for popular consumption paid for by a venerable magazine. Subjects vary widely: Edgar Allan Poe, the history of voting, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, debtor’s prisons, Kit Carson, presentation of the U.S. in school plays, and some others. Despite being popular history, Lepore did research on all of them and has her subjects in hand. She writes drolly with good, insightful metaphors—both her own and others’. For example: In the pantheon of American “superhero” Founding Fathers, she writes, Tom Paine is a lesser demigod only made use of occasionally, like Aquaman. Another example: she quotes farmer/ex-Revolutionary soldier William Manning in the 1790s: “It [the Constitution] was made like a Fiddle, with but few Strings, but so that the ruling Majority could play any tune upon it they please.” Surprisingly, her book is free of political bias, a seeming prerequisite for a person who 1) has a Ph.D. in American Studies, and 2) chairs the history department at Harvard. I scrutinize history books assiduously, just waiting for some injected political nonsense to appear and ruin them so I can grind my teeth. I had nary an objection to Lepore’s book. Want to read a well written, entertaining collection of informative historical essays, read well by a narrator? Here is one worth the price.
This book is about a black serial killer operating for two decades inside a black section of Los Angeles without police tying his murders together, or putting out much effort to solve them individually. This despite the fact that he drove a bright orange Pinto that he parked out on the street a few blocks away from where several of the killings took place. Police are forced to focus on them when 1) DNA evidence later linked killings of prostitutes and drug users to one man, and 2) a LA detective made a reporter privy to this information. Once published in a series of articles, all hell broke loose for the cops and a task force to catch the killer was formed. For some reason the author does not accentuate this inherent dramatic framework; instead, it must be plucked out by the reader/listener as the narration proceeds. Then, after apprehension of the killer, the book ends abruptly with its purposes and conclusions left hazy. On a purely mechanical level, its lines flow well and it is well narrated. It is enjoyable (if murder can be) even if its points are not set down sharply. Such items noted, it is sold at a bargain price so enjoy it for what it is.
This is a genuinely verbose book. Before it was published an editor with a pocket full of blue pencils should have "X'ed" out mounds of superfluous writing. As it is, the reader/listener will (presumably) not be interested in the private lives of researchers of the day, nor those of their assistants, nor detailed biographies of big city medical examiners, nor who the era's most famous doctors were and how their life experiences pointed them towards research in this thing or that, nor the struggle to change the direction of American research hospitals at the end of the nineteenth century. Yet, it's all there are: acres and acres of off- focus trivia. Further distracting is the author's philosophizing over subjects like what scientific research requires in the character of a person. When Barry stays on his subject it's obvious that he knows his stuff. His descriptions of the actions of influenza virus in the body are wonderful. Were his book edited to a third the size it would be worth the time.
Enjoyable and well-researched. The authors interviewed numbers of key players in the U.S. and melded their research into a good, consistent narrative. I was impressed by how fine a job the narrator did handling Arabic names and inflections—kudos to Mr. Ganim. Lots of details on the rivalry and jockeying between CIA and FBI. It's interesting that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a low-level U.S. terror-buster target for three years, because he was NOT a member of al-Qaeda (despite what other sources state—Wikipedia, for example). The authors write that he didn't join because he wanted to maintain his independence to act. U.S. intelligence knew he was involved in terror but did not gauge how deeply: like a lot of serial murderers, he was both smart and lucky for a long time. KSM wove his own plots and raised much of his own money. He colluded with Bin Laden intermittently over logistic support, additional funds, and finding individuals with needed talents. Both the CIA and FBI were not aware that KSM organized the 9/11 attacks—not Osama Bin Laden, who was more of a central facilitator. Living for a decade below the radar, KSM formed and managed terrorist networks around the globe, constantly plotting attacks upon the West. (The authors write that KSM was behind Richard Reid, "the shoe bomber," in 2001.) References by lower level terrorists to "the leader" and "the fat man" were not linked to him. It was captured major terrorist Abu Zubaydah, one of Bin Laden's key aides, who revealed that "the leader" and Mohammed were one and the same. When finally taken in Pakistan (where else?) the throat-cutter and decapitator of Daniel Pearl was a whopping 5'6" with a high voice. Spend the money for this one if you are interested in the subject. It's worth it.
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