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Ross

Colorado | Member Since 2015

20
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 18 reviews
  • 20 ratings
  • 30 titles in library
  • 6 purchased in 2018
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  • The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 13 mins)
    • By Mike Duncan
    • Narrated By Mike Duncan
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1728)
    Performance
    (1603)
    Story
    (1596)

    The Roman Republic was one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of civilization. After its founding in 509 BCE, the Romans refused to allow a single leader to seize control of the state and grab absolute power. The Roman commitment to cooperative government and peaceful transfers of power was unmatched in the history of the ancient world. But by the year 133 BCE, the republican system was unable to cope with the vast empire Rome now ruled.

    says: "A masterful and relevent book."
    "Dense yet enlightening look the birth of an empire"
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    I have never read Mike Duncan's work before, so I wasn't sure what to expect from his latest book. It turns out that I quite enjoyed it.

    Duncan is clearly an expert in Roman history. His depth of knowledge of names, relationships, and concepts is truly impressive, and it lends an air of credibility to the narrative that would be difficult to match. That credibility is, perhaps, the book's greatest strength. However, The Storm Before the Storm's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.

    Duncan does an admirable job of describing the political machinations, popular sentiments, and cultural shifts that led the Roman Republic toward its death--and toward the birth of the world's longest-standing empire. He masterfully describes how the breakdown in unwritten societal and political norms began to fray the threads that bound early Roman society, and he astutely connects those subtle breakdowns to the rise of dictatorship. In particular, he does an excellent job of capturing one of ancient history's most interesting (and least frequently told) stories: the rise of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the man whose revival of the Roman dictatorship paved the way for Julius Caesar's ascension and the birth of the Roman Empire. And unlike most author-narrated audio books, he conveys his work well as a narrator.

    The story told here by Duncan is an important one, and the timing of the publication certainly isn't an accident. There are many, many parallels between the story of the fading Roman Republic and the modern United States. However, Duncan's focus on historical details somewhat clouds these connections and the stories underlying them in a fog complexity that often distracts from the statement being made. The incredible amount of historical detail packed into Duncan's book is so dense that it can make it difficult to follow the narrative at times. I often needed to rewind certain sections to be sure I knew who was involved, and I occasionally found myself having to use Google to refresh my background knowledge enough to restore meaning to parts of the narrative. While this never fully hampered my enjoyment of the book, it did make me work harder than I might have liked to maximize that enjoyment.

    Still, I found my time with The Storm Before the Storm valuable. I would recommend the book to others interested in political or Roman history. Just be warned that you may need to do some work to get the most out of the experience.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Steven Pressfield
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (591)
    Performance
    (407)
    Story
    (410)

    Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) ascended to the throne of Macedon at the age of 20. He fought his greatest battles, including the conquest of the mighty Persian Empire, before he was 25, and died at the age of 33, still undefeated by any enemy. His reputation as a supreme warrior and leader of men is unsurpassed in the annals of history.

    Michael says: "Pressfield the Prodigy"
    "Good, but weakened by a few flaws"
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    My first foray into Steven Pressfield's work was Gates of Fire, which provided a brilliant look at ancient Sparta and the battle of Thermopylae. In that book, Pressfield manages to offer a grounded and realistic account of a critical moment in the Greco-Persian Wars that is at once informative and deeply human. The Virtues of War gets close to this standard of excellence, but I don't think it quite reaches the same heights.

    Of all the historical figures in history, few have been as lionized as Alexander the Great. His accomplishments, fleeting though the were, shaped the evolution of human society and set an example that leaders have attempted to emulate for thousands of years. Pressfield is brave to have attempted to step into this giant's mind, but some structural and storytelling weak points keep him from truly capturing the essence of Alexander.

    As in Gates of Fire, Pressfield adopts the technique of having a third-party narrator serve as the vessel for a larger story. Here, that narrator is a young man in Alexander's army who is called upon as a sounding board for Alexander as he wrestles with the realities of keeping his army together near the zenith of his campaign. In Gates of Fire, this technique allowed Pressfield to offer an insightful perspective on Spartan life, culture, and warfare. The narrator in that book was a dying man with nothing to lose in telling the truth.

    In The Virtues of War, however, this technique acts as more of a barrier to readers who want to truly understand Alexander, to be in his mind. Pressfield weaves in pieces of hubris, pride, and ego that are reflective of Alexander's personality, but that also convey a sense that the narrator (and thus, the reader) are receiving a carefully curated version of events rather than the full, honest truth. Perhaps this was intentional on Pressfield's part, but the end result for this reader was that I felt like I was being held at arm's length from the historical giant I wanted to understand.

