Kempton, PA | Member Since 2012
In the top 10
Interpretation of how comrades in arms in the Revolution became bitter enemies in the early republic, yet managed to lay a solid foundation of government while tearing each other's reputations to shreds. How their strengths, flaws and relationships (for they knew each other personally) created much of the framework of who we are as Americans. How history is interpreted vs. what the people who lived it actually experienced. This book is much more than a biography or a chronology of events.
His narration of the letters between Jefferson and Adams late in life - particularly his narration of John Adams - added emotional nuance essential to understanding how the major rift of the early republic (strong vs. minimal central government) came to be and how it nearly destroyed what so many fought to create.
No - you need time to absorb the subtle inferences of the writing. I also undertook a review of the biographies of the Founding Fathers for better backround. Basic biographical facts are not covered.
The narration and writing of the Jefferson-Adams correspondance is breathtaking. I pictured a bare stage with the two men and heard the dialog as well as picked up on their temperments. Like another reviewer, I felt that Hamilton's contributions were not valued by the author, unlike those of Jefferson, Madison and Adams. He is presented as a mere protege and shadow of Washington. I tend to think Hamilton gets the short shrift from historians because Jefferson, Madison,and Adams, all very capable writers, not only disliked him but also outlived him by many years. Hamilton left a prolific correspondence, but it ended with the duel in 1804. He wasn't around to defend himself, and as Ellis reminds us, history includes a generous amount of "spin."
The second superb volume of Shelby Foote's trilogy comprehensively describes events that receive short shrift in the history books, media and popular imagination - the Western Theater of the Civil War. While Gettysburg and Chancellorsville are presented in detail, it was fascinating to learn about the ironclads, tinclads and gunboats lumbering up the bayous and moss strewn tributaries of the Mississippi River, searching in vain for a route around the murderous batteries at Vicksburg; Grant's bender during the boredom, futility and frustration of the struggle for the Mississippi; the heroism of both the Union's Black regiments and the Confederate general at Port Hudson, Louisiana; and how hapless, frustrated blue-blood Philadelphia native and CSA general Pemberton begs in vain for assistance from the Confederate leadership in breaking Grant's unrelenting siege of Vicksburg.
As with the other volumes, basic understanding of Civil War battle chronology, geography, tactics, and the political as well as cultural landscape is a prerequisite to add necessary depth and context to the volumes. Unless you have an extensive background in Civil War history, these aren't stand-alone volumes. The level of detail can easily become overwhelming. Part of the enrichment is exploring other Civil War history resources - websites, documentaries, battlefields, museums, and other published materials - that enable the reader to place Foote's magnificent writing into context.
The finest praise I have for a book is that I'm not the same person I was after having read it. I discovered this standing in front of the public library in Erie, PA. To my surprise, as I had no idea where he was from, there stood a statue of Strong Vincent, defender of the Union Flank at Little Round Top. Having died of his wounds five days after the battle, he's one of the soldiers that you don't hear much about. His is a sad story; tears welled up as I offered a prayer of thanksgiving that his country had deep enough meaning for him to sacrifice his life. There are numerous examples like his on both Union and Confederate sides. The war was bloody and the tactics were brutal, delivering a tragic, almost unimaginable and horrific loss of life. Perhaps most frustrating was the lack of progress for the rights of African Americans, coming to halt after passage of the 15th amendment. However, when you tour the battlefields, the long and almost forgotten dead seem to speak to you from an era when Americans acted upon deeply felt ideals. The ideals were often flawed, but the sentiment and the actions that resulted were profound and resonate to the present day.
David McCullough is one of the great American history authors of our time, but I had no idea of his skills as a narrator. Sympathetic portrayal of Washington's early days in the Revolutionary war. McCullough does not gloss over the bad decisions but his reading provides a nuanced portrait of Washington's and the Continental Army's weaknesses as well as how they learned from them. Terrific experience that kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I knew all of the outcomes.
