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  • One Second After

  • By: William R. Forstchen
  • Narrated by: Joe Barrett
  • Length: 13 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18,383
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 15,374
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 15,399

Already cited on the floor of Congress and discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a book all Americans should read, One Second After is the story of a war scenario that could become all too terrifyingly real. Based upon a real weapon - the Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) - which may already be in the hands of our enemies, it is a truly realistic look at the awesome power of a weapon that can destroy the entire United States.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Realistic Worst Nightmare

  • By Kurt Schwoppe on 03-02-17

Strong potential marred by horrible writing

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

Reviewed: 11-30-18

One Second After should be a great book. Its premise--that America is laid low by an electromagnetic pulse that destroys every piece of electronics in the country instantaneously--is both important and fascinating.Goodness knows that I'm a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, in particular because they provide a unique lens through which to examine human behavior, social norms, and the fragility of organized society.

Despite all that potential, however, Forstchen botches the presentation of a compelling idea with terrible writing, poor structure, and a complete lack of regard for what makes a novel compelling. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the worst-written pieces of fiction I have read for years.

What's so bad about the book? Nearly everything other than the premise, if I'm being brutally honest. But I'll try to highlight the biggest stuff.

First off, the characters are flat and unbelievable, with a great many existing only to provide opportunities for Forstchen to enlighten us with long monologues about what is happening and why. The scenes involving dialogue, which make a up a majority of the book, are so painfully stilted that it feels like you're watching a badly written skit performed by actors who have never before been on a stage before. Sometimes, the characters launch into grandiose speeches about human nature and patriotism that are so sappy and ridiculous that they made me physically cringe (and, for what it's worth, I'm pretty patriotic conservative). Add to all this the fact that the author cannot seem to break away from trite stereotypes--the tough Marine lieutenant, the clueless female town leader, the wizened doctor, the sexy nurse, etc.--and you have a book in which you will form now connections whatsoever with anyone you meet.

Even the main character, John, is a mess. He is sometimes soft and caring. At other times, though, he is a vicious sociopath. One minute, he is wondering about how he is going to take care of his sick little girl and do the right thing as "an American." The next, he's openly advocating for--and conducting--summary executions in the streets, leaving elderly patients to die, or advocating for the deliberate starvation of a portion of the town's population.

At one point shortly after the book's opening, John sees a man trying to climb over a pharmacy counter to steal drugs (which he himself is there to do if necessary). Rather than shouting at the man, pulling him back, shoving him, or otherwise doing something believable, the supposedly gentle colonel-turned-professor smashes a glass bottle against the man's head and threatens to kill him. At another point, he is reminiscing about how terrible it is for humanity to have been laid so low. Then he casually tells readers that he conducted five public executions that week. This kind of erratic, wildly unbelievable behavior makes John feel like little more than a odd-shaped container for all the author's strange internal instincts and emotions rather than a serious, well-considered character.

I might be able to forgive the bad character design if the plot and writing were acceptable, but they are not. The writing is so sophomoric and blunt that any enjoyment that might be offered by the prose is squashed entirely. It's as if the novel were written by someone who just started Creative Writing 101, or who writes technical instruction manuals for a living. It's really, truly bad. I don't know what else to say. Reading or listening to this book is a joyless, often grammatically unsound slog.

The problems don't stop there. Despite being hailed as "realistic," I found large sections of One Second After's plot so absurdly implausible that my suspension of disbelief crumbled entirely. There are dozens of examples of this implausibility, but let me give you a specific one: The book eventually culminates in large, organized warfare between college students and thousands of cannibalistic "barbarians" who are members of a ritualistic Satanic cult. Oh, and John helpfully predicts exactly this scenario during one of his long, droning soliloquies long before it happens. If that scenario sounds like something you believe would happen two months after the power goes out, you probably will get through One Second After just fine. If it makes you wrinkle your nose and shake your head, run away as fast as you can because the entire book is mired in this kind of nonsense.

Overall, One Second After was a tremendous disappointment. If you want to learn a small amount about EMPs and the dangers they pose, you might find a few redeeming qualities. But if you appreciate good writing, strong characters, and plots that at least attempt to break free of trite cliches, you should stay away from this one. Read The Road or Alas Babylon instead.

