It's a 50 odd hour book, and I've listened to it twice. It is without question one of the best political biographies ever written. Moreover, while it never loses sight of LBJ, it's a tour de force in legislative tactics, legislative power, and the personalities that dominated the Senate in the middle of the 20th century, in the years immediately preceding the civil rights movement. Men who today are largely forgotten, but were giants in their era - Richard Russell, Everett Dirksen, Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson - come alive in its pages.
Robert Caro is virtually unique in the way he approaches his subject. He takes nearly 15 years, on average, to write each of his books. His research is impeccable, and the way he approaches each of the major figures in the book -- often setting aside the narrative to devote 70, 80 pages to delve into them and probe who precisely they are and why they matter -- is really incredible. I'm not aware of any other other historian who takes such an approach. For an example, see the chapter on Richard B. Russell, the senior Senator from Georgia, the Chairman of the Senate's Southern Caucus, and, in Caro's term, the Greatest Field General of the Old South since Robert E. Lee. Wow.
Robert Caro is an outstanding writer, but his books are not for everyone. His style of writing is incredibly indulgent. He takes a 1000 words to make a point that other biographers will make in 85. If you enjoy his writing, as I do, you'll love it. But it's not for everyone.
Yes, absolutely. The book is a serious but accessible history of the V-2 program, covering the key developments in rocketry technology the made the V-2 possible in the late 1930s; the military and political imperatives that propelled its development by the Reich (but not by the allies) in the final years of the war; it's operational success and strategic failure; and ultimately, the V-2's role as the direct precursor of all strategic nuclear missiles, especially those which defined balance-of-power during the Cold War. It succeeds in doing all of this.
The level of technical detail is just-right for the average reader interested in learning more about this fascinating niche of warfare during WW II, and early modern ballistic rocketry more generally, and the pace is quick and entertaining. The book does not offer much if any new insight on military strategy and doctrines of Hitler and the Reich, but limits its scope to the V-2 program and it's impact (or lack thereof) on the air war in Europe.
Very good history. Well worth the credit.
Demons under the Microscope
Too little, too late, thank God.
Command and Control tells two stories concurrently, alternating back and forth, from one to the other. The first story is the story of the Damascus incident, in which a Titan nuclear missile came close to exploding in Arkansas due to a series of oversights which, as the author documents, are not nearly as rare as the public might suppose. The second story is the history of nuclear weapons themselves - their use, development, design, and testing, as well as their technical limitations (or lack thereof) and the strategic calculations that drove their development and deployment during the Cold War.
The first narrative, which recounts the Damascus incident, is illuminating and entertaining, but at times it also feels overly drawn-out and confusing. This is largely due to the way its telling is broken up over the course of the book. This structure might work better in print, but I found it challenging in audio format. The second narrative - where the author traces the history of nuclear weapons broadly, from the Manhattan Project to the present, is where the book really excels. It is first-rate. I would listen this portion of the again, for sure, and recommend it to others interested in the subject without any reservation.
On the whole, a very good book.
The discussion of thermonuclear weapons, as opposed to pure fission bombs, and how the former fundamentally altered the strategic calculus about the use of nuclear weapon in war. In the modern era, we do not really distinguish between the awesome but comprehensible power of fission bombs, and the truly cataclysmic and unthinkable force of thermonuclear weapons, but the distinction was actually a major turning point in the way these weapons were viewed by political and military leaders. A second highlight was the author's excellent history of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and its rivalry with the other military services and the (civilian) U.S. Atomic Energy Commission for primacy in the control U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities.
This book is an excellent listen. At the outset, the author does an excellent job of setting the table, summarizing everything we know to date about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, from science and from theory. Specific programs (notably SETI), physical laws, experimental observations, astronomical and cosmological phenomena, are all covered. From there, the author consider various possibilities for what and where ET might be, and how it might be discovered. His discussion proceeds according to a chain of inductive reasoning, taking the listener through one fact pattern after another, and explaining the conclusions about alien life that would appear to flow from each. His analysis is well organized, beginning with conclusions we might draw from the limited evidence we understand today, then moving on to consider evidence that we do not have today, but that science may be able establish in the future. Finally, he does a great job of explaining the limitations imposed by science and physics, and where the science runs out, he applies theory, math, and imagination, to take the reader through an intelligent and well-reasoned summary of where we may end up. The book leaves with listener with much to consider. At the same time, for a book that focuses on a subject as inherently mysterious and unknowable as ET, the Eerie Silence leaves the listener remarkably satisfied. I would recommend it to anyone who wonders why - in a universe compromised of trillions of stars - we feel so alone.