Starts out promisingly enough with depiction of an emigrant Irish family's disaster followed by eldest daughter Niamh's trip to Minnesota on what must have been one of the final orphan trains, in 1929. The depiction of the children, the train and the "adoption stops” seem authentic and kept my interest. The book uses the popular device of swinging back and forth between two characters - modern day foster child Molly and present day Vivian, now 91, nee Niamh. Molly's story line is far weaker. Molly is assigned community service for stealing a library book - an old, tattered paperback copy of Jane Eyre, not pinching "World of Warcraft" from Walmart, so as not to frighten sensitive readers. Molly's community service is to help Vivian sort old boxes in a large, roomy attic in a house on a Maine island that surely seems familiar to any reader of modern American fiction. The portrayal of Molly's foster mom is a complete caricature that annoyingly makes the author's bias crystal clear. For example, while I personally support Vegetarianism, I found myself rooting for the evil Foster mom to sling a T-bone steak in Molly's lunch bag. I strongly recommend ditching this book before Vivian grows to adulthood to avoid some of the most improbable plot twists in modern fiction. Certainly you want to bail before the final chapters. If the book went any further, elderly Vivian and young Molly would be posting selfies on Instagram. While the author appears engaged in the actual orphan train segments early in the book, she seemed to lose interest as the plot progressed, stringing together one wild coincidence after another until grinding to a neatly resolved, predictable halt. Narrations, I think, were supposed to be Irish accents but they were often too muddled to fully assess. Many a native Minnesotan is caught with a bit of the brogue, except for poor Mr. Sorensen's incomprehensible dialect from somewhere in the land of Evil Adults. The book piqued my interest in the topic, however, and if I ever make it to Kansas, the Orphan Train museum in Concordia is on my bucket list.
On the eve of the War of 1812, John Jacob Astor assembled French and Scots Canadian fur traders with American explorers and seamen for two advance parties for a grand plan: obtain fabulous wealth from the Sea Otter fur trade with China, and found the first American settlement on the Northwest Pacific Coast. The seagoing party is led by the aptly named stickler for discipline, Captain Thorn. The overland party, just two years after the Lewis and Clark expedition, is led by a genial, non-confrontational New Jersey man with limited wilderness experience. While the reader can surmise from these facts the final result from the clash of native and European cultures and governments, this remains an utterly fascinating book about a historical failure that later triumphs due to the discovery of the overland path back East that was to become the Oregon Trail. Like the vast majority of Americans, I had not heard of the lead ship, the Tonquin, and knew the Astoria only as a New York hotel. The only Astor I had heard of was the one who went down with the Titanic (actually a direct descendant.) I was fascinated to learn about the sometimes exotic and often violent events during early exploration and settlement of the Columbia River Mouth: the unfortunate slap that led to a massacre and explosion; native Hawaiians in the dark, damp Oregon woods, and a brave Native American woman, Marie Dorian, who survived greater challenges than the famous Sacajawea of Lewis and Clark expedition fame. Thoroughly researched and engagingly told, this is a wonderful book that reads like a thriller. Highly recommend.
Normally, I find Doris Kearns Goodwin books among the best in historical biography, but this one didn't do it for me. William Taft, decent man and talented jurist that he was, doesn't provide engaging material for a sweeping history. Theodore Roosevelt (I get the hint and won't call him "Teddy") could hold my interest more, but in an annoying, frustrating type of way, As assistant secretary of the Navy, deceived his superior into taking an extended vacation so he could essentially set up a war, snapping up a leading role that propelled him into the oval office. Admittedly, TR bravely led his Rough Riders, but I couldn't help feeling sorry for the men once back home, in quarantine, recovering from Yellow Fever while Roosevelt boasts, "I had a bully war!" I would constantly doze off upon listening to the intricacies of the literary forays and social lives of the Mrs. Taft and Roosevelt. Through the biographies of the McClure's magazine writers I would slumber, only to awaken hours later to find myself in the Philippines with stodgy Mr. Taft and his wife who wore (gasp!) short skirts. I can't pinpoint the precise point in this mountain of details that I ended up liking TR less than before listening to the book. He was, after all, a good president, first rate conservationist, and skilled politician, and deserves his place on Mount Rushmore. Undoubtedly he was a fascinating individual, but I will promote this audiobook as the best non prescription sleep aid one could want, with no harmful side effects.
