This exciting Part 2 of the Rho Agenda series ups the ante for the three teenage protagonists and we follow them through a suspenseful web of lies and intrigue. Phillips draws the net more tightly around the three (and the world!) without giving himself leave to reinvent his universe - the suspense he masterfully built in Part 1 continues its hold and we remain on our toes.
As the series progresses and expands outwards from Los Alamos, the plot gets a little more cluttered with characters and scientific loops that are a little superfluous, a few plot points are developed but never picked up again. The timeline also introduces some slack, while we felt pushed through a tightly woven narrative arc in Part 1, Parts 2 and 3 suddenly allow world events to progress for weeks or even months without escalating our sense of urgency.
Nevertheless, Phillips always picks us up again and sweeps us into the whirlwind of the Rho Agenda - despite these moments of respite, this is a thoroughly suspenseful and charming tale, leaving the listeners (and the fate of the world) in the hands of three protagonists who are supremely likable and, in no small part because of their internal dynamics, never too dull or too perfect.
The narrator deserves tremendous praise for keeping the story as sharp, quick and warm as it is. Parts 2 and 3 challenge him to even greater range than Part 1 did (or any common audiobook would) and he excels at keeping us always at the crest of the story as it thunders through its countless different characters, locales and emotional peaks and valleys.
THE TRILOGY AND THE NARRATION
The Rho Agenda is a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi trilogy - Richard Phillips succeeds in painting a sci-fi universe that is firmly anchored on earth and in its human protagonists and accordingly doesn't require an all-round suspension of disbelief from the reader. He sets the sci-fi parameters for his story early on and diligently sticks to them, resisting the temptation to constantly introduce new sci-fi "miracles" to toss around his characters. The human story and the political thriller may be instigated by input from another world, but they remain exactly that: a huy man story and a political thriller. With some cool sci-fi stuff going on.
The author switches between points of view more than a hundred times per book, but MacLeod Andrews narrates his way through these transitions seamlessly, taking the listener along with ease. We always know exactly where we are and who, out of the large ensemble of characters, we are currently with. The books give him a wonderful opportunity to show off his range, in terms of both voices and accents, and he brings its countless twists and turns to life masterfully, instilling the main characters with his characteristic humor and warmth. His voice grips us as tightly through the densely packed action and political intrigue as it charms us during the spells of the teenage life of our heros.
One additional point: I greatly appreciated that Phillips keeps the story at a very agreeable level of "clean" - he abstains from being gratuitously graphic in his characters' language or actions, but doesn't shy away from strong language, violence and even a little carnage when they are necessary. I enjoyed not feeling myself be dragged through gore and bodily fluids at every turn as is so easily the case in contemporary otherworldly fiction.
At its most basic, The Feminine Mystique read today is a reminder of how fundamentally our society has changed in two short generations, how many perspectives, mindsets and ambitions we take for granted today that might have been deemed actually harmful or even dangerous only sixty years ago. (Of course, it is equally stunning how many of the questions Friedan poses remain open today, though that is more general knowledge.)
Sadly, the narration is not up to par. I wish they had chosen a professional narrator instead of a celebrity. Ms. Posey's voice lacks inflection and is often too casual. A few odd direction/editing choices don't help either.
No matter how often you have read the book, watched the movie, seen the musical - your "The Color Purple" experience and appreciation cannot be complete until you have listened to Alice Walker narrate her own work. The skill with which she captures her characters and their times and the subtlety with which she conveys the changes that define them, make this performance a work of art in its own right. The novel got under my skin all over again.
For linguists, I am sure this is well worth the five hours - for me, it was tough to get through. McWhorter digs deep into a large variety of old European languages and nuances of vocabulary and grammar that go well beyond what I was looking for.
The narration by the author is a huge bonus though because pronunciation of so many very foreign or old words is crucial, I doubt another narrator could have performed this nearly as well. His occasional laughs at his own jokes are unnecessary, but forgivable.
This book goes far beyond what we generally learn about what America looked like "under the hood," especially around Independence, and provides insightful cultural explanations for so many of the inconsistencies and conflicts that plague us today.
Woodard backs up the lines he draws among the various groups of early immigrants with so much background and so many interesting facts that I have been able to impress even astute students of American history with this book. In his persuasive view, our many modern divisions are the harvest of seeds sown long before the Constitution (about which I also learned some surprising facts). The seeds include not only religion and slavery, but fundamentally different views on freedom, wealth and democracy, and even very different experiences as colonies. The differences between New Englanders and New Yorkers, the cultural nuances among the Western states, the kinship between the Coasts, even the regional differences in unionization make infinitely more sense after listening to American Nations.
If you have any interest in how the patchwork that is America came into being, you will devour this book.
