As with all of McCullough's books, "The Greater Journey" is filled with memorable characters--James Fennimore Cooper; Samuel B. Morse; Augustus St. Gaudens; and best of all, Elihu Washburne, the hero of the siege of Paris. McCullough's material here lacks the same strong narrative thread that makes works like "1776" and "Truman" as irresistable as potato chips. Instead, there are several narrative clusters: Cooper and Morse, which is full of quotes from wonderful letters and diaries; Washburne's time as ambassador, which will make you proud to be an American and amazed that his name is not better known; and the artists of the late 19th century, such as St. Gaudens, Whistler, and Cassatt. The first two clusters are fascinating; the last merely interesting--and the end a weak fade-out. But it's still far better than 90% of the other history audiobooks on this site, and Edward Herrmann is McCullough's best reader (after Nelson Runger).
The Trial may be the greatest book ever written about the ruthless, logical absurdity of a bureaucracy at its most extreme. If you've ever gotten the run-around at the DMV or your insurance company, you will find the story of Josef K uncomfortably familiar. Dick Hill has just the right voice--a little older, precise, particular--to deliver this text in its cold, comic perfection. Well done.
I am in awe of Christopher Plummer's enormous range of vocal characterizations, many of them hysterically idiosyncratic and affected. I could easily listen to this again just to marvel at his audacity. He threw himself headlong into this performance. Nothing you've seen him do on screen will prepare you for this, and perhaps it's his experience as a dramatic, subtle actor that provided him with a rock-solid foundation from which to launch into dizzingly comic heights. Wonderful.
A Kafka-esque black comedy, Count Luna is a tale of a man allowing his paranoia to spin out of control, with fatal consequences to a number of innocent bystanders and ultimately to himself. Lernet-Holenia treats his hero with an ice cold ruthlessness that just makes the bitterness of his situation all the more comic. Jessiersky's fate is as bleak and savagely funny as that of Tony Last in Waugh's Decline and Fall. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The premise of a Hell built of an infinite number of shelves all filled with random, meaningless texts--not even text, just letters--sounded like the terrific basis for a novella. But Peck falls into a common trap of novice writers: he tries to explain too many practical details in a situation in which sense is largely unnecessary. This weakness is compounded by the the failure to deliver a story with a shape and direction. Kafka was a master of absurd situations and exploited that to free himself of a narrative shape, but with similar raw ingredients, the result here is well short of the master's.
If what you enjoy is a straightforward narrative told in straightforward prose, turn around now. Barthelme is unapologetically post-modernist in approach and outlook, and in the case of "The Dead Father," introduces a healthy dose of surrealism as well. The Dead Father is an enormous figure being dragged towards some little-explained destination. He's dead. But he's not. He is a symbolic figure, at times even a mythic figure--he creates a new god just by sticking one eye in a river.
Much of the book is snatches of dialogue, sometimes in clear context, sometimes nearly incoherent. Which is actually why it lends itself to the audiobook format, at least in the hands of a reader prepared to piece out which remark belongs to which character. Dennis Holland does a superb job of interpreting a very challenging text, and the listener owes him for his work in helping us through the work. The reading reminded very much of Nick Sullivan's outstanding reading of William Gaddis' "J.R.," and if you appreciate Gaddis' humor, you are well prepared to enjoy Barthelme's. There are moments of such wonderful wordplay and verbal juxtapositions that I burst out laughing.
While this isn't one of my top 10 audiobooks, it's one I'm very satisfied to have purchased and listened to.
