Ever since I read Charles C Mann's excellent book "1491", and the even better follow up "1493", my interest in the history of South American history has been sky high. Other books about ancient history, especially Jared Diamond's classic "Guns, Germs, And Steel", are the sort of thing I can't get enough of. This book is written more in the style of a story teller than a raw examination of the facts. It's a different approach than I was used to, but one that I thought would be more interesting and more fun. While judging this book against the excellent works mentioned above might be unfair, I think it's fair to say that it should have been much better.
I don't think the storyline approach is the problem. I do think that the author including so many names, dates and details made the program hard to follow in an audio format. But I think that the real problem lies in the monotonous narration. Norman Dietz sounds like he's reading the phone book while drifting off to sleep, not telling an incredible tale of battles, betrayals and intrigue. A little variation of pacing, emphasis, and energy would go a long way toward making this a home run of a five star program.
As far as the writing goes, I would have liked to hear more about the contrasts between the Spanish and Inca cultures, and more about Inca culture in general than political and military tactics. I also would like more examination of the evidence, and explanation of how the author decided to tell the story the way he did. The evidence is known to be sparse, so a little interpretation is understandable. I'd just like to hear that interpreting explained a little.
But with all that said, my interest in the subject kept me in it to the end, and I don't consider my time or my credit to be wasted.
I have a different take on this book than most of its readers because I'm of a later generation. Being born in 1976, I didn't live through any of these events. I grew up during the Reagan years, and have had to learn a little history to understand his appeal. While it's clear that Perlstein has a point of view, the narrative remains factual. In fact, as a relatively liberal reader, this book, as well as Nixonland, have done a great job of helping me understand the conservative concerns and motivations of the time. The portrayal of Reagan as "always aware of the gaze of others", as the eternal optimist, as a black and white thinker, and man who sees a "good vs evil" storyline in everything, does not come across to me as contemptuous. It actually does a lot to explain the appeal that he had at the time, and why he was such a polarizing figure. This book also helped me understand the decision by the Republican Party to abandon moderate positions that placate liberals and moderates, in favor of gaining the strong recognizable party identity that has served them fairly well ever since. Any book of this sort will have some bias in what information is included and excluded. The fact that Perlstein writes in a manner that makes his own point of view obvious makes his book honest and forthright, not biased or misleading. Perlstein doesn't shy away from including plenty of unflattering facts about the liberals of the time, either.
The narrator's voice is not my favorite, but I got used to it. He's clearly a trained professional, and he presented the material admirably.
The writing is engaging, and the details he chooses to include really paint a vivid picture that made me feel like I was living through the time period. This is probably the book's greatest strength. Still, I do agree with those who have said that the book is too long. While Nixonland was as gripping as a roller coaster ride from beginning to end, there are stretches where this book drags a bit. Perhaps the minute procedural details of the politics of the day are more interesting to those who lived through the time period than they were to me.
If I were to recommend one of Perlstein's books, it would certainly be Nixonland, but if you liked that one, The Invisible Bridge will be almost equally enjoyable.
A nice crash course that starts at the beginning. If the idea of a "sceptic's" approach to studying history is new to you, and you studied history only in high school, some of the facts presented will make you look at many events in a completely new way. I've spent the last year reading history, and still, at least 60% of his material was new to me. I felt like his economic analysis of the Roosevelt years was sound, but overlooked a several facts that led Paul Krugman to what I think is a more convincing conclusion in Krugman's "Conscience Of A Liberal". I found the material on the early republic and the 19th century to be fascinating. Especially important is the fact that the United States was never intended to be have the system that is does today. The way that I was tought history was that the founders wanted a completely democratic nation with equal opportunity for all, religious tolerance, and poplar government. If you still believe this myth, I recommend checking out these lectures.
This book covers roughly the same time period as "What Hath God Wrought" by Daniel Walker Howe, which is much longer. But "A Nation Rising" doesn't attempt to be comprehensive or broad. Instead, author Kenneth C Davis picks a handful of lesser known and particularly interesting stories, and writes a relatively short overview of each. Each story seems to be selected because it gives a perspective and challenges standard assumptions about American history.
A few examples:
*Aaron Burr might be getting a bad shake from historians.
*Revolts by Slaves and Indians were a huge part of our history.
*Andrew Jackson was a psychotic, vicious, maniac, but did some good stuff too (not exactly news, I know, but Davis writes well on the subject)
*Jessie and John Fremont were America's biggest celebrities in their day, and their story is still a real page turner.
