Wonderful, entertaining, smart, provocative book that is very well directed and perfectly read by two characters. This book lends itself very well to audio because it's essentially two narrators describing the world. I have recommended this book to everyone I know but be forewarned, the "near-future" described is slightly raunchy and not for the grandmothers of the world.
I would have bet that Steinbeck wrote this long before The Grapes of Wrath because it is the lesser novel, but evidently he wrote this much later. It is too sprawling for even his control and stretches rely on narrative exposition rather than dramatic action or nuanced description. Perhaps it should have been longer still! No doubt my world is enriched for having read this and it is still a masterly work of fiction--it's in the top 500 novels ever but not the top 10 like Grapes of Wrath, and some of the characters will endure long into the future. Thematically more ambitious than Grapes of Wrath, the Cain and Abel structure is enlightening but less meaningful and less tangible than the historical forces at play in Grapes, at least for me. No Steinbeck enthusiast should miss this but a newcomer would be advised to start with Grapes. The reader is excellent and helps shape the experience.
This is the only book I've ever encountered in which I could never really keep straight the endless characters but never felt that such confusion impinged on my ability to understand the gist of things. Despite the profusion of characters and backstories, the narrative is terse and economical and the author has an expert grasp on pacing and tone. Moreover, the language of the novel casts knowing darts outward from the ostensible spy story toward enduring themes of love, society, democracy, friendship, and institutions in ways more effective than most "deep books". The reader was the best ever. I have already replayed this novel as background music, which is a first for me.
Greenberg blends gonzo journalism, scientific literacy, and wry critical thinking into an engrossing, enlightening, and provocative work of art. Another reviewer called this book a rant but it is the opposite of a rant; the author never repeats himself but instead constantly reassesses his beliefs according to the evidence at hand, tweaking them to conform to his changing experiences. Instead of a rant, the book is a dialectic, a series of conflicts and resolutions, the backbone to a great story. In addition, Greenberg isn't afraid to explore the idea that treating depression with drugs could be yet another concession that democracy makes in the face of advanced capitalism. Greenberg is not a timid writer. He is also astonishingly smart about how to analyze the facts of his subject not only in the best terms that science promises (not mystifying jargon but razor-sharp logic and metacritical rumination) but also in terms of the (frankly fascinating) history of science. I cannot recommend this book highly enough and I an shocked that The Emperor of All Maladies received so much press whereas it was pure chance that I heard about this book. Yes, The Emperor of All Maladies is a very good book, but Manufacturing Depression takes more risks by drawing narrative steam from the engine of the romantic-self and the democratic society rather than the lachrymal-melodrama of the cancer ward.
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