Having already listened to Winchester's Krakatoa, I was a bit disappointed to discover that the first half of this book covers much of the same ground, or rather background, in relating the history of geology and the development of the theory of plate tectonics. Indeed, the history given in A Crack at the Edge of the World is more extensive than in the earlier work. It is interesting stuff, especially if your interests in history include the history of science (and quite recent history at that), but I found myself thinking often during the first several hours, "When are we getting to the San Francisco Earthquake?" This feeling is caused in no small part by the fact that Winchester's introduction, telling the story of four "first person" experience of the first moments of the great quake, really whets the appetite.
When he finally gets to the quake and its aftermath, however, the story really begins to move. I've visited San Francisco a number of times, including twice in the last two years, but really had no clear idea of the extent of the earthquake, the damage it did, and the massive response of government and the private sector to rebuild the city. That last point is worthy of note, and this book (or at least the latter part of it) should be required reading for all the public officials, local, state, and federal, who botched the response to Hurricane Katrina.
I've rated the book only 3 stars (I'd give 3.5 if the system would let me), because I do believe the "history of geology" section is a bit too long and too technical at times. But the second half of the book is a solid five star effort.
Although Rosen's personal bias comes through at times, his perspective on the history of the United States Surpeme Court is interesting. If you are a "Court Watcher" you will find the last chapter on Rehnquist/Saclia and the epilogue with excerpts from an interview with the new CHief Justice particularly interesting. Historians will appreciate the earlier chapters.
This is a fairly solid murder mystery/courtoom drama. It tells the story of a criminal defense lawyer who trolls the LA area courtrooms, working out of his Lincoln, looking for the "franchise," the big paying client with a winable case (whether guilty or not). The mystery aspect of the story was O.K., but being familiar with criminal procedure (though not necessarily the "hot tub" version of law practiced in California), I was disappointed in the courtroom drama aspect of the novel. I've compared notes with another attorney who listened to this book (on the CD player in his Lincoln!), and he agrees with me that the author needs to go back and re-read the "Double Jeopardy" section of his Con Law outline. Good narration with limited musical undertones.
Any Vonnegut fan will appreciate this satisfying, if uneven, collection of mostly auto-biographical essays. Now past 80, Vonnegut seems to have entered the "curmudgeon" phase of life (or perhaps he always was in that phase), but his observations are still amusing, cutting and mostly insightful. His description of how he still prepares his texts using the "primitive" method of typing, editing, and then having the final manuscript prepared by a professional typist (possible the last such member of that profession in North America), is a gem! And its nice to know he and "Kilgore Trout" are still speaking. Great narration, too. Norman Dietz clearly studied and captured Vonnegut's voice. Shortly after listening to this book I heard an interview on NPR with Vonnegut. His voice was weak and halting. I was shocked at how rapidly he had declined since recording this book last year . . . then I remembered that Dietz, not Vonnegut, had narrated the book. That's how closely Dietz was able to copy Vonnegut's accent and style.
I've enjoyed many of Winchester's narrative histories (and am currently listenting to "A Crack at the Edge of the World"), but found this travelogue an equally diverting listen, if a little short on truly useful information, as I doubt I'll ever have the time or money to visit these remote remnants of the British Empire. My one regret is that the book is only available on audio in abridged format (the author explains why this choice was made and how he elected which chapters to eliminate). The narration is excellent.
I was about half-way through listening to "Father Joe" when I learned of the accusation made by Tony Hendra's daughter from his first marriage that Hendra had left one important transgression out of this confessional auto-biography. The daughter maintains that Hendra sexually abused her when she was a child. This accusation, which Hendra denies, is unproved legally, though the daughter has written her own book ("How to Cook your Daughter," its title derived from an article Hendra wrote for the "National Lampoon") giving a detailed account of the alleged abuse.
Learning of that accusation, however, did not color my consideration of "Father Joe" overly much, because I had already come to the conclusion that, while Father Joe, the monk who befriends Hendra as a teenager and provides spiritual guidance to him throughout his adult life (and, as it turns out, many, many others), is a fascinating character, this story is really about Hendra and his supposed redemption. The problem is, it is quite clear that Hendra is not truly redeemed, or at least that he doesn't fully "get" what being redeemed means.
Despite the fact that this book is written retrospectively at a time when Hendra supposedly had re-embraced his Catholic faith and learned to take responsibility for his own life, Hendra repeatedly lapses into self-pity and vitriolic recriminations against those who have "wronged" him. His attacks on those who followed him at the "National Lampoon," his co-workers on "Spitting Image," conservative politicians (which borders on the paranoid), and, ironically, liberal theologians and the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, all belie his claim of redemption. Clearly, Hendra still has "contempt for the world," and not the selfless detachment of "contemptus mundi," despite Father Joe's painstaking efforts to teach him the difference.
That having been said, Hendra's narration style is excellent. The book, if ultimately unsatisfying, is nonetheless a good listen.
Tells the story of the English language both from the artistic and the political perspective. Narrated as well as it is written.
This biography give a fill portrait of the man most know only as an Indian figther, Hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and the first "frontier" President. It also give excellent background detail to the social and political circumstances that ultimately would lead to the Civil War and the later Indian wars. For anyone who wants to know more about Jackson than the two paragraph homoginized summary in an eighth grade civics textbook, this book is a must listen.
The author's style of delivery is so bland that the only purpose this audio book serves is to illustrate why a professional narrator is essential. The outline style of the book is annoying in audio format (and probably in written format as well), and equally annoying is the "Whomph" sound that plays as each outline heading is read. Also, the producer, Academic Audio Books.Com, is so concerned about infringment that about every 20 minutes the author says, "Copyright Academic Audio Books.Com" and at the end of each chapter reminds us that "This is a production of Academic Audio Books.Com." As a survey of English literature, the work is adequate, though the author's preferences and prejudices are too apparent (I am guessing that he wrote his dissertation on Milton, who gets about three times as much treatment as Shakespeare). I cannot recommend this work in any regard.
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