As most folks know, Blackwater has been much in the press during the fall of 2007. Journalists tended to say little is known about Blackwater. Maybe they hadn't been doing much reading.
In early 1987 Scahill wrote this investigative book laying out the backstory about the rise of this band of mercenaries and its entanglement with the establishment neocons and what is often called the "radical religious right."
One's reaction to this book will likely be determined by the reader's political point of view. The further to the political left the reader is, the greater the anger the book will spark. The further to the right, the more scepticism the tale will surely fire. But I suspect, for most readers, the tale will be viewed as horriffic-if-true.
This story may not bode well for the direction our government/culture/country is headed.
I can't stop without mentioning the narrator who reads the text with the deep scarey theatricality so stereotypic of movie trailers. That's a pity as it unnecessarily creates a sense of danger, something the text itself is plenty able to do.
This is the continuation of the autobiography begun in ANGELA'S ASHES, watching the author return to America, navigating through his late adolescence and early adulthood.
Although every bit as delightfully drawn as the first volume, the voice changes into just what one might expect from a boy loose, on his own in New York City, drinking, whoring, surviving a stint in the military, and struggling to find a comfortable place teaching in the NYC public school system.
Be prepared for the change in tone from the one McCourt used in Angela's Ashes. He's raising himself now, from the street up, and his language is peppered with all the color (what my parents would call unnecesary cursing) you might expect from most any young lad his age. If you listen carefully, though, you'll hear the same sensitive heart beating in the story, again masterfully read by McCourt.
I'm sitting here having just finished listening to the book, trying to organize my thoughts for this quick review. It's tough, though, as McCourt's lyrical prose -- and masterful narration -- are ringing so loudly in my head that everything else is eclipsed.
I can guarantee, absolutely, you won't be disappointed in the time you invest to sit through ANGELA'S ASHES (unless, of course, you're from the north, or some kind of a presbyterian).
As a number of reviewers have noted, this book is heavily biased toward Christianity. The author's intention is clearly laid out, however. It's a book about us (American citizens) and how we've lost any real understanding of the degree to which Christianity has become part of our culture, our politics, our mythology, etc. It isn't a Christian tract.
The US-centric focus of the book is set squarely in the context of a larger plea for religious literacy in the broadest sense, and the author provides (in the dictionary-like section others have mentioned) a wonderful springboard to the search each of us should make to understand how religion has infused most cultures.
Don't be put off by reviewers carping about not being spoon-fed a religious literacy education. This book grounds you in what's necessary to understand political dialog in the US and can, if well used, start you/us/me on a path to a more respectable cross-religion literacy.
If you liked Nickled & Dimed, I suspect you'll be (at least) as impressed by Orwell's chronicle of time spent living at the bottom of two large european cities. It has polemic bits, but very very few compared to the lengthy observation, sensitively rendered, of the "characters" he was surrounded by at the bottom.
If you didn't like Nickled & Dimed, don't shy away from Orwell's tale. It has, imnsho, a quarter the polemic of Ehrenreich's book, and four times its human warmth.
Despite the poor quality narration, this is an engrossing apocaliptic tale whose dark, dark details is balanced by the portrayal of a beautifully drawn father-son relationship.
Don't let the negative reviews turn you away. This is in some ways a "rough" read, but it's beautifully, sensitively told at the same time.
Take a look at the published reviews for the book (easy enough by Googling the title and author's last name). No controversy there about the place of this work at the top of the escalafon of contemporary novelists.
I'm late catching this book, but am I ever glad that I finally acted on my friends' recommendations. If you're interested in 20th century American history -- or simply in histories and the ways their elements interact -- I can't see you going wrong with this one.
Who knew a history of the early 20th century in Illinois could bring together Mark Twain, cracker jack, Susan B. Anthony, Gentelman Jim Corbett, Woodrow Wilson, Shredded Wheat, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Clarence Darrow, Walt Disney, Theodore Dreiser, Leopold & Loeb, the electric chair, the ferris wheel, and even the Keeley Gold Cure.
It's a well read tale, a fascinating examination of "the fair that changed America," chock full of surprising information.
To cut to the chase:
The narrator of this version of Siddhartha isn't one whose other work I'll be chasing down. I had hoped to be swept back to the place I landed when I first read the book (decades ago), but with this reader and a translation that struck me as anything-but-lyrical, I finished the recording hugely unsatisfied.
It's a shame that Audible offers only an abridgement of Sherab Chodzin Kohn's translation -- widely considered sensitive and poetic.
Listening to this book can be a real downer. Americans like to think that anyone who works, and works hard enough, can rise in our socio-economic hierarchy. In fact, however, the poor (i.e. low-paid wage workers) are basically locked into a system that keeps them poor. The author paints a bleak, depressing picture of the very real obstacles to "moving up" from the bottom in American society. The author's months spent "posing" as a late entry to the work-a-day world (as a waitress, an institutional health-are worker, a house cleaner, and a Wall-Mart jack-of-all-trades) paints a grim, grim picture of a reality that might likely break most all of us (i.e. non-entry-level low-wage workers).
As the gap between the richest and poorest strata of our society widens, we owe it to ourselves to revise our bootstrap myth realistically. It's not a fun read, but it's certainly an important one.
One might have wished, though, that the narration was a bit more engaging.
I am an audible user who tries to avoid listening to abridgments (and won't touch a Reader's Digest Select Edition -- previously known, and more honestly so, as "condensed books")
I make mistakes now and then, though, and didn't notice that this was an abridgement until the credits were rolling at the end of the read.
Who knows if I might have liked the book. The subject matter was intriguing, the reading well done. But I'd like to share my views with folks who were free to "read" the book (I can't; reading it is not possible with my vision). So I have no idea how much I heard, nor how much was edited out.
It's a pity ...
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