  • Matterhorn

  • A Novel of the Vietnam War
  • By: Karl Marlantes
  • Narrated by: Bronson Pinchot
  • Length: 21 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,459
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,370
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,367

Why we think it’s a great listen: A performance so poignant, we gave Bronson Pinchot (yes, Balki from Perfect Strangers) our inaugural Narrator of the Year award.... In the monsoon season of 1968-69 at a fire support base called Matterhorn, located in the remote mountains of Vietnam, a young and ambitious Marine lieutenant wants to command a company to further his civilian political ambitions. But two people stand in his way.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Matterhorn

  • By Zachary on 04-20-10

A spectacular, brutal look at Vietnam

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

Reviewed: 11-30-18

I had never heard of Matterhorn or Karl Marlantes before Audible suggested the book to me recently. With nothing else sparking my interest, I gave it a shot. Wow, what powerful experience. I'll never look at the Vietnam War the same way again.

Matterhorn follows Waino Mellas, a young, well-educated 2nd lieutenant through his journey from wide-eyed rookie to hardened combat vet. In the process, Marlantes provides a vividly brutal and realistic portrayal of the Vietnam War that borders on profound. You will come to love the marines you meet as you accompany Mellas and Bravo Company deep into the bush and witness the horrors of jungle warfare. You'll laugh with them, you'll worry with with them, and you'll very likely feel like someone punched you in the gut when they are maimed or killed in a land far from home for reasons they don't fully understand.

The incredible emotion Marlantes weaves into the story is no accident. Matterhorn is a work of fiction, but it is based heavily on the author's real experiences as a decorated combat marine in Vietnam. The names are different, some of the places have been altered, but this story is real for Marlantes. And because of that, he is able to paint a picture of that war that is very nearly unparalleled in its emotional weight,unflinching realism, and insight. Matterhorn is a long book, but it shines all the way through because of these qualities. It will suck you in and keep you reading at a ferocious pace all the way up to the very end. When you finish, don't be surprised if you want to turn around and dive right back in for a second read.

I have read many, many novels over the course of my life, including dozens or hundreds of war novels set in various historical eras. I don't think I have ever experienced a war story so genuinely moving or impactful as this one. This book should be required reading for secondary and college students learning about Vietnam, and highly recommended reading for very nearly everyone else with an interest in that period.

My only complaint about the audio book is that the narrator was sometimes a bit flat and seemed to miss a few of the emotional queues. But that's a small quibble with a book as well written and powerful as this one. Read it. You won't be disappointed.

  • Rules of Civility

  • A Novel
  • By: Amor Towles
  • Narrated by: Rebecca Lowman
  • Length: 12 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,385
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,755
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,735

Features a sample chapter from A Gentleman in Moscow, the highly anticipated new audiobook from Amor Towles - available fall 2016. This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, 25-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Bright Young Things in a Dark World

  • By Michele Kellett on 08-13-12

Well written, but a little rough in spots

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

Reviewed: 09-08-18

I came to Rules of Civility after first experience Amor Towles unique writing style in A Gentleman in Moscow. While I enjoyed that book, I found it a bit rough in terms of plot and pacing. It was with a little trepidation, then, that I approached Rules of Civility. Thankfully, I can report that this earlier effort by Towles is significantly stronger in almost every way.

On the surface, Rules of Civility is an examination of New York's social castes. It primarily concerns itself with exploring the beauty (and the warts) of upper-crust society in 1930's Manhattan. And, as a blissful romp through the social universe of yesteryear's New York City, it largely succeeds. But the book's true strength is its heroine, the ironically named Katey Kontent.

Towles uses Kontent to embody his own incisive wit and insights into human behavior in a way that blends seamlessly with the story. One minute, he is describing the latest events in the book's central love triangle--a triangle that serves as the main mechanism through which the plot advances. The next, he is exploring the thoughts, habits, and deceptions of various characters through the lens of a razor-sharp working-class girl caught up with New York's social elite.

Towles makes use of beautiful, captivating prose throughout the novel. This is an extremely well-written piece, and one that plays with language, syntax, similes, and metaphors in such a creative way that it flows like honey for its entire duration. This effect is enhanced by Rebecca Lowman's detached and slightly uninterested narration. In most cases, those adjectives would indicate a poor narrator. But here, where Lowman's job was to capture the aloof and often disdainful observations of Kontent, it fits like a glove.