If you've seen Stanley Kubrick's film of "Barry Lyndon," you know the story but not the character. Ryan O'Neal played Barry Lyndon as a rather tender innocent who becomes spoiled by exposure to cheats and tricksters, but Thackeray's Barry Lyndon was quite a different person. He is boastful, conceited, loud-mouthed, a lecher, a gambler, a blackmailer, a liar, and a drunk. "I never struck my wife but when I was in liquor," he comments at one point, as if it was sufficient justification. In other words, he is one of the great anti-heroes of fiction, a man who manages to insult his mother as pretentious, long-winded and vain in the same moment as he is praising her loyalty. Thackeray was making fun of the so-called Irish nobility, who claimed to be descendants of kings while living in "castles" little better than hovels, and "Barry Lyndon" is a satire painted in broad, comic strokes. Jonathan Keeble's reading is one of the finest I've heard in the course of listen to over a hundred Audible titles. He wrings every comic drop from the text, even getting a good laugh just by his interpretation of Thackeray's blanks ("the Duke of ___"). I can't imagine anyone giving a better performance of this text. Thoroughly enjoyable.
If there was ever a book where the journey, not the destination, matters, it's "Tristram Shandy."
Once you're prepared to step back into the 18th century, where things never were said in a short, straight-forward manner, and prepared to put yourself in the hands of a wry old joker and a superb narrator, however, you'll find this one of the finest audiobook experiences ever recorded. I am in awe of Peter Barker's achievement: there are dozens of passages where nothing remotely pronounceable-readable-sayable appears, and yet he always manages to convey the right message. I dearly wish I had a sound clip of his rendition of Mr. Walter Shandy's favorite oath ("G-g-g-g-g-ood GAWD!").
I do not for a second regret setting aside my haste and allowing Mr. Sterne and Mr. Barker to take all the time they needed not to get to the point, and wholeheartedly recommend you do the same.
I have read or listened to all the major FDR biographies, including Robert Sherwood's great "Roosevelt and Hopkins" and was really looking forward to this book, the first major Hopkins biography in over a dozen years. And it is a very good book, one I will probably end up reading. I say that because Fleet Cooper's voice is completely inappropriate for this material. He sounds like a snide, spoiled, would-be wisecracker, one who wants to put a sly spin on every other line ... which is something totally unnecessary and even unwelcome in a serious work of biography. I tolerated it for the first part, but had to quit after six hours. Very disappointing.
Grover Gardner has been the perfect narrator throughout this series and this volume is no exception. This book covers Johnson's ambivalent attempt at running for the Presidency in 1960, his years of frustration as Vice President (going from the second most powerful man in Washington to being mocked by Kennedy staffers as "Rufus Cornpone"), and then his remarkable success in the months following Kennedy's assassination. For those who have followed Johnson through over two thousand pages of Caro's biography up to this point, the last two hundred pages serve as testament to the fact that this truly was a great man, if also a greatly flawed one. I listened to this immediately after finishing Caro's "The Power Broker," and one can see how Caro has matured as a writer. Both books are richly detailed portraits, but now Caro's viewpoint is far more nuanced and balanced. Even his sketches of John and Robert Kennedy demonstrate that Caro's greatest strength is his ability to reveal a man's character in depth--the good and the bad--without giving into the temptation to reduce it to a simplistic summary judgment. Yes, this is a long book that requires patience and commitment from a reader or listener, but I consider it one of those books that has profoundly enriched my life. May Caro live to finish this masterpiece!
I usually enjoy books about World War Two, and having read biographies of Eisenhower and Patton, was looking forward to listening to this. But Jordan's writing displays all the worst characteristics of an amateur attempting to apply cliched rules about colorful writing. Which means that a grin has to be sheepish, eyes to twinkle, etc. I finally gave up at minute 26, shortly after hearing Eisenhower described as "instinctively likable." Whose instinct? Eisenhower's? Other peoples'? Think about it a minute and you'll realize that this is an example of a writer grabbing a readily available adjective without considering its meaning. Jordan tells us that "The Army wanted Eisenhower to stay in the States and train men." The Army did, eh? Was this before or after the Army wanted a BLT for lunch? Coming after books by Max Hastings and Andrew Roberts--who actually know how to write vivid and correct prose--this book seemed like Wonder Bread after crusty and flavorful sourdough. Yuck.
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