David McCullough has crafted a warm and deeply human portrayal of Harry Truman, with generous attention to his early homespun upbringing, explaining so much about the remarkable man he would become. Ascending to the presidency with the sudden death of FDR, and scorned by most political observers, Truman proceeded to take one historic initiative after another: the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, NATO, the Korean conflict, and of course, the atomic bomb. It is impossible to come away without an appreciation of Truman’s critical role in the history of the Twentieth Century—and beyond.
McCullough is not only a superb historian and master storyteller, but also a marvelous narrator. He has always reminded me of the late John Chancellor of NBC. The writing, the historical depth and the narration combine to create an audiobook that seems to end much too soon.
It’s a simple, sinister plot with shades of the classic short story, “The Lottery.” One hundred selected teenage boys compete each year for a prize of unimaginable wealth by walking for days until only one of them is left. No stopping, no resting, no slowing down. Whenever one falls behind in the grueling march, he doesn’t just lose a shot at the prize; he is shot dead. Soldiers do the shooting and enforce the rules. An Orwellian government is implied but never detailed. All along the long route over back roads and highways, sometimes through cheering crowds and often alone together in the night, a little community develops among the characters, who both compete against and support each other in a struggle that all but one must lose. It is a long book – nearly 11 hours – and probably couldn’t fully impart the marathon nature of The Walk if it weren’t.
An interesting aside on grammar: In King’s book, “On Writing,” he rails against the over-use of adverbs, and suggests that the last step in writing a book is to go through and remove about half of them. Maybe it’s because I just heard that book, but in “The Long Walk” it seems like someone put them all back in, and quite a few more. Or maybe it’s because the fictitious Richard Bachman really does, as King claims, have a style of his own.
This is, quite simply, the best audiobook I’ve ever encountered. It is also a stellar example of the way in which a great book can be made even more powerful as an audiobook.
The book itself is an exceptionally perceptive examination of black maids and their mistresses in the Deep South of the 1960s and before. It details the lives of beloved black surrogate mothers who obediently raise each succeeding generation of insensitive, entitled white overseers. The callous neglect and cruelty of segregation is on full, horrifying display. Along the way, the author creates a whole population of multidimensional characters, black and white, living an archaic life in a fraying Southern society at the earliest dawn of the civil rights era.
But it gets better. As an audiobook, these characters spring to life through four narrators whose command of dialect and nuance, portraying several characters apiece, is breathtaking. After 18 hours of listening, you will love a few and loathe more, but you will feel you know them all.
This is an inventive and original story about the unfolding calamities that follow a nearly imperceptible slowing of the earth’s rotation. Things go from odd to uncomfortable to cataclysmic over a period of a few years, as society unwinds in ways that wouldn’t occur to most people who weren't writing a novel about it. The plot is wrapped around the coming of age of a pre-teen California girl.
Narrators are a matter of personal taste, but this one, for me, was too much of a thin, little-girl voice for a memoir written from the perspective of an older character. It was too slow, too wistful, and too sad to be applied to every single situation.
With all the eerie scene-setting of a Stephen King work, and more than a few horrifying events, this little story never really goes anywhere.
The premise—a simple stand of tall roadside grass that baffles and captures those who are lured into it—is a good one. Novels have been based on less. This short story almost felt like the outline of a novel, and as such, it seems incomplete. A lot of things happen, but we are given little understanding of why.
This compact, chilling little story of a New Orleans legend turns the tooth fairy into a menacing character who twists the exchange of tooth for coin into a kind of mandatory tribute: hand over the tooth or else. It is a bargain that small children can live with. Older children and adults can foul it up, with dreadful consequences. Some childhood fantasies, perhaps, are best left alone.
With a foreboding, spine-tingling reading, “Extraction” is a finely wrought tale. As short stories go, it may leave just one too many questions unanswered for some listeners. It did for me, but I still enjoyed it immensely.
Good stories for Civil War buffs, written in somewhat formal and convoluted (but authentic) 19th Century style. The audiobook is haltingly read, as if the narrator is seeing it for the first time, and at some points crudely edited. Bierce deserves better treatment than this amateur production.
In many ways this is a retelling of Stephen King’s epic, “The Stand.” Following a sudden and devastating viral epidemic, a plucky group sets off on a dangerous journey to defeat the forces of evil, culminating in a big explosion. Except this time the virus is of a digital nature. If someone else had written it, King could probably sue for plagiarism.
On the other hand, it is a gripping story, with diverse characters and surprising twists of plot at every turn. With an excellent narration, the action starts immediately and keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end.
Presented as an introductory guide to a vanished human race for the benefit of visiting aliens, "Earth" is a perceptive, tightly written, awfully clever survey of mankind's whole history. It's especially good at leaving unsaid the best punchlines, which immediately form in the listener's mind. With help from others, it is nonetheless mostly the voice of Jon Stewart who--freed from the rather more frantic persona of his TV show--is a skilled and expressive narrator. It's a joy to hear.
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