I have two primary complaints about Rules of Civility. First, Towles commits the same sin here as he did in A Gentleman in Moscow: He makes poor use of a fascinating historical setting. The novel is set in 1930's New York, and Towles does occasionally use that setting to explore some small facet of American history. Most of the time, however, the historical background serves as little more than a loose canvas upon which Towles paints a story that, if we're honest, would have worked just fine in just about any period in New York's history. With the exception of year references by the narrator and a handful of historical events, it is very easy to forget that this book is set in such an interesting time period. That's a shame.

Second, Rules of Civility creates a variety of character threads that are often severed too abruptly. Towles introduces dozens of characters throughout the book, many of whom are endearing and memorable in their own way. But too many of these characters exist for no other reason than to move the plot along, and Towles unceremoniously disposes of them once their usefulness has expired. One character, for instance, disappears for the remainder of the book as soon as Kontent spontaneously decides to quit her job. Another suddenly decides to go off to fight the Spanish Revolution, where he is unsurprisingly killed before he can further meddle in the book's central love story. These characters are too rich, too full of potential to be treated so roughly.

Still, Rules of Civility was a very enjoyable read. Anyone who appreciates authors who make fluid and creative use of the English language, and anyone looking for a deeper look into human social interaction, would do well to pick this one up.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow

  • A Novel
  • By: Amor Towles
  • Narrated by: Nicholas Guy Smith
  • Length: 17 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 21,451
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 19,887
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 19,815

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in an elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel's doors.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Brilliant, heartfelt, inspiring

  • By Jon K. Rust on 07-24-17

Endearing novel with serious plot/pacing issues

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

Reviewed: 09-08-18

A Gentleman in Moscow was my first foray into the world of Amor Towles. I picked it up despite the fact that it falls outside my normal genres, hoping for a change of pace. I definitely got that. And, in the process, I discovered a well-written and endearing book that I thoroughly enjoyed despite some rough plotting and inconsistent pacing.

A Gentleman in Moscow covers the fascinating period following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Towles does take a few opportunities to explore that setting from a historical perspective--labeled furniture, party meetings, and spies--but he does not show much interest in putting his book forward as an educational work. Instead, the period simply serves as a mechanism to keep the plot rolling when it stalls. The intricacies of this era in Russian life are there for those who care to dig deep enough, but the setting mostly comes across as a necessary backdrop rather than an exploratory illustration. That's a bit of a disappointment to history-focused readers like myself.

Then again, the book's setting allows Towles to save himself from more than a few dead ends in the plot. The count is a lovable character, as are the Metropol's employees (even if some of them are a bit thin). And Towles' witty writing is certainly compelling, often laugh-out-loud funny, and memorable. But the plot of the book often stops and starts and surprising intervals, frequently skipping years ahead at one time. It's almost as if Towles wrote the book in sections, a collection of stories, then attempted to glue them together as a cohesive whole.

He does not quite fail at this effort to stitch the plot together, but there are a great many times during A Gentleman in Moscow where I felt that Towles had written himself into a literary cul-de-sac. Sometimes, the problem was that he had simply run out of narrative yarn to spin at that particular juncture. At other times, the problem seemed to be that the pace of the book had ground to a halt and needed to be rescued before the entire thing stagnated. In each of these instances, Towles was forced to make implausible use of the historical setting or a little old-fashion deus ex machina to rescue the count and the story from a fizzling end. I suppose this time-warping, arc-bending writing story is forgivable to a certain extent--the book is about a man trapped in a hotel for the rest of his life, after all--but I did find it jarring throughout.

Even with the plot and pacing issue, however, A Gentleman in Moscow is more than worthy of your attention. Towles is a brilliant writer whose unique style needs to be experienced by any serious fan of fiction, and Nicholas Guy Smith does a great job of bringing the aristocratic witticisms to life throughout. If you're looking for a page-turner, this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for an enjoyable character study that will make you smile and think, it's hard to go wrong with A Gentleman in Moscow.