    This feeling of aloofness is exacerbated by long battle scenes in which Alexander recounts detailed orders of battle and tactical details. While the armchair general in me enjoyed these details, they are a far cry from the vivid, brutal portrayals of combat Pressfield offered in Gates of Fire. The battle scenes are still fascinating and, at times, exciting, but they lack to feeling of weight and grounding offered in Pressfield's other work. Perhaps he adopted this new, more strategic approach to better illustrate Alexander's unrivaled prowess when it comes to battlefield awareness and exploitation. If so, he succeeded. But to the extent that he wanted to fully convey what it felt like to see Alexander's pike phalanxes and companion cavalry execute the famous hammer-and-anvil technique, I'm afraid it falls somewhat short.

    Fortunately, these flaws did not seriously hamper my enjoyment of the book.While I found it less powerful and interesting than Gates of Fire, it was certainly an enjoyable read that taught me much about what it would have been like to be on campaign with Alexander the Great. With John Lee's mellifluous voice narrating the action, it was hard not to have a good time. Still, I found myself hoping for more by the time I reached the end.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 55 mins)
    • By Steven Pressfield
    • Narrated By George Guidall
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2041)
    Performance
    (1845)
    Story
    (1851)

    Gates of Fire puts you at the side of valiant Spartan warriors in 480 BC for the bloody, climactic battle at Thermopylae. There, a few hundred of Sparta’s finest sacrificed their lives to hold back the invading Persian millions. The time they bought enabled the Greeks to rally - saving, according to ancient historian Herodotus, “Western democracy and freedom from perishing in the cradle.” How did the Spartans accomplish this superhuman feat? This is what the King of Persia hopes to learn from the sole Spartan survivor.

    Richard says: "The Story is good The Narrator is Great"
    "Far more than a simple war story"
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    Steven Pressfield's work was recommended to me by a fellow lover of historical fiction. I'm always slightly skeptical of authors in this field, as the truly good ones are few and far between. Most either adhere to a historical narrative that eclipses their characters and makes for a boring read or focus on characters to the extent that the historical context is diluted. Striking the right balance is difficult, but Pressfield pulls it off.

    Unfortunately, the story of Thermopylae has been mangled badly in recent years by pop culture, as has the fascinating history of Sparta itself. Pressfield's book predates--indeed, probably partially inspired--more recent portrayals of the battle, so it does not suffer from the same pop-culturization that they do.

    By following a non-Spartan battle squire cast as the sole survivor of Thermopylae, Pressfield brilliantly positions himself to offer a view of life in Sparta from the perspective of an outsider. The use of flashbacks to tell the Spartan story to the squire's Persian captors allows him to sneak in a glancing yet illustrative look at the Persians themselves. And alll of this is done with strong, sophisticated writing that contains enough flavor to keep things interesting without dipping into the realm of being dense or unapproachable. The end result of all this is a strong, cohesive, deeply human tale that does an excellent job of bringing to life ancient Greece and the battle itself.

    Through it all, Pressfield stays grounded in reality. The story sidesteps the trap of becoming too jingoistic or hagiographic when it comes to the Spartans, painting them as men who work to combat their weaknesses rather than gods. The Spartans in Gates of Fire shake and buckle under the weight of their armor, weep and tremble in the wake of battle, and wrestle with fear not unlike that felt by their enemies. Pressfield also does not flinch from the horrors of ancient warfare. The battles portrayed are not glorious tributes to the bravery of men. They are organized acts of horrific violence that may make sensitive readers squirm. For me, this stark depiction of battle only strengthened the impact of the book.

    I should also mention that George Guidall does an admirable job of narrating the book, and his voice is well suited to listening even at relatively fast speeds. I enjoyed listening to him.

    Overall, Gates of Fire is a must read for anyone interested in ancient Greece, Sparta, or the Greco-Persian Wars. And thanks to the strength of Pressfield's writing, there's a lot here to enjoy even if you aren't an avid classical or military history fan.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Nathaniel Philbrick
    • Narrated By George Guidall
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1689)
    Performance
    (1033)
    Story
    (1032)

    From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as best-selling author Nathaniel Philbrick reveals in his spellbinding new book, the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a 55-year epic that is at once tragic, heroic, exhilarating, and profound.

