Sutton, MA | Member Since 2012
Boys in the Boat (BITB) is a powerful and entertaining book that allows the reader/listener to forget their reading non-fiction. The story brings together a confluence of historical events that make for an intriguing story: the Great Depression, the sport of crewing at its height of popularity, Berlin's 1936 Olympics, and the impending start of WWII. Author, Daniel James Brown, writes with a certain sense of ease and realism that conjures up the spirit of the times.
As a reader, I gained a much greater understanding and respect the sport of crewing upon reading BITB. Brown does an outstanding of reviewing the history of crewing, the athletic efforts needed to be a part of a crew team, comradely needed to be a successful crew team, and the strategy needed to win races. Equally gripping was the explanations about how families survived day to day during the Great Depression. Brown also tells the personal stories of the University Washington crew members, which allows the reader a very personal interaction the subject matter. All of these elements are seamlessly woven together to identify the country's emerging character that would dominate the post WWII area and be termed by Tom Brokaw as the "greatest generation".
Brown's best work is spent detailing the propaganda efforts on the behalf of Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl, and German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who attempted to use the spectacle of the 1936 Olympics to support their fantasies of racial superiority. Brown's research and spot-on storytelling brings the story to an exciting climax.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading/listening to BITB for the characters, story, and historical significance. Reportedly, the movie rights have been sold to Miramax, which Kenneth Branagh is scheduled to direct. In my rank order system of the 64 books I have over the last two year, BITB lands in the 12th position.
Long Mile Home (LMH) is a faithful retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. LMH offers a comprehensive and concise story of all of the events associated with the bombing. If you followed the events of the Boston bombing through the Boston Globe or NYT, LMH has very little additional information to offer. There are no added insights into the motivations or behaviors of the bombers beyond those identified by CNN. The authors do spend a good deal of time focuses on the first responders and personal stories of bombing victims. However, there is nothing revealing or new LMT offers to the reader.
High Price by Carl Hart is one of the very best audio books I have listened to in the last year. As a reader, I am always intrigued by how others become successful. Given that Dr. Hart grows up in a broken home with minimal positive supports in Carol City Miami exposed to violence and frequent drug use only makes his journey to a tenured professorship at Columbia University more captivating.
Dr. Hart is able to pinpoint the key behavioral moments and environmental conditions that permitted him to move toward the next opportunity. As you are reading High Price, you may say to yourself "How does this guy eventually become a tenured Columbia professor ?" Dr. Hart conveys his incredible journey in a manner that keeps the reader/listener fully engaged and locked in.
High Price is not only about the Carl Hart story. Instead Dr. Hart educates the reader/listener about the history of drug enforcement, drug addiction, the chemical structure of illegal drugs, and the racism disguised as the war on drugs. Dr. Hart challenges the basic assumption many Americans have about street drugs that is propagated by the media, drug associations, and politicians. He also exposes the reader to peer reviewed research that refutes many of our long-standing and commonly held assumptions about drug use in inner city America.
Finally, the strongest part of High Praise is Dr. Hart's explanations of human behavior based on the science of behaviorism as espoused by BF Skinner. Dr. Hart does not rely on the verbal musings and explanatory motivations that drive behavior. Instead, Dr. Hart explains the challenging behaviors of others by examining their environments and their lacking repertoire of functional life skills.
Overall, High Praise is a great book!
Your initial reactions upon gazing the book cover of “Newtown" will be to avoid reliving the Sandy Hook massacre. Matthew Lysiak, author, details the modern American nightmare, which leaves readers depressed and emotionally drained. However, reading Newtown is an important first step in starting to comprehend the roots of school shootings and its lasting effects on the families and communities.
The 20 years old shooter murdered his mother, 6 educational professionals, and 20 early elementary aged children. It's too easy to avoid thinking about this tragedy and bury your head in the sand, but the value of Newtown is the direct and clear descriptions of the shooters atypical childhood development, anti-social behaviors, and clear behavioral warning signs that escalated into mass murder. There are no explanations that will help the reader understand the shooter. However, the reader is exposed to a series to environmental circumstances and behavioral chains that culminated to into the worst tragedy in American History:
1) At age 4 the shooter was exposed to guns and practiced marksmanship on the shooting range.
