The *book* "Nixonland" is fascinating. Though one can quibble about some of Perlstein's choices (relatively little space devoted to the 1960 election compared to, e.g., Nixon's role in the 1966 Republican midterm-election resurgence), the details about seemingly minor politics and politicians, many now largely historical footnotes (Calif. Gov. Pat Brown; N.Y. Mayor John Lindsay; Illinois Sen. Charles Percy) are a kind of Rorschach of the politics in the 1960s. And that minute detail is what, ultimately, explains why many folks who supported Kennedy in 1960 and Johnson in 1964 had come, by 1968 and, especially 1972, to vote for Nixon in droves.
Richard Nixon is the main character, of course, in all his bottomless pathology -- smart; conniving; petty; crafty; conflicted; envious. But this book tells the story of this talented yet deeply flawed man against the vast canvas of his era, showing how easily history could have taken a different path.
But like several other reviewers, I found this *edition* wanting because of the narrator's careless pronunciation -- I counted at least a dozen relatively well-known folks (including Dean Acheson, Nguyen Cao Ky, and Tom Huston, infamous today for the "Huston Plan" that presaged Watergate) whose names he botched, along many place-names of Vietnam (e.g., Ton Son Nhut Air Base). There are reams of audio news reports from that era against which contemporary pronunciations of those names can be checked -- it's not as if this book were about life in the 1850s, after all. For those who lived through the era, the constant mispronunciations were both annoying and distracting. Overall, the book itself rates a "5" -- but this version loses a notch because of the narrator's failure to "fact check" pronunciations easily accessible in the public record -- which are the coin of the realm in a spoken word edition.
Brooks begins with some interesting musings on the mysteries of modern science (e.g., dark matter and dark energy), and manages to include the famous "WOW!" moment from 1977 when for a moment it looked like a radio telescope in Ohio had gotten a message from outer space. But as the book progresses he moves into increasingly paranormal territory (e.g., whether human beings have free will, or whether homeopathic medicine works). To call some of the topics he discusses "scientific" mysteries is a bit of a strain -- one senses that he started out with the idea of discussing "13 things," and then had to pad out the book with marginal topics in order to meet the pre-determined size of his list. It's still an interesting book for the most part, and the narrator does a good job -- too bad that Brooks couldn't find 13 strictly scientific mysteries to discuss.
Jack Higgins is certainly an entertaining writer (his best is probably the WWII thriller, "The Eagle has Landed") and this story, which is set in a kind of fictional alternate universe in a post-9/11 world, certainly holds one's interest. The narration by Michael Page is also expertly done -- he manages to give almost every character (especially male characters) different-sounding voices that are remarkably diverse.
The problem with the book is that it's actually intended as a continuation of a series of novels (apparently, this is no. 15) involving the character Sean Dillon. Dillon actually has a secondary role in this novel, but there are a number of places where Higgins refers to events that have already happened in other novels, and one gets the feeling of having walked in during the middle of the play. So, it's an entertaining and well-read audiobook -- but I wouldn't have chosen it if I had known it was part of a series.
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