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Roger

South Orange, NJ, United States
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  • Fighting France

  • By: Edith Wharton
  • Narrated by: Flo Gibson
  • Length: 3 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1

Edith Wharton tours the length of the front in World War I and describes in vivid detail the trenches, hospitals, and villages, Paris' valiant struggles to preserve her values, and the esprit de corps of the gallant French.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • The Changes Wrought by War

  • By Roger on 04-23-18

The Changes Wrought by War

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-23-18

Wharton has given us wonderfully evocative descriptions of France in the first year of WWI. She lived in Paris and was able to tour the front from end to end. She described the physical changes wrought by the war, both in the preparation--the layout of the trenches—and the aftermath—the devastation of the battles.

More movingly, however, she also described the moods and spirits of the French people both in the city and the countryside: the disbelief that war would result and the determination to fight when it did, the dedication of the soldiers, the pathos of the peasants in the paths of the armies, the determination of those caring for the wounded and displaced, and the grief and stoicism of the bereaved.

Wharton focused on the feelings of the common people and gave us a telling portrait of a people fighting for their identity—in Wharton’s words, for what makes life worth living—while at the same time describing the stupidity of war.

One surprising note, especially given her own tour of the front, was her stereotypical treatment of women in general.

  • Smell Detectives

  • An Olfactory History of 19th-Century Urban America (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books)
  • By: Melanie A. Kiechle
  • Narrated by: Dana Brewer Harris
  • Length: 10 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 3
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3

What did 19th-century cities smell like? And how did odors matter in the formation of a modern environmental consciousness? Smell Detectives follows the 19th-century Americans who used their noses to make sense of the sanitary challenges caused by rapid urban and industrial growth. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Fresh Approach to Cultural History

  • By Roger on 04-05-18

Fresh Approach to Cultural History

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-05-18

Kiechle quite rightly proclaims that she is helping to pioneer a new branch of history: sensory history. Sensory history focuses on how stimuli affect people’s senses. It is a form of cultural history, in that it explores the everyday influences on the lives of ordinary people and their responses to those stimuli. In the process, sensory history helps us understand better the culture and environment of the period studied.

Kiechle has started with the most difficult sense to study—that of smell. By their nature, most smells are evanescent, and everyday smells tend not to be mentioned or recorded. Even unpleasant smells, unless they become extreme, are rarely discussed.

Kiechle also points out that we have fewer words to describe smells than we do for our other sensory perceptions. In addition, smells are very difficult to measure and almost impossible to preserve. Therefore, to detect and track down a bad smell, time is of the essence. Public involvement is required at the time and in the vicinity of the smell.

For a historian to track down smells from two centuries past is a daunting job. Kiechle, however, has done a great job researching how and what people smelled and how they reacted to those smells. She has used sources such as official complaints, letters to the editor and court records to reveal the general, public reaction to stenches—what, at the time, was men’s domain. She has also ingeniously used depictions of everyday life in novels and home advice manuals to illustrate how women coped with smells in the home.

At the start of the period covered by the book, the prevailing wisdom, called miasma theory, was that foul odors actually caused diseases. Therefore, smells could be more than annoyances; they could be life-threatening. People responded to these smells by wearing nosegays or smoking cigars to try to mask the odors and by building parks and using ventilation to try to clean the air.

The Civil War, with its stenches of both battlefields and military encampments, brought urban smells to masses of people not previously exposed to them. This exposure, combined with the intensity of the smells, helped bring discussion of the dangers of smells, and the means to mitigate them, more into the open.

After the Civil War, rapid industrialization brought new and stronger smells, as well as the concentration of foul odors in industrial neighborhoods. Dealing with these new threats elicited the efforts of experts, and these experts struggled to get the authority to regulate smell producers.