2) The shooter's mother purchased high capacity weapons and magazines, which she illegally provided to her emotionally troubled son.
3) As early as kindergarten school officials implemented interventions designed to accommodate the shooter’s high degree of social anxiety and aspergers syndrome.
4) The shooter received mental health consultation and various psychotropic medications throughout his childhood.
5) The shooter was socially isolated from his peers, drew numerous pictures of people being shot to death, collected information on mass murders, and played thousands of hours of the video game "Call of Duty".
Newton also describes the courage of the Sandy Hook Elementary personnel and first responders. Lysiak spends time outlining the positive attributes of each victim. Overall, Newtown will make you very sad and troubled. However, the reader takes away certain behaviors exhibited by the shooter that almost anyone would identify as threat to society.
There is value to revisiting the Sandy Hook massacre and learning from its awful lessons.
Readers interested in more information related the precursor behaviors and environmental circumstances that related to the tragedy should go on to read the CT Attorney General’s Report on Sandy Hook (free On-line) and Andrew Solomon’s interview with the shooters father in the March 2014 New Yorker Magazine.
David Epstein, author of the Sports Gene (SG) and writer for SI, is all over ESPN speaking about his book. Throughout SG you have the impression that Epstein is trying too hard to debunk the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice rule of success. He criticizes Malcolm Gladwell and others for studying a very narrow subset of successful professionals that resulted in making sweeping generalizations about the success associated with deliberate and sustained practice. The SG suggest that dedication and practice is no match for being blessed with certain physical traits (long Achilles tendons, superhero visual acuity, narrow hips, and fast twitch muscles). Personally, I don’t like the message.
Overall the SG is a fair book for those interested in identifying the physical traits associated with athletic greatness. SG will not appeal to the typical the sports fan, instead it appeals to those athletic professionals immersed in athletic training. If you an endurance runner or college jock attempting to score a spot in the upcoming Olympics, the SG is for you. Otherwise, the book runs out of gas about 50% through. According to my personalized rank order system of book evaluation, SG ranks in the lower third of books I read or listen to over the last two year (40th of 59).
Peter Ames Carlin's biography of Bruce Springsteen fails in its most basic obligation to the reader; explaining and analyzing how Springsteen become one of the most successful singer/songwriters in American History. The author reveals the Boss was not an especially talented student, did not grow up in a musical environment, and had limited opportunities for cultural enhancement, yet developed into a historic musical icon. Carlin skips over the development of the young Springsteen so quickly that it seems that he acquired his musical gifts through magic. Bruce's mother buys him a guitar and three pages later he his compared to Eric Clapton. The development of his song writer talents are equally ambiguous, where Bruce seems to reject reading books and relies solely on watching movies.
The remainder of "Bruce" deals with very superficial and boring factual accounts of business contracts, touring locations, and terse interactions with band mates. The actual Springsteen comments quoted in the book are often only a few words, where he seems highly guarded. I honestly did not feel that I learned anything revealing about Springsteen. His genius and motivations remain as mysterious to me now as they were when I started "Bruce."
The Goldfinch is one of the best books I have read in the last two years. What makes the Goldfinch so good? The Story! The reader is locked into a completely original and captivating story with excellent character development. The Goldfinch deals with many social issues, personal sagas, and themes without losing distracting the reader from the main story. This was my first Donna Tartt book, where many book aficionados refer to her as a genius. I may fall into that camp. Tartt's use of foreshadowing and character describing analogies will make you want to read the book twice.
Tartt brings the reader into environments, personal circumstances, and private meetings that create a great sense of reader intimacy and connectedness throughout the book. The Goldfinch addresses the motivations and experiences associated with drug abuse, addiction, and PTSD. These heady and sad experiences are handled expertly by Tartt, where the reader is not overwhelmed by pessimism or hopelessness.
