Not sure if it's the writing, but Humboldt comes off a little like the stereotypical German tourist. This strikes me as both good and bad (as German tourists tend to be). Example: the mastiff he decides to take into the jungle with him. His "pet" is ultimately (and maybe inevitably?) eaten. Shows a kind of willfulness while at the same time showing the cheerful way he would face privations on his journeyings ("Just need my dog and I'll be fine").
I never got to the point where I was able to completely ignore the writing and go with the story. Until the final third.
This does the annoying thing that modern journalism books seem to require: provide first person narratives of events meant to be scary/perilous and assume the anecdotes provide context for various points the author is trying to make. That stuff seldom works. Here I rarely felt there was any true danger to the writer and, to the extent there seems to be some danger, it's been manufactured with some craftily deployed hyperbole.
This is a minor complaint though. Blumenthal keeps that stuff limited (feels like an editor/agent told him, "well it's gotta have at least five journalist in peril scenes or we can't sell it") preferring to focus on illuminating facts about Israel's creation, occupation and politics that many who rely on Western media for info will no doubt find shocking/enraging. And even if you do know a lot about those things, Blumenthal's presentation is still good at engaging the reader.
First, this is an interesting book and I liked it. Second, I could never produce something on a par with it and I respect the effort and diligence that went into its creation. However, I do have a few criticisms. I found that I enjoyed the portions that were based on actual records better than the stuff that's reported from one-on-one interviews with the "hillbillies" who produced all that Kentucky grass. The author is perhaps a bit too credulous when relating some of the stories he was told by these folks. OTOH, the solid straight reporting in much of the book balances those stories with enough facts that the stories are still fun to read, if not exactly "according to Hoyle" journalism.
My larger gripe is the author's insertion of his own book creation/subpeona to testify story near the end of the book. I found this part unnecessary and a little too self-satisfied for my taste (the Obama '08 stuff looks particularly naive in light of the way his presidency has, IMO predictably, played out). But again there is a shorter sort of coda that takes well-earned shots at a trigger happy US Marshall with some solid reporting to balance that excess. This shorter end portion, although also self-referential, works much better. It even includes a final sentence that provides a more level-headed assessment of the possibility that Obama's 2008 election would result in any positive developments in our absolutely insane war on drugs.
Finally, I listened to the audiobook version and the narration was clear and easy to follow. Unfortunately, the narrator was clearly unfamiliar with the regional pronunciations of central Kentucky while I am not. This didn't ruin anything about the book, but each appearance of, for instance, "Lebanon" or "Courier-Journal" produced a slight self-referential smirk from this Hardin County guy.
A bit too much wordplay. Though I'll give credit to the chapter in the middle about Milo Minderbinder needing an Egyptian cotton bailout from the government in order to honor the sanctity of contracts. It was prescient. The Yossarian joke to Milo about how Milo needs to argue that "ensuring there's a market for Egyptian cotton speculators to speculate in is crucial to national security" has basically been adopted by today's Fed & its open discount window.
As far as the audio goes, the narrator's General Peckham is a spot-on George W. Bush impression, so there's that. I guess.
Moses Herzog is a unique literary voice. I think I prefer Frank Bascombe, but you can't go wrong here.
Not what I was looking for. There's nothing technical in here. Instead, it's an occasionally stimulating history of various futures markets (focusing on Chicago and traders) but since that's not what I wanted, I kind of wish I would've read that history of the A & P grocery stores.
I wish I had read this instead of listening to it. There were a few too many characters (some called different names either at different times, or by different people) and a few too many time shifts for me to be certain I got all I could've by listening to the audiobook.
I have a thing for McCarthy, but that was bleak. I need let it sit with me awhile.
I had some problems with the ending. Implausibility mixed with abruptness kind of took me out of the bliss the book was generating. I won't mention specifics b/c it's not so bad that it ruins anything, so why spoil anything with specifics? And I'd hate to encourage this guy to extend his twelve years of effort to fifteen just to get an ending that I would love (yeah, I read the Vanity Fair story, who didn't?).
Doesn't soft pedal the actions of the Comanche/Indian the way some native peoples books tend to do and I don't hold that against the book. On the other hand, Gwynne may go a little overboard with his vivid descriptions (parts of this book make Blood Meridian look like a Little Golden Book) of Indian depredations.
Though, to be fair, those descriptions aren't entirely free of context and the author usually gives fair accounts of white atrocities as well. Although I do recall a part, possibly the Sand Creek part, where he writes something like, "the less said about certain army war crimes, the better," or some equally ridiculous statement given his willingness to discuss every white account of Indian crimes in excruciating detail. On the other other hand, shortly after the "less said, the better" statement, he goes on to actually list a bunch of the army atrocities because, I think, he's really interested in the blood and gore stuff of the plains and the Indian wars on both sides.
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