As someone who worked rather extensively on financial regulatory policy during and immediately after the financial crisis, I thought I understood quite a bit about factors contributing to the sub-prime bubble and about structured finance generally. But it was not until I read this book that I really grasped the full extent to which most of the "masters of the universe" on Wall Street had no idea what the f--k their banks and funds were doing in the frenzy of securitization and greed in the years preceding the financial crisis.
For anyone who wants to understand exactly how we went from a booming bull market in 2006 to near economic and financial collapse in 2008, this is the book to read.
Michael Lewis at his incisive best.
The mechanics of mortgage "tranching," and the extent to which so many Wall Street firms were genuinely blindsided when the monster they conceived, nurtured, and created, came calling for them. (I loved how Lewis correctly notes that it was Goldman Sachs who first recognized the nature of the systemic risk they did so much to create, and managed to profit from it...love them or hate them (and I put myself in the latter category), its uncanny how those guys are always a step ahead.
William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is easily among the top five history books I've read or listened to. Too be sure, some of the premier historians of this era, such is Richard Evans, may not agree that my characterization. But in my opinion, the fact that Shirer is a journalist, as distinct from an actual historian, should not be held against him.
Shirer's account of the history of the Reich - from the rise of the NSDAP brownshirts in the early 1930s, to the Reichstag fire and the death of the Weimar Republic, to the capture of Austria, Munich, the Battle of Britain, the aborted Operation Sealion, the launching of Barbarossa, and the ultimate dashing of Hitlers ambitions at the gates of Stalingrad and Moscow in 1941 and 1942 - is simply without parallel,
The book is meticulously researched, and Shirer's presence as a correspondent stationed in Berlin during the late 1930s and early 1940s make his analysis of the events of this period all the more insightful and intriguing. His insights Shirer derives from his first-hand experience in observing and even interacting with many of the leading men of the Party (Rohm, Strasser, etc), the Reich - (Goering, Himmler, etc), and the Wehrmacht - (Halder, Guderian, Kleist, etc.) - may be biased, but they are also brilliant and illuminating.
The meeting between Hitler, Ribbentrop, and Molotov to sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact, as British bombers streak overhead. The diary of General Halder. The halting of the Wehrmacht at the gates of Moscow in Dec. 1941. The descriptions of Hitler's speeches to party drones at meetings of the Reichstag, such as it existed at the time, and especially his rebuttal of FDR's letter requesting assurances of his peaceful intentions regarding the countries on his borders. Wow, what a time, and what a tradjedy - kudos to Shirer for recording in a manner that makes it come alive so many decades later.
Far too long. But it's that good, yes.
Absolutely. In some sense, I wish I had not listened to it yet so that I could stumble on again. Seldom does one come across something new in the reading history of a man like TR. And yet Millard has meticulously captured this obscure chapter of TR's post presidential live, and reveled it be absolutely riveting again.
The chapter in which Millard introduces the reader to the ecology of the rain forest. The way she contrasts the sinister magic underneath its canopy; it's hyper-evolved species and predators - bugs, plants, germs, etc - to the relatively benign "wilderness" of TR's childhood, Oyster Bay, and even Africa, was unforgettable. The reader cannot help but squirm at it becomes clear our protagonist - the embodiment of the "strenuous life," hero of San Juan, and colossus of his era - has unwittingly gotten in far over his head.
Don't pay too much attention to the complaints about either the narrator or the author's conservative politics. The reader may bother some, but I listened to this book straight through over the course of several flights out west, and loved it -- the only time I took it out was literally at TSA. As for his political views - he is a Navy SEAL, from Texas, right? Seriously - the narration is fine, and the authors occasional politics asides are amusing and endearing even to a liberal like as me, Well worth the credit.
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