  • Unbroken

  • A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
  • By: Laura Hillenbrand
  • Narrated by: Edward Herrmann
  • Length: 13 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 39,484
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 32,302
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 32,377

Why we think it’s a great listen: Seabiscuit was a runaway success, and Hillenbrand’s done it again with another true-life account about beating unbelievable odds. On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.... 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Indescribable

  • By Janice on 12-01-10

An inspiring story with a few blemishes

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

Reviewed: 07-06-18

Unbroken tells such an incredible story that it is almost impossible to believe it is true. Olympian Louis Zamperini's tale of survival in the Pacific Theater of WWII is harrowing, unflinching, and inspiring. The level of suffering this man endured in service to his country--first shot down and lost at sea, then captured and tortured by the Japanese--left me speechless. The fact that he survived it is part testament to his own character, part miracle.

Hillenbrand does an excellent job of introducing readers to Zamperini. She steers well clear of hagiography or jingo, instead opting for a realistic look at a man who was all the more admirable because of his own flaws. But Unbroken is far more than a nonfiction character study. It's also a fascinating window into the Pacific Theater from perspectives not often seen.

We have heard extensively about the land battles on Peleliu and Iwo Jima, but we know far less about what it was like to be part of a long-range bomber group operating from tiny island airfields. We know even less about what it was like to be an American pilot in a Japanese POW camp.

Hillenbrand does a fantastic job bringing these experiences to life in a way that is accessible to the average leader. She provides enough detail to fill in the picture, but she does not veer off into overly complex armchair-general territory. She tells Zamperini's story, but she weaves in enough historical context and external research to flesh out characters, places, and situations so readers can connect with them in a broader way than what they could glean from one man's experiences. If Zamperini's story is a window, Hillenbrand makes sure you also understand the house into which that window looks.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I do have a few complaints about the book. First, for all her prowess with historical frame-setting, Hillenbrand never quite manages to connect with her material in an emotional way. Many of her descriptions feel strangely sterile, and the result is that some moments that should carry significant emotional weight land with a muted impact.

Second, the book never quite manages to capture the scale of the Pacific Theater. It focuses in detail on aerial warfare for obvious reasons, but it often fails to so much as mention the enormous naval operations underway during this time. The result is that the Pacific Theater feels smaller and less active than it actually was. This is not a problem in a direct sense, but it does mean that readers unfamiliar with the war in the Pacific may come away from it without the added dose of curiosity that might make them explore further. In a time when we are losing touch with this important moment in our history, I find it unfortunate that Hillenbrand didn't do more to introduce different facets of the war and pique readers' curiosity.

Still, these flaws are relatively minor blemishes on an otherwise excellent inspirational story about a true American hero. Zamperini's story deserves to be told and remembered for generations to come.

  • The Virtues of War

  • A Novel of Alexander the Great
  • By: Steven Pressfield
  • Narrated by: John Lee
  • Length: 11 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 654
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 465
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 468

Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) ascended to the throne of Macedon at the age of 20. He fought his greatest battles, including the conquest of the mighty Persian Empire, before he was 25, and died at the age of 33, still undefeated by any enemy. His reputation as a supreme warrior and leader of men is unsurpassed in the annals of history.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Pressfield the Prodigy

  • By Michael on 10-07-08

Good, but weakened by a few flaws

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

Reviewed: 03-12-18

My first foray into Steven Pressfield's work was Gates of Fire, which provided a brilliant look at ancient Sparta and the battle of Thermopylae. In that book, Pressfield manages to offer a grounded and realistic account of a critical moment in the Greco-Persian Wars that is at once informative and deeply human. The Virtues of War gets close to this standard of excellence, but I don't think it quite reaches the same heights.

Of all the historical figures in history, few have been as lionized as Alexander the Great. His accomplishments, fleeting though the were, shaped the evolution of human society and set an example that leaders have attempted to emulate for thousands of years. Pressfield is brave to have attempted to step into this giant's mind, but some structural and storytelling weak points keep him from truly capturing the essence of Alexander.

As in Gates of Fire, Pressfield adopts the technique of having a third-party narrator serve as the vessel for a larger story. Here, that narrator is a young man in Alexander's army who is called upon as a sounding board for Alexander as he wrestles with the realities of keeping his army together near the zenith of his campaign. In Gates of Fire, this technique allowed Pressfield to offer an insightful perspective on Spartan life, culture, and warfare. The narrator in that book was a dying man with nothing to lose in telling the truth.

