As with all of McCullough's books, "The Greater Journey" is filled with memorable characters--James Fennimore Cooper; Samuel B. Morse; Augustus St. Gaudens; and best of all, Elihu Washburne, the hero of the siege of Paris. McCullough's material here lacks the same strong narrative thread that makes works like "1776" and "Truman" as irresistable as potato chips. Instead, there are several narrative clusters: Cooper and Morse, which is full of quotes from wonderful letters and diaries; Washburne's time as ambassador, which will make you proud to be an American and amazed that his name is not better known; and the artists of the late 19th century, such as St. Gaudens, Whistler, and Cassatt. The first two clusters are fascinating; the last merely interesting--and the end a weak fade-out. But it's still far better than 90% of the other history audiobooks on this site, and Edward Herrmann is McCullough's best reader (after Nelson Runger).
If there was ever a book where the journey, not the destination, matters, it's "Tristram Shandy."
Once you're prepared to step back into the 18th century, where things never were said in a short, straight-forward manner, and prepared to put yourself in the hands of a wry old joker and a superb narrator, however, you'll find this one of the finest audiobook experiences ever recorded. I am in awe of Peter Barker's achievement: there are dozens of passages where nothing remotely pronounceable-readable-sayable appears, and yet he always manages to convey the right message. I dearly wish I had a sound clip of his rendition of Mr. Walter Shandy's favorite oath ("G-g-g-g-g-ood GAWD!").
I do not for a second regret setting aside my haste and allowing Mr. Sterne and Mr. Barker to take all the time they needed not to get to the point, and wholeheartedly recommend you do the same.
I have read or listened to all the major FDR biographies, including Robert Sherwood's great "Roosevelt and Hopkins" and was really looking forward to this book, the first major Hopkins biography in over a dozen years. And it is a very good book, one I will probably end up reading. I say that because Fleet Cooper's voice is completely inappropriate for this material. He sounds like a snide, spoiled, would-be wisecracker, one who wants to put a sly spin on every other line ... which is something totally unnecessary and even unwelcome in a serious work of biography. I tolerated it for the first part, but had to quit after six hours. Very disappointing.
Grover Gardner has been the perfect narrator throughout this series and this volume is no exception. This book covers Johnson's ambivalent attempt at running for the Presidency in 1960, his years of frustration as Vice President (going from the second most powerful man in Washington to being mocked by Kennedy staffers as "Rufus Cornpone"), and then his remarkable success in the months following Kennedy's assassination. For those who have followed Johnson through over two thousand pages of Caro's biography up to this point, the last two hundred pages serve as testament to the fact that this truly was a great man, if also a greatly flawed one. I listened to this immediately after finishing Caro's "The Power Broker," and one can see how Caro has matured as a writer. Both books are richly detailed portraits, but now Caro's viewpoint is far more nuanced and balanced. Even his sketches of John and Robert Kennedy demonstrate that Caro's greatest strength is his ability to reveal a man's character in depth--the good and the bad--without giving into the temptation to reduce it to a simplistic summary judgment. Yes, this is a long book that requires patience and commitment from a reader or listener, but I consider it one of those books that has profoundly enriched my life. May Caro live to finish this masterpiece!
I usually enjoy books about World War Two, and having read biographies of Eisenhower and Patton, was looking forward to listening to this. But Jordan's writing displays all the worst characteristics of an amateur attempting to apply cliched rules about colorful writing. Which means that a grin has to be sheepish, eyes to twinkle, etc. I finally gave up at minute 26, shortly after hearing Eisenhower described as "instinctively likable." Whose instinct? Eisenhower's? Other peoples'? Think about it a minute and you'll realize that this is an example of a writer grabbing a readily available adjective without considering its meaning. Jordan tells us that "The Army wanted Eisenhower to stay in the States and train men." The Army did, eh? Was this before or after the Army wanted a BLT for lunch? Coming after books by Max Hastings and Andrew Roberts--who actually know how to write vivid and correct prose--this book seemed like Wonder Bread after crusty and flavorful sourdough. Yuck.
Max Hastings' ability to find first-person accounts and integrate them into his narrative has always been one of his outstanding talents, and in "Inferno," he has the chance to do this on a global scale. I listened to this immediately after Andrew Robert's "The Storm of War," and the two books are remarkably complementary: Roberts provides a better-organized narrative, while Hastings provides countless memorable snapshots of the human cost of the war. Hastings does not skimp on covering the full range of events and theatres, and manages to include dozens of lesser-known aspects, such as the siege of Budapest in 1944 and the magnitude of Japanese war crimes in China. Ralph Cosham's narration has a certain hesitant quality that took a little getting used to, but in the end, it seemed perfect for the text. I certainly hope that Audible will acquire Hastings' other works, such as "Overlord," "Armageddon," and "Retribution."
I've always liked the way Bellow captures characters by their dress, their expressions, their manners, and this short novel has some good ones, starting with Tommy Wilhelm. But he places Wilhelm in a predicament and then leaves us hanging. When I read this decades ago, I thought it was moving. Listening to it now, I found it frustrating.
Excellent as usual.
I thought Tull's "Six Frigates" was just of average interest, but "Pacific Crucible" is leaps and bounds beyond that. It's just the kind of narrative history I love: the writer is willing to take time to explore the background and side stories at length without losing the momentum of the story. Tull takes the time to show how the American and Japanese navies came to be shaped and then demonstrates throughout his account of the clashes, beginning with Pearl Harbor and ending with Midway, between them. Like Max Hastings, Tull is adept at interweaving personal accounts with the larger historical view. To me, the ultimate test of an audiobook is whether I'm tempted away to listen to other things: in this case, I was held for over twenty hours without ever once experiencing that temptation. A terrific listen!
I gave this audiobook two stars. One star I reserve for truly annoying works. This one was merely forgettable. The points the authors make are neither original nor effectively made. The reader is unobtrusive but also unengaging. Overall, not worth the time or money.
Doris Kearns Goodwin does a wonderful job of weaving numerous threads in this narrative history: the personal relationship between FDR and Eleanor; the political challenges FDR had to maneuver in, around, and over in his effort to fight fascism and lead the U.S. and then the whole alliance; the social and economic changes America went through during the course of the war; and all the personalities--from Harry Hopkins and Churchill to FDR's valet and his purple-haired catty cousin, Laura Delano. Roosevelt still takes plenty of criticism and was certainly no paragon of perfection, but there are times, as Goodwin clearly conveys, when, even 70 years later, you have to thank our lucky stars that FDR was President when he was--and Churchill PM when he was. And to get all this well-recounted history told with Nelson Runger's calm, wise and companionable voice makes it an all-around 5-star pleasure.
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