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Mark

Chevy Chase, MD, USA | Member Since 2003

302
HELPFUL VOTES
  • 30 reviews
  • 89 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 9 purchased in 2014
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4

  • Napoleon

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Paul Johnson
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (88)
    Performance
    (18)
    Story
    (19)

    Paul Johnson's book is a refreshing return to a concept whose time has come once again: the Great Man theory of biography. It serves as "the greatest possible refutation of those who hold that events are governed by forces, classes, economics, and geography rather than the powerful wills of men and women". Napoleon truly was the Great Man of his age, a towering and terrible genius who managed to conquer the Continent.

    Mark says: "Not your standard biography"
    "Not your standard biography"
    Overall

    This book breezes through an extremely eventful life with much less detail than one commonly finds in a biography. Presumably, this is because there are so many biographies of Napoleon that it is difficult to break any new ground. The result is a very short "biography" that seemed to me more an extended reflection on Napoleon's life than a narration. If, like me, you are looking for basic information about the man, I think you will find yourself wanting more than this book delivers.

    I suspect that British readers will fare better than Americans, not only because some of the shorter French quotations are untranslated, but also because the author assumes great familiarity with events of continental European history. Thus, things like the Terror and the events of 18 Brumiere are mentioned, but not explained. At one point the author states that one of Napoleon's ministers played much the same role that so-and-so played in the government of Charles de Gaulle. That may be the greatest analogy ever for all I know, but the amount of information it communicated to me was approximately zero. I'm quite willing to concede that this is my fault, but I think I know more European history than the average American so I'm warning everyone: If you can't say off the top of your head what happened on 18 Brumiere and why it mattered, I think you'll find this book as unsatisfying as I did. If you can't say off the top of your head who Robespierre was (there's a hint in the phrase "off the top of your head"), you'll fare even worse, and probably shouldn't even bother with this selection until you've read some other history of the era.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Trial and Death of Socrates

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Plato
    • Narrated By Dick Hill
    Overall
    (38)
    Performance
    (24)
    Story
    (24)

    The Trial and Death of Socrates presents the trial and subsequent execution of Socrates in 399 BCE. Socrates was tried on the basis of two ambiguous charges: corrupting the youth and impiety. “Euthyphro”, one of Plato's early dialogues, takes place during the weeks leading up to Socrates' trial. “Apology” is Plato's version of the speech given by Socrates as he defends himself against the charges of being a man "who corrupted the young, refused to worship the gods, and created new deities".

    Darwin8u says: "An Examined Life!"
    "Excellent narration of a difficult genre"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    Would you listen to The Trial and Death of Socrates again? Why?

    This is a genre that Plato has almost entirely to himself. It's not quite drama, not quite short story, and not quite nonfiction. I wasn't sure how it would work on audio, but Dick Hill did an amazing job bringing these classics to life.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • A History of Britain, Volume 1: At the Edge of the World, 3000 B.C. - 1603 A.D.

    • ABRIDGED (8 hrs)
    • By Simon Schama
    • Narrated By Timothy West
    Overall
    (218)
    Performance
    (56)
    Story
    (54)

    A History of Britain poses questions that have universal timeless resonance. What makes or breaks a nation? To whom do you give your allegiance and why? Where do the roots of your community lie - in your hearth and home, your village or city, your tribe, your faith? And, finally, what is Britain? Also, listen to A History of Britain, Volume 2.

    Dennis says: "Accessible to the lay-person."
    "I wish it were unabridged!"
    Overall

    As a U.S. reader, I found this very accessible. I suspect those more familiar with Great Britain and its history would like it even better, particularly many of the geographic references that were lost on me.

    I generally steer clear of abridged versions, and this book certainly confirms me in that general rule of thumb, because I was disappointed at several points to realize that we were picking up the story a century or more after the period we had just been discussing. On the other hand, I learned a great deal about what was happening in England before the Battle of Hastings (a period I had previously known almost nothing about) and I really enjoyed the discussions of Tudor England, the main outlines of which were already familiar. Thus, while I remain disappointed that the work is only offered in an abridged format, I recommend it anyway and I do plan to buy all three volumes.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • 1984

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By George Orwell
    • Narrated By Richard Brown
    Overall
    (616)
    Performance
    (72)
    Story
    (75)

    The year 1984 has come and gone, yet George Orwell's prophetic nightmare vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of "Negative Utopia", a startlingly original and powerful novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words.

