Lexington, KY, United States | Member Since 2011
I arrived at "The Shadow Factory" by way of listening to Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," a fictional work whose themes include cryptanalysis and the origins of the NSA. I was hoping to learn more about the NSA overall with "The Shadow Factory." The focus of Bamford's book is the post-9/11 era and it's primarily penned as an expose' of the NSA warrantless wiretapping rather than simply an informative work of nonfiction. The tone throughout is darkly conspiratorial and I suppose as readers/listeners we are expected to be totally outraged by what is revealed in the book, namely that the NSA is sweeping up vast oceans of bits and bytes for either immediate, real-time snooping with the aid of astoundingly fast computers, or for storage for future analysis. While this does raise some sticky points of a constitutional nature, I couldn't help but think that such massive intel gathering was vulnerable to equally massive intel spamming by our enemies. i.e. What is to prevent China, Iran, Russia et al from generating relentless streams of encrypted chaff to clog the NSA's vast but ultimately finite storage capacity? But I digress.
In short, if you're the sort of guy who likes espionage fiction, mathematics, computer science, cryptology and/or history you will probably find "The Shadow Factory" an interesting glimpse into the real deal, albeit filtered through the lens of a single author whose stance toward his subject is adversarial.
This is a remarkably well-written book that is a cut above typical detective genre fiction. It is hard to take though, between the graphic depiction of starvation among Russian peasants, the thorough exploration of the oppressiveness of the Soviet system, and the basic plot of a serial killer murdering dozens of children. The audio sample provided by Audible is a good representative excerpt.
The emotion that I most often felt throughout "Child 44" was sadness. Admittedly this is not what I normally feel or want to feel when enjoying a mystery or a thriller, and yet I recommend "Child 44" enthusiastically. The narration by Dennis Boutsikaris is superb. Upon finishing "Child 44," I purchased two other titles by Tom Rob Smith.
Some other listeners clearly enjoyed "Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent" and give it strong reviews, but to me it seemed pretty thin. There is a little but not much in the way of operational detail or in-depth portrayal of the various activities of the DSS. Much of the narrative is just ho-hum. The book hits stride best when recounting the investigation into the airplane crash that killed President Zia of Pakistan in 1988. Much of the rest of the book in my opinion offers a superficial glance into the work of DSS officers, and it is somewhat repetitive at that.
I thought that narrator Tom Weiner overdid the "drama" in his reading. His is not an unbearable performance but I can't say I'll seek out his work in future audiobook performances.
I enjoyed roughly the first half of The Quiller Memorandum immensely. It's set in Berlin during the mid 1960s, a setting ripe with intrigue, and it gets off to a fast start. But about half way through the story, an element of overdone psychoanalysis intrudes on the narrative and it just goes on and on until you begin to wonder which word applies best, tiresome or wearisome. (I say wearisome is worse than tiresome, and thus is the better choice.)
The performance by Simon Prebble is top notch.
The two fundamental problems with 1Q84 are that the story itself is way too slow, and the narrators are too low-key and monotonous in their delivery. I can handle long works of fiction, but something notable has to be happening in the plot at some sort of reasonable pace. After the first 6+ hour section of 1Q84 I felt like we had hardly gotten past the exposition. If information can be described as any difference that makes a difference, I'd have to say that 1Q84 is full of noise: details that don't seem to make any difference. Much of the plot involves people meeting and having conversations. Yes, people can make important ethical decisions and life choices in, say, a meeting between a writer and an editor, but I do not reach for an audiobook to fill my lengthy morning commute with a multitude of meetings between a writer and an editor. I have boring meetings in my own life, thank you very much, and would like to be transported to something different. The book even manages to make a murder and sex scenes boring. Everything unfolds like one of those slow-motion films of a bullet passing through an apple or a playing card. I like watching film clips like that on YouTube as much as the next guy, but I don't want to do that for 46 hours.
It's not that literally nothing occurs in 1Q84, but by the end of the first track I was more of the frame of mind that the book had imposed on my life for 6+ hours rather than enchanted me and enriched my life for the same period. Upon reaching the the end of this section on my iPod, I decided to enjoy some music on my commute before proceeding to the next track, and at that point I just never felt like going back to the novel. Each time I contemplated resuming 1Q84, it seemed more like a chore to keep putting off, rather than some wonderful fictional universe that I was eager to return to.
And then there are the audio performances. Despite the book having multiple narrators, the emotional tone of the ensemble performance is one note. There is little in the way of rise and fall in the emotion or the tempo. Imagine listening to Pachelbel's Canon over and over, day after day, and you get the idea.