    John M says: "Fascinating book about a little-understood time"
    "Fascinating, but wanders a bit far afield"
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    I am a massive fan of Nathaniel Philbrick. He is uniquely talented at identifying and conveying the narratives that bring history to life for modern-day readers. His Valiant Ambition and In the Heart of the Sea are among the best non-fiction history books I've ever read, not only because they bring to life nuances and humanity that are lost in less colorful texts, but because they are meticulously researched and educational.

    In this regard, Mayflower is another triumph. It is thoughtful, well researched, and illuminating. However, the story of the Mayflower and the initial pilgrims makes up only a relatively small portion of the book. It is in the early phases of the story, when the pilgrim's find themselves in a new land facing unknown dangers and enigmatic Native American tribes,that Philbrick's Mayflower is at its best. These parts of the book are absolutely captivating, and narrator George Guidall does an excellent job of bringing them to life.

    However, the book quickly moves on from the early years to examine the more formal establishment of English settlements in what we now know as New England and the ways in which these settlements interacted with one another and the surrounding tribes. While certainly interesting from a historical perspective--it is fascinating to learn about how these early diplomatic and military adventures catalyzed the development of the Boston into what it is today--these stories feel far removed from the early, tentative steps of the pilgrims into into the New World. I certainly found the politics of early American settlements interesting, but the latter parts of the book saw me missing the sense of mystery and the unknown that pervade the earlier chapters.

    None of this is to say that you will not enjoy this book if you are interested in the true story of the pilgrims or Plymouth. You will. It's hard not to enjoy Philbrick, after all. But to wring the most out of the experience, you need to have a deep interest in Native American history and the diplomatic goings-on of the early American colonies.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Gregory Boyle
    • Narrated By Gregory Boyle
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2006)
    Performance
    (1826)
    Story
    (1828)

    As a pastor working in a neighborhood with the highest concentration of murderous gang activity in Los Angeles, Gregory Boyle created an organization to provide jobs, job training, and encouragement so that young people could work together and learn the mutual respect that comes from collaboration.

    Jay says: "Compassion is God"
    "Memorable story of violence and compassion"
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    I heard Gregory Boyle speak at a fundraiser last year. An unassuming man, he has mastered the art of cadence. He will hit you with heartrending stories of hardship, struggle, and desperation that bring tears to your eyes, then rescue you from the depths of empathetic misery with a genuinely funny joke that forces you to laugh out loud through the tears. This duality of emotions--the combination of pain and laughter--is a perfect metaphor for Tattoos on the Heart, a painful yet uplifting examination of poverty, crime, violence, and the human spirit.

    Fr. Boyle's speaking cadence and personality have found its way into this book, and the result is an emotional roller coaster that I imagine mirrors how he has felt nearly every day of his long career working with gang members. Boyle is relentlessly focused on people. He does not delve into policy issues or politics or culture. He frames every issue, every moment of happiness or agony, against the backdrop of flawed people (including him) trying to make their way in a world most of us can scarcely imagine. Along the way, he offers a breathtaking examination of determination and redemption that very few books can rival.

    Tattoos on the Heart made me cry numerous times. It also made me laugh, sometimes while crying. And in the end, it left me with a renewed faith in the power of, as Fr. Boyle puts it, boundless compassion. In that regard, the book is a spectacular success that I would highly recommend to just about anyone.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Art of War

    • UNABRIDGED (1 hr and 7 mins)
    • By Sun Tzu
    • Narrated By Aidan Gillen
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (6174)
    Performance
    (5354)
    Story
    (5266)

    The 13 chapters of The Art of War, each devoted to one aspect of warfare, were compiled by the high-ranking Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher Sun-Tzu. In spite of its battlefield specificity, The Art of War has found new life in the modern age, with leaders in fields as wide and far-reaching as world politics, human psychology, and corporate strategy finding valuable insight in its timeworn words.

    Angelina PM says: "Aidan Gillen needs to narrate more books"
    "It's the Art of War, read by a famous guy"
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    I'm not sure what there is to say about Sun Tzu's The Art of War that hasn't been said by thousands of readers over the course of the book's history. It is a tremendously useful book that, while very short, conveys strategic truisms and pithy advice useful to just about anyone ever involved in professional competition, politics, or even actual warfare. Aidan Gillen does a good job narrating the book, though he comes across as slightly too philosophical, almost as if he's trying to hard to convey the gravity of the book he's reading. Still, it was nice to have a recognizable voice doing the narration even if the book is so short that it probably could have been effectively narrated by Google Translate.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
    • Narrated By Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
    Overall
    (25067)
    Performance
    (22407)
    Story
    (22321)

    In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin share hard-hitting Navy SEAL combat stories that translate into lessons for business and life. With riveting firsthand accounts of making high-pressure decisions as Navy SEAL battlefield leaders, this audiobook is equally gripping for leaders who seek to dominate other arenas.

