Interestingly, the best parts of this book were not about Apollo 11. The chapter on von Braun was outstanding. The chapter on the Soviets was so good, it came across as far too short. But the final chapter, what would otherwise be an overly-long post script, was one of the best and most inspiring pieces I have ever read (or listened to). If you find yourself bored, then you just don't "get it, and the final chapter explains that point well. Nelson's observations about how NASA set itself up for post-Apollo malaise by not putting the moon landings into the context of a larger plan were dead on. McGonagle was a perfect choice as narrator. His authoritative style fit perfectly with the story line. My only complaint was Nelson's repeated assertion that the X-15 was "towed" into the air. This glaring factual error caused me, at points, to doubt everything else in the story.
Without a doubt this is a very comprehensive overview of the War of 1812. Despite the subtitle, much of this piece is about the land war around the great lakes. The performance left me feeling like I was being lectured to. The story, while detailed, seemed to jump around needlessly; no doubt due to the decision to keep each chapter focused on one specific topic. If you are a fan of the Master and Commander series, you will enjoy this a lot. The author assumes a deep understanding of sailing fighting ships and their tactics. The personality sub-plots, of which there are several, are not particularly illuminating. Madison is an imbecile. Decatur a caricature. Tecumseh, a paper doll. It was worth the time reading and will also appeal to political and economic interests. In the end, there was no regret it was over, and the message remained somewhat obscure.
There was some new history and a lot of what I would delicately describe as "things that do not add to the betterment of humnanity". This is primarily a book about Human Factors, Excrement Engineering, and Space Physiology. For some reason I was expecting a book about long-term human exposure to the space environment. Still, it was a decent read and NOT time wasted. But it does suffer from the bane of "why use 10,000 words to tell a story when you accomplish the same thing with 100,000". It did get tedious towards the end and I contemplated (but did not act on) a desire to just hit the STOP button and move along to my next book. So for me, it had JUST enough interest to make it to the end. But seriously, there was little new material after about the 2/3rds point. On the other hand, if you have spent your life wondering about how astronauts deficate/have sex/eat dinner, etc. then this will be at the top of your list.
I started this book only mildly interested and ended with an example of how to build a new world. I could have used a lot more detail on the technical aspects of this story: page rank, server clusters, etc.; and less of the internal politics and business models. But the message which was repeated throughout this story was "change the world for the better and let the algorithms do the heavy lifting". It is almost curious that such a bunch of technonerds could make such a profound humanitarian statement, but that is Steven Levy's genius for detail as much as anything purposely done of the principals in this story. Ganser did a superb narration job. If we are lucky this will be the first volume with another installment in 20 or so years. Spolier Alert: Paleonerds will really enjoy this tale. For all others, proceed with caution.
The story started off well enough but left me bewildered when the namesake of the story died barely two hours into the telling. But what turns out to be the main body of the tale followed; a compelling revelation of the changes which tumbled out onto the world from Genghis Khan's too-short life. Change the title to "The Rise and Fall of Mongol Civilization?" (with a deliberate and intentional terminating question mark) and you'll go into the book with a much more realistic set of expectations. After a slow start and a creeping but unrelenting acceleration into the future, you find yourself arriving in the modern world with a newfound connection to the traditionally obscure Mongol Empire. But be prepared for some ear candy after the book is over. A chapter-length epilog reveals that much of what you just heard derives from long-lost but newly rediscovered ancient manuscripts. Surprisingly (to me), it turns out that Weatherford played a personal role in this rediscovery and he does not hide his rah-rah admiration for the great Khan. Though I try very hard to be cynical, I cannot help but be infected by some of the author's profoundly-emotional admiration for the grand results which arose from a simple man living in a simple (barely Bronze Age) culture. I could argue strongly with the quizzical nature of how the book was put together, but not at all with the overall result, a magnificent revelation which is certain to rewrite our own perceptions of the modern world. And, by the way, Davis does an outstanding narration job parsing this material out over a full 800 years of human history.
I almost didn't buy this book. I have read dozens of WWII histories and this seemed like it would be just another. I was wrong. Insightful analysis and an intelligent explanation of the 1939-1947 time period made me a believer. I say 1947 because it is clear from this story that WWII could easily have spanned that time period, and beyond. It is fair to say that this book turned around my entire thinking about what WWII meant to the world at the time and the world we live in today. On the surface, much of this books dwells on parts of WWII few others have discussed (e.g. Burma, Italy, etc.). But on a deeper level, it is a 21st century retrospective on what it all meant to us, the living today.Rodska's delivery is riveting. Robert's analsysis is dead on, tack sharp, and downright scary.
This recording was made on an over-dubbed tape with the result that every time the outstanding narrator paused you clearly hear other voices in the background. And it sounds like it was a 6th or 7th generation dub at that. Very bassy tone with no mid or high frequencies at all. Think of listening to something with a pillow over the loudspeaker. Absolutely amazing that a book of this quality would be put on sale in this embarrassingly-bad condition.
All of that said, it is a magnificent story with an equally magnificent delivery by Christopher Hurt. A reaffirming tale for the independent-minded and self-reliant amongst us. Anyone who thinks that deifying big business is the message of this story, just wasn't paying attention to the point of the book.
I put it right alongside Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in terms of impact on a thoughhtful reader.
Grover Gardner may be one of my new favorite readers. He did a superb job with this engrossing story. The background sections did a lot for my personal understanding (or misunderstanding) of the roots of fascism. Could it happen again? This story leaves little doubt.
There is a difference between war and combat; a distinction made on the most personal of terms in this volume. It is one of the few audiobooks on which I have hit the rewind button in order to hear something a second or a third time. I found Junger's observations about how and why people willingly become "heroes" to be among the most revealing and profound I have ever experienced. The only equivalent experience for me was watching the movie Apocalypse Now for the first time. This story is gritty, bloody, profane, and ultimately, beautiful. One curious note that haunted me throughout this story was drawing parallels to my own father, a WWII and Korean War vet who stayed in the Army continuously from 1939 to 1964. Why on Earth would someone stay in the Army when everyone else was headed for home? In a very large way, this tale explains what had formerly been completely inexplicable...what is the psychic attraction? Why do people fight? And what does it mean when we call someone "a veteran"?
The only other Follett pieces I have read are the Pillars stories. Coming from that limited background I really enjoyed this book. My only major complaint (and it is major) is the excessive quantity of gratuitous and graphic sex which adds nothing to the plotline. I don't make that observation as a prude, but rather because such trivial backseat titillation keeps me from recommending the book to professional acquaintances. Reader John Lee was once again superb.
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