©1960 by Walter Lord; (P)1995 by Blackstone Audiobooks
The description that most encapsulates this book is "kaleidoscopic" -- a breezy stroll through the first decade and-a-half of American life in the 20th century, focusing on one significant event of just about each year, and taking the reader to the brink of the Great War. Lord has an easy, accessible style, made most famous in his "A Night to Remember" about the sinking of the Titanic. That event makes an appearance here, too, although just in passing -- the focus is on other events and personalities.
Those events have been done elsewhere in far greater detail, of course -- whether it's McKinley's assassination, the trust-busting of Theodore Roosevelt, the Wright Brothers' first tentative success flight, or the San Francisco earthquake. (Early in his presidency, for instance, Roosevelt was nearly killed in a train crash; "Theodore Rex," a detailed biography of Roosevelt, spent pages on it; Lord disposes of that event here in a couple of sentences.)
Lord clearly didn't intend this to be a mural that captured all the events of those years -- it's more like a series of miniature portraits of the events depicted. Because he was writing while people from those years were still alive, however, he was able to interview many of them, relying on their recollections along with diaries, newspaper entries, and letters to create this account. But despite the book's title, it isn't just a nostalgic look back -- alongside some accounts of the glittering lives of the wealthy, the book recounts child labor, the lack of women's rights, and the nearly open warfare that grew out of the awful working conditions in many industries, especially mining.
As enjoyable as this book is, however, this edition is sadly wanting. The narrator will periodically repeat a line verbatim -- obviously a cue to the editor where to overlap two pieces of tape. Why those lines weren't subsequently edited out is a mystery, and the audio quality changes dramatically at some of these junctures, too. Mr. Waterman, moreover, has his limitations as a narrator -- the book is punctuated throughout by the loudest, most rattling inhalations this side of Raymond Burr. Most narrators learn enough breath control to avoid this, but it's quite noticeable -- and hence distracting -- here. So what should have been a 5-star book gets (at least) a one-star demotion as a result.
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