This book reminds me a bit of "1861" by Adam Goodheart in the sense that both books are written in the "compilation of short stories" format. But this one is shorter, more accessible to a broader audience, and doesn't seem to be use original sources. Most of the sources cited were history writers that I've either read, or heard of. Davis' strength is in his writing ability. He possesses the story telling skills of a good fiction writer, which is what makes the book so accessible. It also helps that he chose interesting, little known stories, and cut them short enough that there weren't any boring parts. For me, this book was a good choice because I didn't have the time this month to listen for 20+ Hours. "A Nation Rising" was short, but every hour was a quality one.
"You are not so smart" was outstanding, and this book is just as good. Sure, it's relatively short, and not especially dense. But it's interesting and informative while also being funny and entertaining. The Narrator probably makes the program. He's such a pro. Every joke has perfect timing and inflection. Every fact is clear as a bell. If I wrote a book it would be an honor to hire this guy. This book is a perfect light listen. Not too dumbed down, but not too technical, either. Simply great nonfiction entertainment.
Serious scholarship. Great narrative. Great narrator. Fascinating subject. I don't know what's not to like here. Live John Brown or hate him, you can't say that his story is boring. Or irrelevant. I could go oping by point, but I'll put it more succinctly: if you are a lover of American history like me, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It's nearly as important a subject as exists. And his author is one of the very best.
I wasn't an avid reader of Krugman's columns or books, so I didn't realize the treat I was in for. The knowledge and conveyance of history and economics are unparalleled, and the politcal analysis is astute. One of those books where I listen every chance I get until I reach the end. I might even listen to the whole thing again. It's just that good. Solid narrator, too.
Not exactly the height of scholarship, but hilarious. And informative. It's like taking a trip to a fantasy world where things like this are actually possible. A nice follow up to the more serious book called "American Nations" whose author's name slips my mind at the moment. The reader is perfect, and almost turns the book into a stand up comedy ruitine. It's a joyride that is more than worth the price of admission.
How can you go wrong with this one? Juicy and chalk full of crime, laziness and utter licentiousness, this book is a dream come true to history buffs who are also unprincipled slackers. That's not to say that it's not serious work, though. The research is solid and the facts are well presented. This is actual scholarship, not hacky journalism. Narrator Paul Boehmer's accent, intonation and rhythm are quite odd to me, and bug me sometimes, but he is chosen to read a lot of the best books, so I guess I'm stuck with him. You should really buy this book. It kicks ass.
This book is exactly what you would expect it to be. Easy listening. A nice little chunk on each president, and the occasional factoid about the office of the presidency. Nothing edgy or controversial, no strong opinions, just basically the general common wisdom on each one. Washington, Lincoln and FDR get top honors, as everyone would expect. James Buchanan and GWB get roasted. Reagan gets the predictable over rating, with Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton taking a backseat. Andrew Jackson is an excellent story line, but like Reagan he gets an A despite having plenty of downside. Still, these are pretty mainstream views and the author goes decidedly mainstream in his assessments. If you expect that going in, there will be no disappointments. Arthur Morey isn't a showy narrator, but the man has talent. He is a master of enunciation, emphasis, cadence, and clarity. Steady all the way, and never distracts. I've heard him narrate a ton of books and he's one of my very favorites. Overall, this material is excellent in the sense that it is accessible and well packaged. A sharp, professional production that is easy to listen to no matter what your politics are. Informative, but also fun.
These guys have no balls, and this book is pretty limp as a result. Yeah, a lot of the data that they have gathered is interesting, and the way they have broken up the nation into categories is novel, but this is a long way from groundbreaking stuff. A lot of my annoyance comes from the fact that the authors are trying to be more nuanced than simply red and blue state categories, but come up with categories that feel forced. "Moneyed Burbs" is a particularly odd grouping. They say these counties have wealthy, educated residents, that can vote either way depending on the performance of thier stock portfolios. In this category they include San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Santa Fe. Last time I checked, hell was more likely to open a ski resort than these counties would be to vote Republican. The authors seem so scared to piss anyone off that they choose to report just the right facts to make themselves seem as centrist as a 50 yard line. Weak sauce if you ask me. Still, I did learn a few things about some parts of the country that I likely won't be moving to any time soon. The narrator is a champ. I'd love to hear more books read by him, because he's one of the best I've heard. If you're a big time political nerd like me, this book is worth a listen. But you'll not find it to be something that drastically impacts the way you look at elections. That's my view, at least.
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