Holland, TX, United States | Member Since 2010
This is an excellent book, perhaps even better than Montefiore's In the Court of the Red Tsar. It is surprising so many details of Stalin's life as a young revolutionary survived the ordered destruction of his personal history. Georgia was distant enough from Moscow that first person memoirs, letters, and documents survived destruction, setting in forgotten drawers. The reader/listener gets an amazingly detailed account of Stalin the prodigy, teenaged poet, under-sized street fighter, angry seminary student reading Karl Marx, the quirky promiscuous rebel with multiple children born out of wedlock, the organizer of bank robberies and extortions to fund the revolution, the intellectual who read every book he got his hands on, and finally the indispensable (to Lenin anyway) behind-the-scenes political manipulator. Much in the book runs against what was accepted in the West about his life for decades. Despite his small stature, for example, he gave and received physical beatings yet was an exceptional child in nearly every school subject. Not enough praise can be given the narrator, James Adams, for his breezy handling of difficult Georgian and Russian words and names—he does an exemplary job. This listener highly recommends this book for history buffs, Stalin buffs, and students of the period.
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.
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.
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.
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