    Amazon Customer says: "I don't read SEAL Books..."
    "A fantastic guidebook for leaders of all stripes"
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    Extreme Ownership is the best kind of book on leadership. It is deeply tethered to real-world experience, contains battle-tested strategies and mindsets that can be applied in a wide variety of contexts, and the advice it offers is clear and unique enough to be transformative for those who read it. I tend not to love self-help books, but this one is well worth a read for any current or aspiring leader who wants to lead effectively and win.

    In Extreme Ownership, Willink and Babin, two former U.S. Navy SEALs, provide their views on how leaders can tackle tough challenges, motivate their teams, and dominate their respective battlefields. Each section contains a broad leadership principle, a combat story that illustrates why that principal matters, and an anecdotal example of the principal in action in the business world. This rhythm lends a sort of comfortable predictability to the book that I initially thought would make it stale. Instead, it helps condition the reader's mind to absorb the lessons organically as the authors take them from the conceptual to the practical. It's a remarkably effective strategy.

    The writing in Extreme Ownership is, as one might expect, rather spartan. It is clear that the book was not written by established authors, and some of the language is a bit stilted, particularly during scenes involving conversations between the authors and someone else. That said, Willink's and Babin's gravelly, aggressive voices do an excellent job of bringing the story to life. That shouldn't be a surprise; these guys often speak publicly about the same lessons Extreme Ownership seeks to impart. The book may not be high literature, but it is perfectly effective at what it sets out to do: helping leaders figure out how to make decisions and win.

    The highlights of Extreme Ownership are its illustrative military anecdotes, most of which come from the pair's time in Ramadi, Iraq. They feel authentic because they are authentic. And while these stories contain a fair amount of jargon and--if we're totally honest--a healthy dose of jingoism, they are thrilling, inspiring, and instructive. Extreme Ownership contains some pretty harrowing accounts of urban combat in Iraq, but it avoids any extreme violence or gore that might distract the reader from the point of the case studies. These are not simple war stories told over a campfire. They are lessons learned in real battles, and the authors treat them accordingly.

    The leadership principals offered by Extreme Ownership are similarly poignant. They are simultaneously simple and profound. The entire book is built around a sort of extreme personal responsibility (thus the title) that demands leaders take complete and total ownership of everything in their "battlespace." Within that general theme are a number of other ideas, each of which I found useful, relatable, and inspiring enough to change the way I think. And thanks to the anecdotes about their use in real-world situations, it was easy to make connections between lessons learned on an incredibly violent battlefield and the challenges civilian leaders face on a daily basis in the professional world.

    Extreme Ownership easily passes the most important test of all self-help and leadership books: It doesn't just hand out generic advice, it forces you to shift your mindset and behavior to incorporate the immensely valuable lessons it teaches. It actually changed the way I consider and approach situations in my professional life, which is far more than I can say about other such books I've read.

    If you're a leader of any kind in any field, you need to read this book. It's that simple.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 52 mins)
    • By Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
    • Narrated By Peter Altschuler
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (7728)
    Performance
    (6930)
    Story
    (6893)

    Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation - into the meetings, postmortems, and "Braintrust" sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture - but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, "an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible."

    andrea gini says: "A good listen... If you speed up the player"
    "Interesting, but not profound"
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    I don't often delve into what I consider to be the "self-help" genre. I tend to find it preachy and mostly hollow. But I recently participated in a strategic positioning meeting at my organization, and the man leading the session couldn't stop raving about this book. So, I decided to check it out.

    Perhaps my expectations were set too high by all the effusive praise our professional guide heaped on this book, but I found it to be just alright. The writing is basic with very little flavor, though none of it is overtly bad. Ed Catmull's and Pixar's tales are undoubtedly interesting, and I enjoyed hearing about the famous film company's trials and tribulations on its journey to eternal film-making fame. The book provides a new frame of reference on many movies I've seen but perhaps never truly understood from an artistic perspective--Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, etc. It was fascinating to hear about the technology and effort that goes into making these films, and it was even more fascinating to hear how Pixar's staff agonize over seemingly petty details in order to get their stories right. Sadly, these strong points do not comprise the bulk of the book.

