Holland, TX, United States | Member Since 2014
There are some books which, sooner or later, one must read. Here is one of them. Although quite famous, most of its worth lies in its insight than in its uneven prose. In fact, there are times when Huxley cannot write his way out of a paper bag, contrasted with other moments when, for some reason, he does better. He is best when describing objects and surroundings rather than conversation and human interactions. In any event, his writing is mediocre rather than great. Ideas and images buoy the text up: human embryos raised in bottles, then "decanted" (as the book's society calls it) into faux placentas until birth; humans given all the sexual thrills they can handle from childhood, and all the emotion-draining hallucinogenic drugs they want, in order to maintain social order. Michael York as narrator is superior, with my only complaint being that his voice gets strident at times.
This is the first of the BBC's archive of WW1 interviews: Audible offers the next one (1915) as well, but at the time of this writing offers no other years. 1914's first third is a little slow due to exposition but after a while gains momentum. Many speakers were recorded during the 50th anniversary of the war in the 1960s. You can hear a crowd of chatterers in the background in some of them, as if at a reunion. Interviewees are not shaky-voiced, senile centenarians but 60 or 70 years old. Speakers include "Old Contemptibles" from the Mons retreat, British and Germans who participated in the Christmas fraternization, and veterans from the First Battle of Ypres (there were three battles). Although the next audiobook of 1915 is better, this one is nonetheless worth the money and time to hear voices of persons who were actual participants to history. Just give it a little time to get started.
A must-have for world war aficionados. The audiobook is made up of authentic interviews supported by narration that details war events in sequence during 1915. The BBC recorded Great War eye witnesses and participants before they died or went senile. Speaking to interviewers are nurses, flyers, sailors and soldiers. These are NOT individuals interviewed at 100-plus years of age just before they died. These recordings date from some decades before. Included is an ex-flyer who describes how his group's instructor took off in an aircraft to illustrate how piloting was done, then crashed and died in front of them. A student nurse of Edith Cavell's in Brussels recounts her teacher's last night before the Germans shot her. There are several ANZAC soldiers reminiscing on Gallipoli and a number of Tommy's doing the same on the Battle of Loos. For those into Great War history this little audiobook is great.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book while being wary of its total accuracy. Some events—in the very first chapter, notching up Robert Herron's death as suicide for instance—have alternate explanations with evidence backing them up; Mr. Mann never acknowledges alternatives. In addition, the author "speaks" what his characters are thinking, and forefronts his own take on their personalities (albeit with historical justification). Truthfully, I didn't find such quirks a problem as long as I was aware of them. They made for a smooth, flowing narrative with few historical gaps or breaks, and a fun read. The book's originality is its in-depth description of William Desmond Taylor's murder as a blackmail shakedown gone wrong. As the narrative unwinds, Mann biographizes the presumed perpetrators recently come to light. I bought this book cheap for some reason but it deserves better than to lay on the bargain table. If not already acquainted with dog-eat-dog early Hollywood this serves as a good eye-opener. Mr. Mann catches the atmosphere of wide-spread vice and personal desperation masterfully. I say, buy it.
In the nutshell: Normans were Vikings invited to settle in Northern France by a French king, who thought giving them land was preferable to battling them or bribing them. Once settled in Normandy they perfected new military techniques, particularly use of heavy cavalry. Innovation, military success, discipline, love of combat, and thirst for wealth drove them to invade Britain in 1066. Nearly everyone knows about that. The book pays but passing attention to William the Conqueror. Its focus is the de Hauteville family, composed of brothers from a minor Norman clan who had great ambition and shrewdness. The de Hautevilles boys had "it" the way some families do for a time. Since William the Bastard owned England the brothers looked for other opportunities. They sailed to Sicily and Southern Italy. Authority there was in turmoil and possession of wealth was unstable. The area set at a juncture of grand political spheres: Byzantium, Muslim Arabia, the Vatican (which raised soldiers), and Germany (whose armies repeatedly invaded it by coming over the Alps). Sicily in particular was a gem. It had fertile soil and buzzed with trade going to and from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The Crusades made Sicily a fortune. The de Hautevilles conquered the island along with the heel of southern Italy; for two hundred years they stayed its dominant regents. They ducked going on Crusade but sold supplies to Crusaders, worked trade lines between Europe and the Mediterranean, and rented their ships to men sallying forth to Jerusalem. They captured the Pope a couple of times, defeated invaders, put down multiple rebellions, married into European aristocracy, and gave Sicily the most prosperous decades it had had for centuries—albeit ruling with an iron hand. The text details southern Normans fending off foreign hosts while waging internecine fights; interestingly, family winners were most often talented individuals. Two centuries later, however, whatever was bold and compelling in the personality of de Hautevilles leaked out and evaporated, so their regime fell. The Normans is worth listening to. It fills a knowledge gap for most of us history buffs with stories about remarkable personalities.