The last half of the 19th century also saw the general acceptance of germ theory—that diseases are caused by microbes, not smells. That acceptance accelerated the importance of experts, and it also led to smells being more of a social, rather than a health, concern. Given improvements in transportation, the upper and middle classes were able to move away from smell producers and still commute to work. The neighborhoods around the industrial production of foul odors were left to the poor and racial and ethnic minorities. Kiechle calls this smell segregation.

The increasing importance of experts diminished everyday public involvement in combatting odors, a trend that Kiechle decries. While experts may be needed to identify the specifics of smells, on-the-spot sensing of odors is just as vital today as it was in the 18th century.

Therefore, cooperation between the public and the experts, rather than antagonism, is needed. Lack of public involvement can lead to odors being missed. Lack of respect for expertise can lead to science deniers, a phenomenon all too common these days.

Kiechle has done an admirable job both in breaking new ground in the study of history and in explaining the everyday worlds of the 19th century, much of which still pertains today.

  • Death at Breakfast

  • By: John Rhode
  • Narrated by: Gordon Griffin
  • Length: 9 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 22
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 21

A classic winter's crime novel by one of the most highly regarded exponents of the genre. Victor Harleston awoke with uncharacteristic optimism. Today he would be rich at last. Half an hour later, he gulped down his breakfast coffee and pitched to the floor, gasping and twitching. When the doctor arrived, he recognised instantly that it was a fatal case of poisoning and called in Scotland Yard.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • An almost entirely perfect murder mystery!<br />

  • By Denise Vilim on 03-17-18

Humdrum

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-26-18

The plot is intricate, but the solution was obvious at least halfway through the book.

  • On Revolution

  • By: Hannah Arendt
  • Narrated by: Tavia Gilbert
  • Length: 10 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 12
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 11

Hannah Arendt's penetrating observations on the modern world, based on a profound knowledge of the past, have been fundamental to our understanding of our political landscape. On Revolution is her classic exploration of a phenomenon that has reshaped the globe. From the 18th-century rebellions in America and France to the explosive changes of the 20th century, Arendt traces the changing face of revolution and its relationship to war while underscoring the crucial role such events will play in the future.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Insightful Analysis of Differing Revolutions

  • By Roger on 01-10-18

Insightful Analysis of Differing Revolutions

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-10-18

This is a fascinating analysis of the differences between the American and French Revolutions and how those differences led to very different results. Arendt also analyzes how circumstances that appeared in the French, but not the American, Revolution played out in subsequent revolutions, particularly the Russian Revolution.

Arendt identifies two aspects of successful revolutions: (1) liberation, the violent overthrow of the old order, and (2) freedom, the creation of a new order, particularly through constitution making. Unlike historians such as James Beard, she does not see the American Constitution as a conservative abandonment of the Revolution, but rather its successful conclusion. She faults the French, and later the Russian, Revolutions for never getting past the violence stage. As a result, they never successfully established freedom and eventually fell victim to despotism.

She credits the American success in creating a new order to two main influences. The first was the colonial experience with self-government, particularly because most of the local institutions had been created de novo by the colonists themselves. This experience gave Americans the recognition of the need for forms of government and also the confidence with their ability to create such forms. The French, and later the Russians, coming out of absolutism, had neither. In America, society was viewed as good, again mostly because it was self-created, and as a way to curb antisocial instincts. In France, however, society, which had been composed of the aristocracy, was viewed as corrupting the natural virtue of man. The Americans therefore valued social organizations, while the French distrusted them.

Because the Americans had created their own local governments, the colonists did not destroy such institutions in their overthrow of the old order and could use those governments to create new structures to replace those they had destroyed. The French, when they overthrew the all-encompassing ancien regime, had nothing left upon which, or with which, to build a new order, for the Estates General was part of the old order.

The second main influence was the relative lack of economic inequality among American whites. Arendt recognizes that there was significant economic inequality in America, but the colonists did not include slaves within their revolution, while the sans culottes seized the initiative in France. The economic inequality was so great in France that social issues quickly took precedence over the political issue. Arendt argues that the intractability of the social issues caused the French to look for culprits to blame for the lack of progress. The urgency of the social issues themselves and the necessity to find culprits, in effect traitors to the revolution, led to a constant state of revolution, in which the search for new enemies led to the Reign of Terror, as the revolution devoured its own. Necessity trumped freedom.