    The author reminds readers at the very beginning of the book that Creativity, Inc. is not a memoir. Instead, it is a collection of lessons Ed Catmull and his team have learned about how to cultivate creativity within an organization. Here, the book struggles. Without question, Creativity, Inc. contains some interesting points backed by solid anecdotal evidence. But none of the advice offered ever seemed to step too far beyond my comfort zone or make me truly reevaluate my professional behavior--a hallmark of transformational advice. In fact, few of these kernels of wisdom resonated with me enough for me to even recall what they were as I write this review. And I just finished the book two weeks ago.

    Catmull criticizes many of the books he has read on leadership and management for offering advice that sounds profound but is actually hollow. Somewhat ironically, I found much of his advice to be along those same lines. Not all of it is bad, and there are a few very good points, but little of it is truly noteworthy or unique. As a result, I often found myself wishing that Catmull would climb down off the soap box and tell me more about how Lucas Films and Steve Jobs and Disney and Pixar have woven such a fascinating tale of creativity into the film-making industry. In other words, I couldn't help but wish that Creativity, Inc. WERE a memoir.

    The good news is that there is enough interesting narrative built into the book's less-than-spectacular advice to make it worthwhile for at least some readers. Plus, the narrator delivers the book enthusiastically enough to partially make up for the hum-drum writing. He was a pleasure to listen to. The bad news is that I think most readers will, at best, find the book worthy of a thoughtful shrug.

    If you're looking for some interesting history surrounding technological advances in the film-making industry or background on some very successful companies in that space, Creativity, Inc. may be for you. If, however, you dive into the book hoping for life- or organization-changing advice that you can implement immediately, you may be disappointed. I was.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

    • UNABRIDGED (41 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Doris Kearns Goodwin
    • Narrated By Suzanne Toren
    Overall
    (5431)
    Performance
    (4793)
    Story
    (4820)

    On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry. Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war.

    JJ says: "Beautiful, Heartbreaking, and Informative"
    "An excellent, if sometimes plodding, political bio"
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    I work in politics, which means that I'm especially fascinated by books that cover political strategy and thinking by our leaders. Needless to say, I was very intrigued by Team of Rivals. For the most part, the book lived up to my expectations.

    First, you should know that this book is extraordinarily long. The unabridged version stretches beyond 40 hours. That's fine if you're interested enough in Lincoln to sustain your attention on one book for that length of time, but it could be a problem for folks more accustomed to 10-hour books. I am deeply interested in Lincoln and Kearns is an able enough writer that I made it through without much problem despite the time it took. That said, I was definitely ready to move on by the time the epilogue ended.

    Kearns does a good job of breathing life into her narrative in Team of Rivals. She skillfully weaves Lincoln's personal history, characteristics, and quirks into the political backdrop she has created. Rather than getting to know Lincoln before he gets to the Oval Office, we get to know Lincoln through his actions over time. This approach is a good one, and it avoids pitfalls like those found in Edmund Morris's Theodore Roosevelt biography series, where readers are expected to know and understand Teddy fully by the time he gets to the White House. As a result, Lincoln feels like a constantly growing and developing character rather than a static collection of preset attributes working in a difficult position.

    Team of Rivals begins with a statement that the book is designed to help readers get to know Lincoln on a more intimate basis by using the lens of his diverse and interesting cabinet members. On this front, I think the book is a spectacular success. Kearns skillfully helps us get to know Lincoln's political family and the interpersonal dynamics that defined it, then uses those dynamics to examine Lincoln's thought process, demeanor, and leadership abilities. I was skeptical that she would be able to pull of such an oblique examination of a titan like Lincoln without simply telling the same story as other biographers from a different perspective, but I was wrong. Kearns is remarkably successful at accomplishing the goal of the book: Letting readers get to know Lincoln on a deeper level by examining his relationships with others.

    Interestingly, Kearns' knack for illuminating historical characters isn't limited only to Lincoln. The cabinet members are more than just cardboard cutouts who exist as sounding boards for Lincoln's personality. They are real people with real flaws and strengths, and those attributes are on display throughout the book. From Chase's unceasing and selfish political ambition to Seward's role as a dignified statesman to Edward Bates' love of home and family, you will walk away from Team of Rivals feeling like you really know and understand these men. That feeling is enhanced by the fact that Kearns, as a woman, weaves the women in their lives into the story in a way that adds much depth and value.