In this book the now-long-dead describe how horrid they were to passenger pigeons. It's author found a fund of their quotes in newspapers, regional diaries and journals, unpublished accounts, obscure books, etc. Dead ancestors describe how to kill pigeons in great numbers, how to cook the adults, and note how delicious the babies taste. Nineteenth century reporters give numerous mention to how many pigeons so-and-so killed the previous day with only a single shotgun blast. It seems our deceased kin valued wild pigeons only as a commodity, like grain, or as fun targets to plink as they flew past. Gleaning their attitude from their quotes, the birds weren't sympathized with nor acted kindly towards, only marketed, or shot as some boy's rite of passage. Perhaps vast numbers lost passenger pigeons individual their value? Descending in rolling clouds, each bird was part of a "thing" carrying three possibilities: food, profit, or sport. In one cited instance, rather than allow a few pigeons to escape a large net pinning them to the ground, a pigeon hunter yelled for his assistants to jump prone upon the birds and bite the heads that stuck out of the webbing. Another netter used blacksmith's iron tongs to crush the skull of each pigeon he caught, one by one. Only a handful of citations in Joel Greenberg's narrative describe humans acting humanely. There was an old pigeon trapper, for instance, who had a favorite female stool pigeon he gave a name to. After a while the bird suffered a decline in health. He removed the threads that tied her eyelids shut and let her go, giving her a chance to recover in the wild. The author writes that such gestures were rare until the bird was nearly gone.
Do not blame professional hunters working for distant companies, netting pigeons in tens of thousands for dooming the bird, writes Greenberg. Although they did mighty damage, more was done by the perpetual massacre at roosts and nestings by citizen hunters, pressuring the birds without letup, month after month, year after year, during the last three decades of their free existence. When the huge flocks disappeared professional netters vanished also. Local "sportsmen," however, pressed on. Birds trying to nest in small groups were discovered and either harried enough to abandon their nests or shot. After they became truly rare local hunters shot them because they were disappearing. "Sportsmen" of the day wanted to bag a passenger pigeon before they were all gone. Meanwhile, the bird's protectors were thought busybodies or cranks, and game laws were not enforced, and were ignored anyway.
Greenberg describes how, by the 1870s remote areas of the great American forest had been penetrated by roads and railroad tracks, and locations of the enormous descending flocks telegraphed to the public. People converged on the areas by wagon and train. Roosts and nests were surrounded and systematically obliterated. Even American Indians killed in huge numbers, with entire families camping out at nesting areas to slay the pigeons every day until the young fledged. Indians also prized eating the babies. They fired blunt-tipped arrows into the trees to knock squab out of their nests. A part-white Ottawa woman who later became an environmentalist wrote that her family made a slaughter at the spot where pigeons "builded their nests in an Eden." Greenburg writes that the carnage may have climaxed in 1878, at a giant nesting in Petrosky, Michigan; from that time onward pigeon numbers shrank as the birds never had a day's peace. Twenty-five years later their billions were gone except for caged remnants. Wow.
I had to force myself to listen to this book from about its middle onward because the repetitious slaughter descriptions made me sick. You'll not want to merely chastise your ancestors for what they did—they'll want to work them over bloody with a two-by-four. For all the humorless gloom, the book is thorough, interesting, it's documentation impressive. At the same time it is macabre, angering, and the reader will feel frustrated not being able to stop the killing. Facts are, however, what they are. Andy Caploe speaks a fraction slower than most narrators, which really works well. My only complaint is he should not punctuate the end of sentences by drawing in loud breaths while smacking his lips slightly. That said, I'd gladly sign up for another book narrated by him because he has a fine voice and he doesn't buzz through sentences the way others do.
Greenberg writes that he dreamed and breathed passenger pigeons for some time in order to put down their whole story. He created a nifty little list of the biggest nestings of passenger pigeons in the second half of the nineteenth century. Near the book's end he goes to a lot of trouble figuring out when the last wild pigeon was shot (he says 1902). I think he fumbles a bit at the very end by trying to pull a parallel moral out of things like tall buildings which kill migrating songbirds, and letting your housecat outside to kill small animals. Be that as it may, it is a truthful book and a worthwhile one. It ought be listened to for the description of an amazing animal now lost to us. More than that, Greenberg has set down a classic tale of how a piece of nature was once processed and consumed until there was nothing of it left, caused by commercial greed partnered with the wantonness and wastefulness of individual human beings.
Do not purchase this book thinking its about the doings of geology, climate, plants, animals, and archaic people during the era in its title. It's about the frailties of language. It's about the term "Pleistocene" being at the intersection of common narrative and scientific investigation. It's about etiologically probing the semantics of "Pleistocene" to reveal its constituent parts. If that's your idea of a good time . . . buy the book and laugh yourself hoarse.
It's obvious the authors are academics. The female is into archaeology and how rhetoric of various kinds defines historical categories; the male just finished a separate book of fire photographs from around the world. Now, they are certainly nice people and both are obviously smart and highly educated. One or both of them is a gifted wordsmith. Nevertheless, let me ask: Unless already rich, how could they earn a living from this sort of stuff beyond the doorsteps of a university? It's the only place it's valued. It's certainly boring for the rest of us and not very informative. The book's pith could be reduced to an article in an academic journal—published by an English rather than a History or Paleontology panel of reviewers. I gave it a chance. I listened through the third chapter before turning it off. The narrator does his best with what he was given.
