Before this book, the last I heard or read anything about President James Garfield was a passing reference in my 6th grade American history textbook. My loss. Thanks to Millard, I now know a lot about him -- his hardscrabble childhood, the truly remarkable way he became president, the warped egomania of his assassin, and the unfortunate cluelessness of medical science at the time of his death.
Throw in the involvement of the most famous man in the world at the time -- Alexander Graham Bell -- and it all makes for an incredible story. Millard pieces it together with great craft and fascinating detail. It makes you marvel at the richness of American history and wonder how many more obscure, long-forgotten presidents have stories like this?
Put simply, this book is essential reading/listening for anyone who has ADD or loves someone who does.
As an adult with ADD, I've read several books on the topic. This is the best one.
Practical, readable and empathetic, it has opened my eyes, changed my thinking and my actions, and helped me understand my own brain in profound ways.
The source material for Blind Descent is fascinating and more than a little terrifying to imagine. Unfortunately the story suffers a bit in Tabor's treatment. It's poorly organized - - jumping around and difficult to follow in places.
The writing veers into melodrama and hyperbole more than it should (ie, repeated statements like "what happened next would haunt him for the rest of his life..."). This problem is compounded by the narration. At times it sounds like you're listening to a book length movie trailer.
A simple story about the value of simplicity. I found it to be old-fashioned in the best possible way.
The book is a classic, some say a masterpiece. Funny, poignant, and the kind story that is so enjoyable and expertly written that it will make you want to start over again at the beginning when you finish.
Donna Tartt isn't a professional narrator (she's an accomplished author in her own right who happens to also be a big fan of this book), but she makes the absolute most of her naturally sweet Southern lilt. It fits the main character well, and ultimately, I enjoyed her read. This said, it would be nice to hear what a pro could do with characters like those in this book.
THE BOOK: Very enlightening examination of the often-overlooked but incredibly influential Mongol Empire, beginning with Genghis Khan. It's hard to overstate how much the ideas, societal structures, and yes, conquests, of Khan and his heirs influenced modernity.
A few samples - - 1) he introduced the idea of freedom of religion, and fostered religious tolerance in every land he conquered, 2) there is a strong case to be made that the expansive commercial routes he opened both directly and indirectly brought about the European Renaissance, and 3) Kublai Khan unified China from what was previously a divided land of warring dynasties.
Weatherford does a great job of shedding light on all of this (and much more), but does so in slightly wooden narrative that, while definitely interesting, also drags a bit in spots.
THE NARRATOR: Jonathan Davis' voice is pleasant enough, but the performance was uneven, sometimes flat when drama was needed, and (more often) melodramatic when restraint was needed.
Dry, very funny, and odd in the best possible way, this isn't the book for you if you want adventure, intrigue, drama, or really even that much of a plot.
Portis doesn't seem interested in those things, focussing his writing instead on the social quirks, delusions of grandeur, and general weirdness of the hopelessly pathetic cast of losers he assembles. He describes these things in effortless and idiosyncratic detail, and crafts dialogue between the characters throughout that will -- if you're in on the joke -- make you laugh hard.
Reading Portis' novels, it's easy to see why the Coen brothers produced a film of his "True Grit." If you're an admirer of their films, you will feel like you're cracking their code when you read Portis. His penchant for eccentric characters and oddball humor was clearly an influence on them.
One final note: Edward Lewis' narration was among the best I've ever heard. By this I mean that it perfectly captures the tone of the book and personality of each character, most notably Ray Midge. It matched -- and added to -- the material in the way you want great narration to do. I wish he would narrate more books in this vein, but for the most part the rest of his catalog seems more conventional.
Good: unique storyline, uniquely structured, asks big questions
Bad: The first several chapters drag. As a reader you want to root for, and in some way relate to, the protagonist, but this is hard with Pi, who is more than a little bit precocious and annoying. The book's theme -- basically universalism -- is logically untenable.
Not a huge fan of Jeff Woodman's stilted, quasi-Indian accent in the narration.
I worked at A-B for several years and can attest first-hand to the Busch family cult of personality described in "Bitter Brew." If anything, I found it to be even more palpable and all-consuming in the corporate culture than what is described in the book.
The decades-long story that unfolds is fascinating in a way akin to reading about a royal family -- the aspirations, the battles, the treacheries, the grudges, and the grooming of heirs are all the same.
In this way, I see the whole thing as less a cautionary tale of cutthroat capitalism, than a tragic account of fatal and flawed family dynamics.
My only complaint is that Knoedelseder's telling is more plain and flatly journalistic than the vivid subject matter deserved, and in the end could've benefitted from more descriptive analysis into the meaning of it all.
One of the few examples I can think of where the movie is better than the book.
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