I had to listen to this two or three times with half an ear before I appreciated Keegan's cunning arrangement of the story. It is not a straight narrative, does not compete directly with the 119-course meals of Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton. It does not arrange the story in a linear timeline like a choo-choo train (THIS happened and then THIS happened...). No, it's done in the style of a digressive essay, like a long book review. Keegan spends most of the first half dilating upon the topics that most interest him: 19th Century American culture in general, Southern civilization vs Northern, the variances in technological development, the astounding spottiness of topographical knowledge (basically, maps that were poor or nonexistent), the prosperity and ease of the old-stock middle class, and in general how strange and novel American civilization appeared to those from the Old World.
Perhaps only an English military historian could handle this with the detachment that Keegan shows. This is not to say he shows no biases at all; he definitely faults the South for being technologically deficient and maybe culturally backward; and he thinks the world of Abraham Lincoln. But this is just a function of using a book-review idiom, in which one accepts the conventional outlook overall, while reserving creative insight for one's one narrow and favorite specialties. Thus when discussing strategy in the many theaters of war, Keegan comes back again and again to his own pet methodologies, analyzing the problems of managing a war over a vast terrain that no one comprehended very well, and comparing the topographical problems of waging battles in Tidewater Virginia versus the campaigns in the trans-Appalachian West. Again and again it's mainly an issue of good maps and efficient geopolitical outlook, much as in the First World War.
The performance is pretty good. The mispronunciations of place names (mainly "Po-to-mack" for Potomac) is amusing and forgivable, given the British actor during the narration.
There are many things wrong with this book. It appears that Michael Ford did not do a real translation at all, he merely rewrote a new paraphrase based on the earlier, faulty, editions, and self-published it through a print-on-demand scheme. Nothing wrong with that if his intention was to create a readable, rationalized edition with the Murphy and Manheim errors corrected. Alas Ford doesn't even write or proofread English very well, and makes a bad situation worse. He has some bizarre and novel 'translations' of phrases that do not require translation, for example the newspaper 'Volkischer Beobächter', which he turns into 'The Race Watcher.' If you must translate a title like that, something like 'People's Observer' or 'Populist Observer' or even 'Folkish Observer' might be acceptable, but there's no excuse for 'Race Watcher.' (Prof. Randall Bytwerk has written extensively on this and other translation problems, and you should Google that name if you wish to know more.)
What is annoying about the Audible edition is that the translator's footnotes and interlineations pop up frequently and annoyingly, often giving bad information. There should be some way of turning these off, as you turn off pop-ads in a web browser.
This book is a very enjoyable listening experience. There are a number of books that hypothesize an LBJ involvement in the Kennedy Assassination, and some of them marshall the evidence quite well. Some recent books focus mostly on LBJ's political connections. Mark North concentrates mostly on the underworld of Dallas and New Orleans.
Judt was such a big name in his last years, I expected this book to be a marvel of insight and sparkling narrative. It is not, especially not in the Audible version. This vast survey-history is better enjoyed and referred to in its original text format, since it is essentially a reference book and not very useful without index and biblio apparatus.
I suspect this is a book better read than listened to. In the Audible version the choppy, repetitive, disorganized aspects are very evident. This is partly because McClellan is more concerned with emphasizing central points than with providing a smooth-flowing narrative. The choppiness may also be due to a lawyer's cautiousness. If hazarding a guess, he tells you he's offering a possible theory; if constructing a persuasive brief, he reiterates the key events and background details to refresh our memory and keep us focused.
McClellan ties his themes together with dressy literary elements (epigraphs that open and close each chapter) but these are designed to work on the printed page, not in audio, where they trip up the listener like bollards in the pavement.
The latter part of the book is pure autobiographical narrative and flows smoothly. No plausible guesswork here; it's a true recollection and the best part of the book. McClellan worked for LBJ crony Edward Aubrey Clark in the Austin law firm that bought politicians, engaged hit men, and looked to profit enormously once they had Johnson in the White House.
This memoir is not nearly as good as Vidal's 'Palimpsest,' which was a masterpiece of autobiography as well as witty social history. There were bits of exaggeration and maybe outright lies in the earlier book, but the ego is allowed poetic license.
In this volume the memories are running thin and they threaten to get maudlin. The lingering illness and death of Vidal's life-partner Howard Auster is a poignant tale, told with excellent reserve and no soppiness, but it does leave a big black cloud over the whole book.
On the other hand, we've got Gore Vidal himself reading the thing in his Mandarin drawl, and that blots out a multitude of sins. Gore revisits some of the favorites from the earlier memoir--Jack and Jackie, Tennessee Williams, his parents, Amelia Earhart--and brings them to life like Dickens giving a final-tour reading.
We've had a number of books covering this territory. Their various analyses and theories intersect like a Venn Diagram, as there is usually a decided emphasis in favor of blaming the CIA, the Cubans working with the CIA, the Mafia, the Mossad, or LBJ and his Texas cronies. Philip Nelson comes very close to giving us a Grand Unifying Superset of them all. In his version, LBJ might have been a "mastermind" of the assassination, but he he didn't plan every jot and tittle. Basically an opportunist, LBJ took advantage of grudges and political debts, and used them to his advantage.
The performance was annoying, read at half-speed. It put me in mind of Al Gore.
McPherson has many hobby-horses. He is anti-Catholic, anti-Confederate, determinedly leftist. He spouts utter tripe: the Fort Pillow massacre was a slaughter of innocent negroes, for example. The "massacre" was an invention of armchair journalists who weren't there. You won't find any serious historian endorsing this "massacre" story these days. And it's not as though the facts have changed since the 1980s.
The one saving grace of this book is that McPherson gives a good overview of the two or three decades preceding the War. It is a very biased, School of Abolition Dogma overview, but it is coherent all the same.
I am really tired of seeing this dedicated and modest man being treated as a second-rater or as laboratory contagion to be contained. He was one of the finest statesmen of the 19th century. Perhaps he was too ethereally religious, perhaps he stood too much on principle, perhaps he was, in modern parlance, a micromanager. Still, most of his contemporaries are no more than midway hucksters when they get put against Jefferson Davis.
William C. Davis really could have praised him a little more, given him his due. What he does is place him somewhere in the Pantheon between Winfield Scott and Franklin Pierce.
Nice and sympathetic. Even if you're prejudiced against the SOB. But that's all right. There's something here for everyone to like. You like birds? Winnie had a budgie named Toby, whom he lost while staying at the George Sank (George V Hotel) in Paris in the late 50s. Heartbroken. You get the ups and downs of a guy who lives almost a century and screws up more often than not. That's not too bad.
Perhaps Lynne Olson put too much into her book proposal. I liked the coverage of Robert Sherwood, and Lord Lothian, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I thought she was neglectful of some major aspects of prewar politics, e.g. the Popular Front and the Communist tergiversation. I don't even remember whether there was anything in here on Spain. Did I miss that?
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