For years I've wondered what this book was like. I finally read the thing. I'm glad I waited because this is a down-to-earth, plebian translation with good footnoted explanations of obscure stuff. The narration, by an Englishman, is quite nice.
There are some fancy-shmansy phrases to explain its methods of persuasion. What strikes me as foremost is "logical fallacies," which is when a person presents chains of logic that wander off into error. Adolph inked a lot of these, despite the book framing him as an exceptional thinker who studied, pondered, and experienced much of life. Hitler never declares himself a genius but hints at it several times.
Here is one example of Hitler's questionable chain of thoughts—Germany has an exploding population; there is a ratio of how many persons a country's lands can support; German expansion inside of Europe is therefore necessary; but Germany is hemmed in by crowded Western countries wishing it ill; Germany's destiny lies to the east where open agricultural land may be populated with German blood; if Germans rid themselves of limiting philosophical shackles, and use their extraordinary blood-borne gifts of force and intelligence, they will take these lands and finally create Greater Germany. His thinking moves point-by-point towards (what we now know was) the cliff's edge. Here is another example—At the center of powerful countries has always been transplanted Arian/Nordic rulers; until Slavic Revolutionaries shot them, Russia had such a Germanic cadre who exercised some skill in governing the country; Russia is now ruled by inferior-blooded Slavs and Jews without the aptitude to govern; Russia's manufacturing base, under Jewish/Communist/Slavic hegemony, is not likely increase or modernize; making an ally of Russia is an idiot's action. Reason-following-reason, Adolf moves on to a mistaken conclusion.
During his time as a Viennese drifter before WW1, Hitler obviously spent time in libraries. The book's pseudo-scholarly conceits echo this as well as the earlier pedantry of German public schools. He name-drops people and events in Hellenistic history. Still, there is no denying that he possessed a truly extraordinary gift for public speaking. Der Fuehrer rose to influence in Germany during a profound vacuum of leadership. Aristotle would call his appearance kairos: in the right place at the right time, saying the right things to the right audiences. Speaking (he writes) for hours, extemporizing brilliantly to the distressed citizens of the Weimar Republic who crowded in to hear him, it is understandable why his message of regained self-esteem and bright hope for the future struck sparks. Here is another fancy term important to the book—subjective validation. That's when a person gives legitimacy to ideas even as idiosyncratic as Hitler's National Socialism, because something inside needs them to be correct. No doubt a fair number of angry and miserable Germans internally legitimized the book's questionable reasoning out of collective emotional need.
Of course, some in Germany were already captivated by the other great logical fallacy of the era that also promised Eden: Communism. Hitler writes a lot about physical confrontations with the Reds, their tactics, what their propaganda did right and what it did wrong. NSDAP members, he writes, were always ready to brawl with Communists and never backed up, even when out-numbered. By the 1920s, Hitler writes, he became a "master propagandist" who usurped the color red from his great adversary's camp for NSDAP ceremonies, and personally designed the swastika flag.
One expects anti-Semitic harangues in Mein Kampf, and they are there, but not as much as expected. They increase in the later, added chapters from 1924. Lil' Adolph's line of anti-Jew argument goes something like—Jews are a nation without land, hence they favor multi-nationalism over patriotism; they stay in touch with one another and act in concert to subvert nations; they plot to bring Germany down and rule it, just as they did Russia, through Communism; Jews work to undermine a state's proper functioning to gain power; a reason for legislative bad decisions and sloth is Jewish influence in the Reichstag; the source of the bad reputations of German Racist parties (there were a number of them) is Jewish-controlled newspapers; Jews have inferior blood and wish to breed with Germans to assimilate blood-borne superiority, in time destroying the Arian through dilution; Jews cannot afford National Socialist success because it would wreck their centuries-old plan of infiltration and a hidden rise to power, to rule over the rubble they created. Judaism, Hitler writes, is the "enzyme of decomposition." It is ironic that the supposed Jewish plan to bring a country down and rule over its ruble is exactly what Hitler and his comrades did to Germany by 1945.
Mein Kampf is worth the reading; I got a better idea of who Hitler actually was. While it's true assistants jotted down his dictation then re-worked it, you can still hear his "voice" in its paragraphs. He was not wrong in everything he complained about, by the way. He was certainly no coward but a genuine war hero. He was a dynamic speaker, adroit propagandist, a Machiavellian manipulator of subordinates, someone who correctly monitored the demeanor of crowds. He was at the same time an eccentric philosopher whose speculative, crackpot ideas were frightening. He was a bright man with strange ideas conceived while living in isolation. One day, low and behold, he actually ran the country and put his "insights" into practice. Within six years of gaining power his country began floundering. But, that's in later books.
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.
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