    Erik says: "Good narrator, great book"
    "A true masterpiece"
    Overall

    There are some books that ought to be required reading. This book ought to be required ANNUAL reading. I just finished my second annual trip through it and I found it repaid careful attention yet again.

    This would be a good book even if all it did was invent a coherent dystopian world of the future and tell a plausible story about how it came into being. That would be good fiction. The genius of this book, it seems to me, is to take that good fiction to a whole different level by focusing on the aspects of the human psyche that make the story plausible. Orwell doesn't just tell us a story of some bad men who lead a revolution and then preside over an unprecedentedly cruel reign of terror. Instead, he dwells on the crucial elements -- doublethink, Newspeak, alienation, surveillance, propaganda -- that would make it not just possible but likely for human beings to go along willingly. What I found most arresting, in our post-9/11 world, were his observations about the relationship between fear and power -- namely, that governments enhance their own power by promoting an environment of chronic fear, and it doesn't even matter whether the object of the fear is real or imagined because the power is just as real either way.

    "War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength." Quite a program -- and not as foreign or confusing as I wish it were.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Leonardo da Vinci

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Sherwin Nuland
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    Overall
    (58)
    Performance
    (7)
    Story
    (6)

    In Leonardo da Vinci, Sherwin Nuland completes his 20-year quest to understand an unlettered man who was a painter, architect, engineer, philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. What was it that propelled Leonardo's insatiable curiosity? Nuland finds clues in his subject's art, relationships, and scientific studies.

    Mark says: "Not enough art, in more ways than one"
    "Not enough art, in more ways than one"
    Overall

    This is an extraordinarily admiring biography of da Vinci, but the author's understandable admiration (particuarly for Leonardo's work in human anatomy) gets in the way. The best biographies let us experience the subject's life from his own point of view, so that as we see the various choices he makes we realize that we are actually watching the subject's own creation of self. Unfortunately, this book is not among the best biographies. Instead of presenting Leonardo the Renaissance Man, Nuland gives us Leonardo the 21st century man trapped in 15th century Italy. He seems not to relate to any of his contemporaries, and we get no sense that the burning curiosity within Leonardo was actually quite in keeping with the spirit of his age.

    Furthermore, despite occasional references to Leonardo's studies in optics, astronomy, and math, we really only get to know his work in anatomy. Even his art is barely mentioned.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

    • ABRIDGED (3 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Malcolm Gladwell
    • Narrated By Malcolm Gladwell
    Overall
    (1760)
    Performance
    (168)
    Story
    (167)

    Why did crime in New York drop so suddenly in the mid-90s? How does an unknown novelist end up a best-selling author? Why is teenage smoking out of control, when everyone knows smoking kills? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? Why did Paul Revere succeed with his famous warning?

    Zentaro says: "An interesting listen"
    "Fascinating insights in a short book"
    Overall

    Normally I steer clear of abridgments, but this was an excellent way to spend five hours. I'm not sure how much longer an unabridged version would have been, but I felt the argument of this book proceeded very logically and was adequately developed and supported by the factual examples.

    That argument is essentially this: that many social trends and phenomena follow the same basic pattern as epidemics; that they follow the same pattern because they are caused and sustained in much the same way; that the difference between trends that get past the "tipping point" and those that do not may often be one or more very small factors; and that if one wants to create any sort of social trend (whether that be buying a product or committing fewer crimes), it is important to attend to such very small factors.

    The book is anecdotal, and for all I know there may be respected social scientists who think Gladwell is a rank amateur who is dabbling beyond his depth. But for my part, I think Gladwell is a perspicacious observer whose insights here are original, interesting, and even useful.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • A Northern Light

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Jennifer Donnelly
    • Narrated By Hope Davis
    Overall
    (103)
    Performance
    (38)
    Story
    (38)

    Mattie Gokey has a word for everything. She collects words, stores them up as a way of fending off the hard truths of her life, the truths that she can't write down in stories.