I'd recommend this especially to someone interested in journalism or the history of journalism, as opposed to somebody interested in mysteries or crime stories.
I think the book dragged in places and could have been edited down to be more concise.
My expectation was that The Murder of the Century would be akin to a real life version of Caleb Carr's "Alienist." i.e. Unusual murder case in late 19th Century NYC. There is an element of that, but the suspect is brought to trial before the book is halfway through, and so more than half the book is devoted to the courtroom drama, with particular emphasis on how it was reported in the press, the rivalries between newspapers and their publishers, and the major personalities of the leading newspapermen (Pulitzer and Hearst especially).
"Red November: Inside the Secret U.S.-Soviet Submarine War" wasn't quite what I expected but it was a very good listen anyway. I had expected an account of most if not all the most interesting Col War sub-vs-sub encounters. Instead it's a more detailed account of certain key episodes in the U.S.-U.S.S.R naval interactions during the Cold War, with an emphasis on thosemissions directly related to the author's service history and that of his father. That said, it is a very interesting book that should appeal to fans of Tom Clancy's fictional "Hunt For Red October."
One strength of "Red November" is that the author goes into just enough technical detail to make it interesting to the subset of readers who have sought out a book on nuclear submarines, without getting into such minute detail that it becomes tedious, such as the section in which he describes how one nuclear submarine became stranded on the bottom when sand and other debris clogged a water intake valve. The author must have put considerable effort into editing that section and others to make it accessible to readers who, though likely educated, are not necessarily well versed in the technical aspects of nuclear reactors, propulsion systems and so on.
The narration by Tom Weiner is excellent.
Cryptonomicon's themes of WW2, cryptology, and buried treasure are certainly interesting enough, but the writing overall is only fair. The tone of the book and the quality of the writing make it seem more like Young Adult fiction aimed at a bright, mainly male audience that is more gifted in mathematics than the average kid. If there were an engineering and mathematics boarding school for junior and senior high school students, one could imagine this being the most popluar book on campus. Another way of putting it is that it comes off as a book written expressly to ignite an interest in cryptology among young minds at an impressionable age. (Which IMO is not a bad idea.)
As an adult reader/listener, I found some sections tedious and others interesting. Occasionally I would fast-forward through bits that were especially bland or digressive. And yet I did come back to it each morning on my commute despite its flaws. It is the sort of work that, if it were ever made into a movie or TV miniseries, the filmed version might end up better than the book, in that an experienced team of Hollywood script writers could pare down the extraneous bits and distill it into a tighter narrative.
Would I listen to another work by Neal Stephenson? Maybe, maybe not. I did add a few of his titles to my Audible wishlist, but I am more inclined to seek out more works on the same themes by different authors than more works by Stephenson.
As other reviewers have already stated, Hitchens' narration is at times a bit mumbled. His is not a terrible performance, but Hitchens is no orator. I don't know about other Audible users but I suspect that I am not the only one who enjoys audiobooks in the car. Hitchens' tendency to let his voice trail off at the end of a sentence and otherwise mumble a bit makes it difficult at times to hear everything he says over the road noise. What I ended up doing was cranking up the volume to hear the quieter bits, at the expense of occasionally getting blown away when Hitchens decided to project his voice more powerfully.
That said, I recommend the book heartily! It's definitely worth the effort. I don't agree with everything Hitchens asserts but his book is very intelligent and thought-provoking on the whole. A credit well spent, in my opinion.
I had never read or auditioned anything by Kipling before and my primary exposure to his body of work had been through children's stories, and those through film adaptations. I was drawn to "Kim" because of its role as an early espionage tale. Other than that, and the fact that it was set in India during the time of the British Empire, I really did not know what to expect.
"Kim" turns out to be a fantastically detailed and absorbing tale. An adage of creative writing is to use details to make a story come alive. "Kim" manages to be a veritable riot of narrative details, yet without it seeming studied or forced. Kipling rather seemed to have been simply observing carefully a land and a people ("peoples," really) rich in beauty, mystique, danger, and social complexity. All the elements of a great yarn are here: danger, love, ambition, intrigue, adventure, and so on, so it satisfies as mere genre fiction, but it is more than that. The characters in this novel grow and change, look inward and outward, think, fear, hope, laugh and cry, and we do all those things with them along the way. I was completely transported by it. I absolutely loved this book and was sorry when it ended.
The narration was equally superb. There are many characters of different cultures in the tale and Simon Vance brought each of them alive. The whole thing is just splendid.
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