Arendt distinguishes between power and law. In both the American and French Revolutions, power was recognized to lie with the people, but Americans created the federal and state constitutions as sources of law. In fact, Americans began creating their own state governments even before the Declaration of Independence, as part and parcel of the Revolution. In France, without new forms of government, the people were also the source of the law, and the law could change frequently as the moods of the people changed.

The traditional distinction between a government of laws compared to a government of men usually contrasts democracy and authoritarianism. Arendt, however, shows that a democracy can also be a government of men and therefore highly volatile. In fact, she uses the terms democracy and republic differently than do most theorists. Most historians of the American Revolution, such as Gordon Wood, define republic as a popular government relying on the virtue of its citizens and democracy as a government balancing the self-interests of the citizens. Arendt, on the other hand, uses democracy to mean popular participation in government, such as through town meetings, and republic to mean representative government.

Arendt credits America’s success in establishing lasting forms of government with the separation of powers, creating checks and balances. She also credits our acceptance of a two-party system, although she neglects the extent to which the “spirit of party” was decried in the early Republic. From such acceptance, however, comes the recognition of the legitimacy of an opposition. She says that the lack of such legitimacy, when opposition is considered subversive, is the path to totalitarianism, a subject on which she was also an expert.

In fact, she seems to see the only flaw in the American Constitution besides slavery as the lack of recognition of direct participation in government through venues such as town meetings. She saw that such participation gives people experience with, and ownership of, the process of governance. Without it, government can become distant, which may help explain our low voter turnouts and alienation from government.

Arendt has done a masterful job comparing and contrasting the American and French Revolutions and carrying her analysis forward through the Revolutions of 1848 and the Russian Revolution. Her claims to explaining all revolutions, however, fall short. While she mentions the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Chinese Revolution, I wish she had analyzed the 17th century Dutch wars of independence from Spain, the Latin American revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries and the Irish Revolution of the 20th century. In particular, the Haitian Revolution does not seem to fit Arendt’s model. The slaves certainly had no experience with self-government, and the social issues were extreme, but the revolution did lead to a form of constitutional self-government.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • The First Congress

  • How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government
  • By: Fergus M. Bordewich
  • Narrated by: Sean Runnette
  • Length: 12 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 59
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 53
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 52

The First Congress was the most important in US history, says prizewinning author and historian Fergus Bordewich, because it established how our government would actually function. Had it failed - as many at the time feared it would - it's possible that the United States as we know it would not exist today.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Compelling

  • By Jean on 03-05-18

Intricate Analysis of Novel Challenges

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-26-17

Bordewich has written a thorough analysis of the challenges faced by the new government, for many of which there was no precedent. Many of the participants therefore looked to classical theory for guidance. One lesson from such theory was that a powerful government could be used against the people, and therefore many Americans feared a strong government. This lesson was countered by the experiences under both the Continental and Confederation Congresses, which convinced many that a strong government was needed to deal with other nations and to protect the nation from external pressures.

Much of the story of the First Congress involves reconciling the conflicts inherent in the two lessons, one looking internally and the other externally. The theoretical answer, contained in the Constitution, is the division of power. The monumental achievement of the First Congress was breathing life into our system of checks and balances.