    Overall, then, Team of Rivals is a success. However, it has a few issues. As I've already mentioned, the book is very long. While this isn't a problem in and of itself, the length is often due to excessive time spent on certain events or situations.

    Kearns also sometimes appears to get stuck on a particular point in time, and it can take her a while to reestablish her flow afterward. I also wondered throughout whether this examination falls into the trap of hagiography. Lincoln was undoubtedly a brilliant statesman and leader, but there are certain instances of "political genius" outlined by Kearns that strike me more as good fortune or chance, and she very rarely veers into the realm of offering criticism of Lincoln's opinions or actions. In fact, she sometimes goes out of her way to defend him from those actions, stepping back from the narrative to offer some type of explanation. I found myself longing to see a little more of the flawed, human side of Lincoln by the end of the book. As it stands, readers will largely be looking up to the pedestal rather than standing face to face with Lincoln.

    Finally, some of the momentous events of Lincoln's time in office wind up being somewhat muted by the tight focus on the man himself. The Civil War is obviously a large part of the book, and there are certainly discussions about various battles and events. Kearns does try to bring the war into the story. Even so, the significance of many of the war's events feels muted, like the reader is viewing them from a long way away through a fuzzy and impersonal lens. Perhaps this is just a function of Kearns' approach to the story, but I found it disappointing nonetheless.

    Even with its shortcomings, Team of Rivals is an excellent examination of one of the most famous Americans in history. It is definitely worth your time if you are interested in political history or Abraham Lincoln.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Last Stand

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Nathaniel Philbrick
    • Narrated By George Guidall
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (656)
    Performance
    (517)
    Story
    (519)

    Little Bighorn and Custer are names synonymous in the American imagination with unmatched bravery and spectacular defeat. Mythologized as Custer's Last Stand, the June 1876 battle has been equated with other famous last stands, from the Spartans' defeat at Thermopylae to Davy Crockett at the Alamo.

    6catz says: "Fascinating, Eye-opening, Tragic"
    "Interesting, but uncharacteristically weak"
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    I have, over the past several months, become an ardent fan of Nathaniel Philbrick. He has a gift for weaving astonishing amounts of information together in a way that is convincing, fascinating, and deeply human.

    I had high hopes for Last Stand after Philbrick's spectacular work on Valiant Ambition and In the Heart of the Sea. Philbrick's talent for storytelling combined with one of the most famous stories in American history seemed like a perfect union. I'm sad to report that the book did not meet my expectations.

    To start, the book does a poor job of humanizing George Armstrong Custer. While Philbrick typically develops his characters rather deeply by delving into often unknown areas of their pasts, Last Stand spends only a minimum amount of time doing so for Custer. There is little mention of his childhood, his time at West Point, or his experience during the Civil War. These things are mentioned, but mostly only in the form of anecdotes--thin snapshots of Custer's deeper story. In fact, the book does a considerably better job of humanizing Custer's (admittedly fascinating) wife, fellow officers, and opponent, Sitting Bull. I appreciated these efforts, but I would have liked to delve deeper into Custer himself. By the time Custer died toward the very end of the book, I still felt disconnected from him in a way that greatly lessened the climax's impact.

    Speaking of the battle, Last Stand takes an extraordinarily long time to arrive at the titular moment on the banks of the Little Big Horn. That delay would be fine if the chapters leading up to the disaster were focused on setting the stage for an emotional punch, but, with a few notable exceptions, they are not. Instead, Philbrick, a man with an innate talent for distilling vast quantities of information into digestible morsels, seems to get strangely lost in minutia--and especially geographic and hierarchical minutia--that left me feeling lost, out of my depth, and somewhat frustrated. Perhaps this complaint is simply a function of my own ignorance, but it's a significant enough departure from Philbrick's usual flow to merit a mention.

    The good news is that the last section of the book about the battle itself is spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, that it actually amplified my frustration with the book's slow, meandering method of arriving at the event itself. Here, in the dusty, blood-soaked hills of Montana, Philbrick is at his best. And his best is so good that I would still recommend this book to those interested in the Battle of the Little Big Horn despite its shortcomings.

    As a final note, I found the narrator adequate. Not spectacular, but adequate. His voice and inflection don't fit Philbrick's writing as well as those of Scott Brick, who narrates many other Philbrick audio books, but he does a decent enough job to avoid being a distraction.

    I enjoyed Last Stand in the end, but I had to work for that enjoyment more than I would have liked. It's definitely not Philbrick's strongest showing. That said, it's still a cut above the average historical tone. Western history buffs should definitely take a look.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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