    Mark says: "Well written fiction for adults and adolescents"
    "Well written fiction for adults and adolescents"
    Overall

    I liked this book before I bought it because I'm familiar with the time and place in which it is set. But to my very pleasant surprise, I found that the real interest that this book holds is the way the author captures the process of discernment -- how we direct our own lives. How do we know what to do with our lives? Which promises do we have to keep and which ones can we break when circumstances change? The portrayal here of the process of moral deliberation really resonated with me, and I'm 42 -- well past the point of wondering what to do with my life. But I think adolescents will really get a lot out of this book. I expect my 9-year-old daughter will enjoy it in five or six years. (My son, not so much -- but maybe I'll change my mind about that as time goes by.)

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • A History of Rome, Volume 2

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Cyril Robinson
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    Overall
    (165)
    Performance
    (40)
    Story
    (42)

    A History of Rome is the story of a tiny market town on the Tiber, its rise to world domination, and then its slow, terrible plunge to utter ruin. It is the single greatest event in all human history.

    Robert says: "An Excellent Telling of Rome's History"
    "Read this History of Rome (Volumes 1 and 2) First"
    Overall

    I was looking for a reasonably comprehensive history not just of the "decline and fall" of Rome, but of its rise as well. I was particularly interested in the final years of the republic, which occurred prior to the zenith of Roman power.

    Volume 1 was exactly what I was looking for, but I couldn't stop there; I needed to get the rest of the story in Volume 2. In both books, I found the writing clear and the narration spirited. I found this survey to be just the right level of detail in order to permit the reader to see similarities with events of the 20th and 21st centuries.

    Start with Volume 1, though, particularly if you live in the United States. The rise of the Roman republic and its surprisingly incremental transition into its imperial phase is a story that resonated in alarming ways for me.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • A History of Rome, Volume 1

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Cyril Robinson
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    Overall
    (244)
    Performance
    (63)
    Story
    (63)

    A History of Rome is the story of a tiny market town on the Tiber, its rise to world domination, and then its slow, terrible plunge to utter ruin. It is the single greatest event in all human history.

    Mark says: "A superb survey of Ancient Roman History"
    "A superb survey of Ancient Roman History"
    Overall

    I was looking for a reasonably comprehensive history not just of the "decline and fall" of Rome, but of its rise as well. I was particularly interested in the final years of the republic, which occurred prior to the zenith of Roman power.

    In this book, I hit the jackpot. The writing is clear, the narration spirited. I found this survey to be just the right level of detail in order to permit the reader to see similarities with events of the 20th and 21st centuries.

    Don't miss Volume 2, either, which was just as good.

    14 of 14 people found this review helpful
  • The Art of War [Blackstone Version]

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Sun-Tzu, translation by John Minford
    • Narrated By Lorna Raver, Ray Porter
    Overall
    (461)
    Performance
    (142)
    Story
    (148)

    For more than two thousand years, The Art of War has stood as a cornerstone of Chinese culture, a lucid epigrammatic text that reveals as much about human psychology, politics, and economics as it does about battlefield strategy. The influence of Sun-Tzu's text has grown tremendously in the West in recent years, with military leaders, politicians, and corporate executives alike finding valuable insight in these ancient words.

    David says: "Excellent book on tactics and strategy"
    "Not the right medium"
    Overall

    Part 1 of this work was interesting -- not life-altering, but interesting. What I didn't know is that, by long tradition, editions of this book are published with elaborate commentaries in the margins. Thus, after Part 1 finishes presenting Sun Tzu's treatise, Part 2 attempts to present the work all over again with all the marginalia -- and I didn't find the audio format conducive to any integrated consideration of the text and margin notes.

    Two stars for Part 1, and none for Part 2.

    22 of 24 people found this review helpful
  • God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It

    • ABRIDGED (7 hrs and 36 mins)
    • By Jim Wallis
    • Narrated By Sam Freed
    Overall
    (173)
    Performance
    (14)
    Story
    (15)

    Since when did believing in God and having moral values make you pro-war, pro-rich, and solely pro-Republican? And since when did promoting and pursuing a progressive social agenda with a concern for economic security, health care, and educational opportunity mean you had to put faith in God aside?

    CodeHead says: "Repetitive but profound"
    "A truly prophetic voice"
    Overall

    Sometime in the 1990s, a friend said to me, "Isn't there a political party that wants to get all the children born AND feed them?" Jim Wallis asks essentially the same question, quickly concludes that the answer is no, and then excoriates both major parties for failing to hear and respond to the cry of the poor. Reading this book is like an examination of conscience for political junkies and policy wonks.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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