Bordewich also makes emphasizes how much slavery was already a divisive issue--one with no apparent solution and already threatening to become the defining issue in the new nation. Because the politicians could not envision a solution, it became easier for them to ignore the issue than to address it. This of course would make the problem worse and eventually mean that only force could resolve the issue.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Slave's Cause

  • A History of Abolition
  • By: Manisha Sinha
  • Narrated by: Allyson Johnson
  • Length: 30 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 9
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9

Received historical wisdom casts abolitionists as bourgeois, mostly white reformers burdened by racial paternalism and economic conservatism. Manisha Sinha overturns this image, broadening her scope beyond the antebellum period usually associated with abolitionism and recasting it as a radical social movement in which men and women, black and white, free and enslaved, found common ground in causes ranging from feminism and utopian socialism to anti-imperialism and efforts to defend the rights of labor.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Essential History--Not Engaging

  • By John P. Stierman on 10-18-17

Thorough, convincing and haunting

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-23-17

This book is meticulously researched, and the themes are presented convincingly.

Sinha has several themes: Her first is that the white abolition movement was inspired by black activity. Sinha does a very good job detailing anti-slavery activities by blacks—from self-emancipation (running away) and uprisings, to periodicals, newspapers and lecture tours. Sinha deservedly gives blacks due credit for their many roles in the abolition movement, in ways that made the evils of slavery harder and harder to ignore. Certainly white abolition was inspired by the plight of the slaves, and certainly slave uprisings motivated whites, but it’s hard to believe that white support for abolition wasn’t also important to slaves. A more nuanced approach might be to argue that black and white abolition fed off each other, in a mutually supportive way.

Sinha’s second theme is how free blacks suffered from the same racial theories that were used to justify slavery. In effect, the free states invented Jim Crow decades before the Civil War. This leads to Sinha’s third theme—that abolition had two goals: emancipation and equality. The Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment achieved the first goal, but the second would be ignored for a century and is still not fully attained.

Sinha’s fourth theme builds on the two goals of emancipation and equality to demonstrate the joint efforts of abolition and women’s suffrage. While most suffragettes supported abolition and most famous abolitionists like Douglass and Garrison supported women’s suffrage, Sinha explains how what she calls the evangelical wing of abolition could not get comfortable with equality for women. This ultimately led to a break in the two movements and the eventual abandonment of the goal of racial equality by much of the women’s movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sinha’s fifth theme explains how the abolition movement tried to make common cause with the white working class, with minimal success. Sinha also recounts how many people blamed capitalism for the rise of slavery. But America was part of the British mercantile system when slavery first took hold, so perhaps greed and selfishness, rather than simply capitalism, make a better explanation.

This is a very moving book. Much has been made of the irony of the “land of liberty” being founded on the backs of slavery. Even Samuel Johnson commented on it at the time of the Revolution. This leads to the question how such moral blindness could exist. Edmund Morgan has explained how Virginia used the idea of black inferiority to shake off many of the class-based distinctions among whites that were the inheritance of the Old World. Gordon Wood has explained how slavery was must one of many societal differences accepted in colonial America, but the only one to survive the Revolution. If race was therefore the critical factor, and white Americans also treated Native Americans with the same disdain as they treated blacks, then I wish Sinha had explored the question of whether the abolition movement also tried to make common cause with Native Americans.

This book did so much that I wanted more, which is a sign of a very good book.

Clearly, America made a devil’s bargain to accept slavery to achieve independence from Britain and then to establish the Union. Quite possibly, there was no way to abolish slavery at the time of the Revolution, and perhaps the Union was not strong enough to survive the upheaval of abolition until the 1860s. Sinha, however, has done a marvelous job detailing many of the horrific costs of that bargain. It is a fruitful area for further exploration.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Book That Changed America

  • How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation
  • By: Randall Fuller
  • Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
  • Length: 9 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 43
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 41
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 40

The compelling story of the effect of Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species on a diverse group of American writers, abolitionists, and social reformers, including Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, in 1860.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Oversold

  • By Roger on 03-03-17

Oversold

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-03-17

This is a incisive study of Darwin's effect on the intellectual and philosophical worlds of Boston and Concord, MA. The discussions of how Darwin affected Thoreau were particularly interesting.