I have two major criticisms of the Goldfinch: 1) Some sections of the book are overwritten. As the reader you want to move to the next scene change. However, Tartt gives allows the main charter to overly process their current dilemma to the point the reader shouts out loud "For the love of God please make a decision"! 2) The reader must struggle through the first 75 pages. Tartt give the reader a long wind-up before delivering the pitch. This is not helped by the somewhat awkward narrator voice of Theo's mother in the audio book. For the most part the narrator, David Pittu, is excellent. However, he struggles with the Theo's mother voice to the point of distraction.
Criticisms aside, I loved and would recommend the Goldfinch to any serious fan of fiction. In my rank order book evaluation system (Best to Work) that I have developed for all the audio books I have listen to over the last two years, I rank the Goldfinch number 5 of 58. Not Too Shabby.
Chang-rae Lee's "On Such a Full Sea" (Sea) received very strong reviews from the New York Times and The Guardian. I was less than impressed. Sea has an imaginative premise, but lacks a solid story to maintain the reader's engagement. Throughout Sea the reader never feels a sense of conclusion as so many questions and issues are unresolved. At points Sea seems like a series of unconnected short stories with only a single familiar character. References to dystopia science fiction theme are overblown (one reviewer comparing Sea to Brave New World). Chang-rae Lee leaves you in dark relative to the development or history of the dystopia society.
I will pay Chang-rae Lee his due respect as a writing of prose. He is the master of describing what others are feeling, observing, or experiencing. Ultimately, despite the technical perfection of the writing the reader just doesn't care about the characters.
I have read 56 books in the last two years, where Sea ranks in 44th position (21%).
Robert Gates served as Secretary of Defense under both the Bush and Obama White House administrations. Gates was the first Secretary of Defense to serve two administrations from different political parties. Gates was also former head of the CIA, President of Texas A&M, and one of the original members of the Iraq study group (2006). It is widely accepted that Gates is respected (and revered) by both Republicans and Democrats. He is not a polarizing political figure or a talking head espousing a political agenda. For these reasons, Duty has immediate credibility and should evoke reader interest.
Duty is not full of details that rehashes major historical/political events of the Obama and Bush administrations (Iraq war, Afghanistan war, bin Laden’s death, the Surge..). Instead, these situations are briefly summarized to allow Gates the opportunity to provide the reader his problem solving process when dealing with these events. Duty is ultimately about how to be an effective manager in the largest and most complex organization in the world. Gates reveals his approach to defining the problem, analyzing a problem, and developing a solution. The reader take away is Gates was an effective listener, implementer, and manager of complex personalities.
Much of the attention Duty has received from critics involves identifying the winners and losers of the Bush/Obama administrations. For example, Joe Biden takes a pretty bad beating in Duty that will adversely impact his chances of winning the Presidency in 2016. However, Gates is very complementary and critical of various generals, presidents, politicians, and White House staff, regardless of political affiliation. Also, critical comments about the decision-making skills of our leaders are rooted in observable facts. I never felt the criticism of any political leaders was the main emphasis or intent of the book. Gates also effectively communicates the sacrifice and dedication exhibited by the US soldiers.
Overall, I would recommend Duty to anyone who keeps current with the world news. At times the book is shocking (the militaries lack of preparation/planning for the Iraqi war) and revealing (the courageous decision-making skills exhibited by Barack Obama).
Andy Weirs’ “The Martian” is an exciting book that follows the daily existence of an astronaut stranded on Mars. The main character, Mark Watney, is a across the between Survivorman and Stephen Hawking. Wantney is an astronaut, botanist, and mechanical engineer. He must use all of these skills to maintain his existence on Mars while attempting to communicate with NASA back on earth. Watney is the sole character throughout the great majority of the book.
The strength of “The Martian” is Weir’s ability to describe highly complex scientific information (botany, chemistry, astronomy, and physics) in a manner that does not overwhelm or bore the reader. The Martians ‘other strength is the use of comedy and Watney’s affable personality. Although the situations in the book are desperate, the reader rarely has a sense of pessimism. Difficult situations and challenges represent opportunities to solve problems.
Although I like “The Martian”, there were sections of the book that seemed overly long. I also wish there was more of an emphasis on what was occurring on earth during Watney’s ordeal. However, casual science fiction fans should find “The Martian” exciting and enjoyable.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.