Walter Dixon's occasional use of regional or foreign accents are misplaced and sometimes borderline offensive, especially as none of the 17th and 18th century persons he narrates with a neutral accent would sound neutral to modern ears either. He is such an outstanding, funny, intelligent character narrator in fiction, non-fiction just seems to be a waste of his talents.
What distinguishes this book from others is its first-person perspective - on occasion, you realize that the guy talking to you is, in fact, a psychopath. With the behavior, the narcissism and the expectations of one.
That he can explain the workings of the brain as an expert provides a valuable theoretical backdrop. But this book stands out because we start out rooting for the author because we are embarking on a personal journey with him, until his choices leave us disappointed over and over again - just like we are dealing with a psychopath.
If you are interested in the subject matter, do not miss this book.
If you enjoyed Freakonomics/SuperFreakonmics, definitely get Think Like a Freak - it is an update with exciting new stories. I wouldn't call it a guide to a different type of thinking any more than those first two books, but they did a pretty good job getting us all out of the box already. An exciting, interesting new listen.
If you are a listener of the Freaknomics podcasts, this will feel less like an audiobook and more like a long podcast because it is read by Stephen Dubner (which is in no way a negative!). Some of the facts and figures also won't be new to you. The length of the audiobook also includes three podcast episodes at the end which you may well be familiar with.
(Given that subscribing to the podcast is free though, I nevertheless feel good about the price of the audiobook.)
Dog Chet tells this story with so much humor and wide-eyed wonder, you can't help but love every minute of it. As he doesn't quite understand everything going on around him and can't communicate his own findings, the human hero and the reader have the perfect amount of information asymmetry to keep things suspenseful. And did I mention how ridiculously charming Chet is?
The narrator is absolutely outstanding. Chet's confidence, his naivete, his ego and his all over adorable dogness sparke throughout the book, I couldn't tell you if I smiled more at the writing or the narration. They are a perfect combination.
My first of the series, absolutely works as a standalone.
THE essential spy novel - no gadgets, no contrived international plots, just a cocky young spy in love with the lifestyle, keener on the gambling than on his license to kill. Until he learns the hard way that he can't have it all, and becomes the James Bond we know and love. His evolution at the very end of the book is honest and incontrovertible. We're right there with him, poised for his next adventures to start.
This book will NOT ruin the movie for you or vice versa. It has actually heightened my appreciation of the film, which I now understand as a coherently updated version of the same coming-of-age-as-a-spy story. The original Bond is very much a 1953 spy, Daniel Craig is very much not.
Just one note of warning, this 1953 spy novel is also unapologetically racist and misogynist. Take it as a charming time capsule, take it as terribly offensive, just know it's there.
(And on the narration - Simon Vance is incredible! You can practically feel the martini and champagne in his soul here. By sheer coincidence I listened to another book of his right before this and can't believe that this man seems equally destined to read James Bond as Winnie the Pooh!)
If you've ever taken a picture without immediately thinking about the caption you'll post it with, if you've ever taken a step back from Facebook and thought "haven't I seen this post before?", if you've ever decided not to tweet something wonderful that has happened to you - read this book. It's scary, but you'll also feel refreshingly understood and empowered.
In literary terms, this is no 1984 or Brave New World. As a story, this is passable - the protagonist a bit annoying, her choices a bit predictable.
BUT as a statement on social media, The Circle is as poignant as it is terrifying. There will be a lot of "OMG!" moments when you realize, this is not the future. This is a slightly exaggerated version of Now. At its core lies the creeping, painfully positive social pressure to give more and more of yourself to a system that, in the end, feeds on itself alone. It is obviously not quite where we are today - but it's close enough for this commentary to hit a nerve.
Plus, it's incredibly well narrated. The story is told from a female narrator's perspective, but the voice of Dion Graham delivers beautifully. He captures the perfect nuances of naive, annoying, outrageous and vulnerable in this 20-something girl - not an easy feat.
An important book to have read (and an excellent conversation starter).
For the first half, I could not put this down. Weatherford dives deeply into Genghis Khan's past, his relationships, his fears and the prejudices of his time to paint a coherent, riveting picture of a young man evolving into one of the biggest terrors of his time and one of the biggest blessings for the future.
Genghis Khan dies at the end of the first half, however. With an entire second half to go, I hoped to now get a more in-depth analysis of his impact, maybe comparisons with other historical leaders. Instead, we get an account of how his heirs continued and eventually destroyed the Mongol empire - historically important, but not nearly as interesting and sometimes hard to follow, especially per audiobook.
The book is still absolutely worth it though - thanks to the excellent first half, I have been able to engage with historians and military scholars about Genghis Khan's impact and discuss the historical comparisons I was missing in the second half myself. Spirited cocktail party conversation to say the least.
A truly enriching read.
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