The argument, however, that The Origin of Species changed America on the eve of its greatest crisis, one that had been building for at least as long as the country had existed, is simply unsupported.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Revolution on the Hudson

  • New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence
  • By: George C. Daughan
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Yen
  • Length: 13 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 38
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 35
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 36

No part of the country was more contested during the American Revolution than the Hudson River. In 1776 King George III sent the largest amphibious force ever assembled to seize Manhattan and use it as a base from which to push up the Hudson River Valley for a rendezvous at Albany with an impressive army driving down from Canada. George Washington and other patriot leaders shared the king's fixation with the Hudson.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Revolution on the Hudson Shines

  • By lynne m vokatis on 07-15-16

Disappointing

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-03-17

This is a fairly standard and uninspired military history of the Revolution. The argument that both sides' focus on the Hudson was misplaced is largely conclusory and occasionally inconsistent.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Genghis Khan and the Quest for God

  • How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom
  • By: Jack Weatherford
  • Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
  • Length: 14 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 80
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 74
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 73

Throughout history the world's greatest conquerors have made their mark not just on the battlefield but in the societies they have transformed. Genghis Khan conquered by arms and bravery, but he ruled by commerce and religion. He created the world's greatest trading network and drastically lowered taxes for merchants, but he knew that if his empire was going to last, he would need something stronger and more binding than trade. He needed religion.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Surprisingly inspiring

  • By Mr&MrsBossDallas on 08-07-18

Intriguing History

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-11-17

This is a thorough and engaging history of the life and works of Genghis Khan, as well as his spiritual journey. The argument that he gave religious freedom to the world is tantalizing, but a little thin.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • A History of Western Philosophy

  • By: Bertrand Russell
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
  • Length: 38 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,049
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 942
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 922

Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy serves as the perfect introduction to its subject; it remains unchallenged as the greatest account of the history of Western thought. Charting philosophy's course from the pre-Socratics up to the early twentieth century, Russell relates each philosopher and school to their respective historical and cultural contexts, providing erudite commentary throughout his invaluable survey.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Works on all levels

  • By Gary on 11-21-13

Comprehensive and Accessible

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-07-16

This is a monumental work. Russell wrote it near the end of World War II, when he saw the devastating effects of both Nazism and Stalinism. Philosophy was for him, as he wrote of Spinoza (one of Russell’s favorites), “an antidote to the paralysis of utter despair.”

Russell divided philosophy into what he called three great eras: ancient Greece, medieval Scholasticism and modern philosophy since the Renaissance. He focused on three main themes and traced them through those eras:

• The dual goals of philosophy:
o understanding the physical nature of the world and its place in the universe, what used to be called natural philosophy and we now call science
o understanding how best to live in the world, or ethics
• The tension between basing one’s understanding on the received wisdom of theology or tradition on one hand and, on the other hand, basing understanding on rational inquiry, through logic or science
• The tension, or the effort to find the appropriate balance, between social cohesion and individual liberty

Russell not only explained important philosophers’ thinking and systems, but he also placed those works in historical and social context. This helps explain the influences on their various philosophies and then how those philosophies influenced the worlds around them. He devoted considerable time to these explanations, helping to make the works he describes comprehensible and accessible. He also drew connections back and forth through time, explaining the influences and relationships of philosophers on each other. Finally, he provided analyses of important works, helping to show both the strengths and weaknesses in such works.

While the book focuses on Western philosophy, Russell gave due credit to the importance of Islamic philosophers on preserving and transmitting ancient Greek philosophy to Renaissance Europe, although one could argue with his dismissal of the contributions of Islamic philosophers. He also gave recognized the influence of Asian and Indian philosophers on the West.

Russell concluded, “To frame a philosophy capable of coping with men intoxicated with the prospect of almost unlimited power and also with the apathy of the powerless is the most pressing task of our time.” This book was clearly a work of love, a testament to the power for both good and evil of which human thought is capable and a call to use those powers to avoid the path to utter destruction evidenced by the misery of two world wars. This resulting book is both an enormously valuable work of historical scholarship and an inspirational call to a better society.