I have to say, I was delighted to read in his preface that his (Johnson's) academic peers in England remarked "what is there to write about the history of America, there is no history whatsoever there...". Well, this Englishman, and the English Narrator Nadia May, create a story of American History that for me, was fascinating. How hard it must be to find a bearable narrator for a 47 hour book? Nadia May pulls it off with her delicious English accent (that I can understand easily) and slightly gossipy tone -- it's like hearing someone recite The National Enquirer of histories. It's that interesting. I listened to it during my 90 min commute time daily. It made the time fly by -- in fact, I often felt disappointed about turning if off when I arrived at work. There is so much information presented that breaking it up that way afforded me the chance to absorb some of the exhaustive details and circumstances. But it does not read like a text book. Some reviewers grouse about his modern history (such as Nixon) devolving into opinion rather than fact -- I have to agree, and I am humored that his accolades for Newt Gingrich will hound his academic career like a drunken night out captured in the tabloids. It's a Lindsay Lohan moment in the hallowed halls of Oxford! I am not a conservative and I didn't see that bias until the end of the book. (Isn't it a relief to realize that the meticulous, nearly inhuman effort to compile this enormous body of information into something readable confirms that even Johnson is human.) I forgive him his trespasses. About me -- I hated the subject of history and through some karma of the universe my high school history teacher taught current events instead - whew - missed the bullet with that one. No history in college so basically I was completely ignorant in this area -- and I wasn't a stellar academic student anyway. So if a person of very ordinary intelligence can enjoy this, who can't? I just want to say "thank you" to Paul Johnson for letting me find such deep enjoyment and appreciation for the story of our country.
I've never met a Dick Francis book I didn't like. If not for the masterful and elegant reading by TB I'm not sure how much I would have liked this one. It seems rather heavy on explaining without enough action for the first third or more. TB brought it to life, if anyone can.
I admit to having listened to this audiobook at least 6 or 7 times. The calm even reasoning of Dell Parsons beautifully narrated by Holter Graham is hypnotizing. I hear new things each time. It's so complex and filled with wisdom, depth and pain, I don't understand how Richard Ford even wrote it, composed it. But I try to. I try.
It's a complex story in the first place. I am so disappointed that I purchased this as an audiobook -- doesn't an author of her stature know better than to make such a rookie mistake? This calls to mind the definition of "professional." Perhaps she doesn't listen to audiobooks with the understanding that a good narrator can make or break a story with their voices, intonations and emphasis. To add insult to injury, I think she may lisp slightly as well. Painful to listen to, no matter how well written.
I'm not sure what impressed me less .... The adjective-laden writing that sounded like a high school level descriptive writing assignment, or the vaguely annoying narration. Together they were underwhelming. I realize that the main character was filled with ennui but this did not ring true for me (in relation to the tone of the narration).
I don't know why this story is so compelling! The story is simple, the narration even and steady, but the stream-of-consciousness rambling and reasoning of a 15 year old boy became addictive for me. I won't go into the story -- everyone else seems to do that in these reviews. Let me say that Holter Graham (the narrator) must be the alter ego of Richard Ford (the author) because he tells this as if it's his very own story -- honestly -- you're just listening to Dell Parsons (the person telling the story) relate the sometimes surreal events of his life in a calm and almost factual way. Holter Graham is Dell Parsons -- of this I am certain. Richard Ford must have met him and told his (Graham's) life story with the names changed.... at least, that's what it feels like to me. When it was over, I went right back to Chapter 1 and started listening again. Have no idea why. Can't stop.........
Wow, Mimi Alford is, on many levels, one brave woman. She was basically raped by Kennedy in their first encounter. He recognized that she was inexperienced and asked if she had ever done "this" before -- AND SHE TOLD HIM NO. He didn't step back and examine the moral dilemma created by taking advantage of this confused, inexperienced, star struck girl. He proceeded to had sex with her anyway -- the thrill of having a virgin perhaps sweetening the prize. Certainly a president has stress beyond the comprehension of most of us, and he deserved relief from it in the manner he was accustomed to. But Mimi, she should have been off limits, even to him. He clearly took advantage of his awe-inspiring stature. To be wanted by him must have been intoxicating. The real shame comes in the repercussions that followed her throughout her life. The secret created collateral damage one could hardly imagine. I feel sorrow for her -- it seems nothing could eclipse this series of events. Apparently she felt it was "safe" to reveal the story now. I don't wonder that Ms. Alford should have denounced him privately and had counseling for being raped and repeatedly assaulted by her abuser before she apologetically escaped.
Narrator Dion Graham makes this an enjoyable read, combined with the all-too-human failings of the main character Alan. He has loser and winner characteristics that make him likable. Combine that with the sheer unfamiliarity of Saudi Arabia, deftly portrayed through Alan's reactions and thoughts, and I got something out of the ordinary that I hadn't expected. I tend to listen to books on dog walks, and I can tell you the dog got a lot of exercise in the two days it took me to listen to this. So perhaps it can be said that "I couldn't put it down." I plan on reading more Dave Eggers books as a result.
While listening to this I began to marvel at the herculean effort Larson performed aligning all of the letters, diaries, journals, articles etc. from so many different people. I can't even imagine how he could have organized this enormous body of information. As a result, practically every encounter mentioned has the perspective of the major players, and the concurrent impressions of nearly everyone in the event or meeting. (I am meaning one or two additional people, not 7 or 8.) To hear Dodd's letters and dispatches to the State Department and the reactions of his superiors and peers (well, hardly) is fascinating. It's a fly on every wall approach. Don't forget the reporters involved too. That's a third story line. I think of Dodd as an unsung hero who had principles. The dilettantes, and even Roosevelt, underestimated him and mocked his sincere observations. Trying to live within one's means was admirable and he was regarded as a fool for it. I think we can admire him greatly for trying to do things in a way that he found honorable and ethically correct, without any support from his employers or co-workers. Even other ambassadors were critical of him. Talk about a nasty bad job -- we can look at what he went through and be thankful our lives are much simpler and easy. He didn't even get to write his four volume history of the Old South. More the shame. And just an aside -- the University of Chicago is considered one of the most difficult colleges in the nation. It's status is ABOVE the Ivy League.
Martha was interesting, however she conducted herself foolishly and the extensive affairs gave me pause. Was there something mentally wrong with her? I cannot even find where she went to college on Wikipedia -- she was a spoiled brat who thought she was the center of the universe. I think that the purpose of Boris' constant harping about her having relations with other men was not his lovesick reaction but a calculated way the Soviets could temper her weakness as an agent -- possibly spilling important information to the wrong person. They saw her as lacking discipline. Her life had such pathetically sad last chapters -- whose fault was that? She made choices, and she was indiscreet. Too bad Dodd's wife Mattie didn't keep a detailed journal -- I would have rather heard her impressions than Martha's. All in all an astounding read (listen).
I found this book to be extremely interesting. There is a great deal of information to digest but it is read and presented very well. The story of our banking system is fascinating. The history of money is about so much more than just banking -- and it's all here in engaging detail. I would recommend this to anyone with a scintilla of intelligence.
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