Much more than a biography of Lincoln's killer. A panorama of mid-19th century America through the lives of the famous, brilliant but flawed acting family, the Booths. In the 1820's, Shakespearean actor Junius Brutus Booth flees his wife and baby in England for a new life in America with his mistress, a Covet Garden flower seller. Hidden away in the Maryland woods, she bears him ten children while Junius works as a travelling actor, alternately earning and drinking away the family's fortunes. The results resonate through history to the present day.
Nora Titone presents previously researched facts in an engaging style that reads like a novel, or a Shakespearean tragedy. As noted by other reviewers, the book slows down towards its inevitable conclusion and Lincoln's assassination. I believe this is because facts become thin, and the book is, above all, a historical record. History will probably never reveal precisely what John Wilke's interactions with his Confederate handlers were and what Wilkes initiated based upon his own whims. To attempt to discern to what degree subsequent events resulted from sibling rivalry versus Confederate sympathies is simply impossible. The author cannot explore John Wilke's deepest motivations. They are forever lost to history. What John Wilkes did during the winter and early spring of 1864-1865 is still a mystery and forever eclipsed by his calamitous actions on April 14, 1865. Play acting, demonstrating passionate Confederate sympathies, or simply seething with jealousy, John Wilkes forever upstaged the rest of his acting family.
Until recently, a long ago but decidedly substandard curriculum I'd had to study American history, with its deadly dull textbooks, relegated Lewis and Clark to little more than historical cardboard cut-outs. Stephen Ambrose brought the great explorers and their journey to life. Ambrose emphasizes the complete loyalty between the captains - Lewis refused to consider his fellow explorer anything else but a captain, despite a lowered army rank and official snub of Clark - and how they motivated, inspired and controlled the Corps of Discovery through thousands of miles of wilderness. With few exceptions, Lewis and Clark knew when to push forward, and when to turn back. They knew when to discipline and when to allow the men "a dram." The contributions of Sacajawea, and the Mandan and Nez Perce Indians were far braver and more critical to expedition’s success than the history books describe. Best of all is how Ambrose's vivid description of events, large and small, that make the listener feel as if they are watching the party from the other side of the riverbank. Grizzly bears die hard hours after multiple gunshots; Lewis shoots Class 5 rapids on the Columbia river in a dugout canoe; the medicines and careful treatments dispensed by the leaders, who had no physician along; and the agonizingly slow and laborious process of pulling three fully loaded boats upstream the shallow Missouri River. At the end of the story, you wonder, along with Ambrose, what Lewis was looking Westward for in those last moments of despair along the Natchez Trace. Capably narrated by Barrett Whitener, this ranks as one of the best audiobooks I have listened to from among dozens. I also recommend the National Geographic Documentary on Lewis and Clark, as well as Bernard DeVoto's "The Journals of Lewis and Clark" for the reader who wants to further immerse themself in one of the greatest explorations of American history.
First class biography as well as a case study of the benefits of self-improvement and the mastery of one's emotions. I knew the facts of Lincoln's presidency, but not the mind and motivations of the man behind it. Goodwin goes deep into the backrounds of not only Lincoln but all four of the main characters to find why they acted as they did. Lincoln, by far the most deprived in social status and formal education, had the ability to tackle seemingly impossible issues calmly and rationally. Goodwin builds a convincing case for Lincoln as the greatest American. I didn't want this book to end and had to fast forward over Good Friday, 1865. Suzanne Toren provides a no-nonsense, concise narration.
Very graphic and not for everyone. Occasionally I'd have to switch the iPod to lighter listening, only to find it insipid, long for this horribly graphic, incredibly sad story and switch it back again.
This is one of many tragedies of 2001 that was totally eclipsed and further complicated by 9/11.
There is an interactive map and a few photos if you google the book title, as well as a National Geographic article available on the internet about one of the wildlife areas mentioned that I found to be excellent companions to this book. I wish this type of material was included as a PDF download in more audiobooks that have so much to do with a place.
There is also an afterward, consisting of an interview with the author and acknowledgements that gave additional context after the book.
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