In The Virtues of War, however, this technique acts as more of a barrier to readers who want to truly understand Alexander, to be in his mind. Pressfield weaves in pieces of hubris, pride, and ego that are reflective of Alexander's personality, but that also convey a sense that the narrator (and thus, the reader) are receiving a carefully curated version of events rather than the full, honest truth. Perhaps this was intentional on Pressfield's part, but the end result for this reader was that I felt like I was being held at arm's length from the historical giant I wanted to understand.

This feeling of aloofness is exacerbated by long battle scenes in which Alexander recounts detailed orders of battle and tactical details. While the armchair general in me enjoyed these details, they are a far cry from the vivid, brutal portrayals of combat Pressfield offered in Gates of Fire. The battle scenes are still fascinating and, at times, exciting, but they lack to feeling of weight and grounding offered in Pressfield's other work. Perhaps he adopted this new, more strategic approach to better illustrate Alexander's unrivaled prowess when it comes to battlefield awareness and exploitation. If so, he succeeded. But to the extent that he wanted to fully convey what it felt like to see Alexander's pike phalanxes and companion cavalry execute the famous hammer-and-anvil technique, I'm afraid it falls somewhat short.

Fortunately, these flaws did not seriously hamper my enjoyment of the book.While I found it less powerful and interesting than Gates of Fire, it was certainly an enjoyable read that taught me much about what it would have been like to be on campaign with Alexander the Great. With John Lee's mellifluous voice narrating the action, it was hard not to have a good time. Still, I found myself hoping for more by the time I reached the end.

  • Gates of Fire

  • An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
  • By: Steven Pressfield
  • Narrated by: George Guidall
  • Length: 14 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,655
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,397
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,406

Gates of Fire puts you at the side of valiant Spartan warriors in 480 BC for the bloody, climactic battle at Thermopylae. There, a few hundred of Sparta’s finest sacrificed their lives to hold back the invading Persian millions. The time they bought enabled the Greeks to rally - saving, according to ancient historian Herodotus, “Western democracy and freedom from perishing in the cradle.” How did the Spartans accomplish this superhuman feat? This is what the King of Persia hopes to learn from the sole Spartan survivor.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Story is good The Narrator is Great

  • By Richard on 02-27-12

Far more than a simple war story

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

Reviewed: 03-12-18

Steven Pressfield's work was recommended to me by a fellow lover of historical fiction. I'm always slightly skeptical of authors in this field, as the truly good ones are few and far between. Most either adhere to a historical narrative that eclipses their characters and makes for a boring read or focus on characters to the extent that the historical context is diluted. Striking the right balance is difficult, but Pressfield pulls it off.

Unfortunately, the story of Thermopylae has been mangled badly in recent years by pop culture, as has the fascinating history of Sparta itself. Pressfield's book predates--indeed, probably partially inspired--more recent portrayals of the battle, so it does not suffer from the same pop-culturization that they do.

By following a non-Spartan battle squire cast as the sole survivor of Thermopylae, Pressfield brilliantly positions himself to offer a view of life in Sparta from the perspective of an outsider. The use of flashbacks to tell the Spartan story to the squire's Persian captors allows him to sneak in a glancing yet illustrative look at the Persians themselves. And alll of this is done with strong, sophisticated writing that contains enough flavor to keep things interesting without dipping into the realm of being dense or unapproachable. The end result of all this is a strong, cohesive, deeply human tale that does an excellent job of bringing to life ancient Greece and the battle itself.

Through it all, Pressfield stays grounded in reality. The story sidesteps the trap of becoming too jingoistic or hagiographic when it comes to the Spartans, painting them as men who work to combat their weaknesses rather than gods. The Spartans in Gates of Fire shake and buckle under the weight of their armor, weep and tremble in the wake of battle, and wrestle with fear not unlike that felt by their enemies. Pressfield also does not flinch from the horrors of ancient warfare. The battles portrayed are not glorious tributes to the bravery of men. They are organized acts of horrific violence that may make sensitive readers squirm. For me, this stark depiction of battle only strengthened the impact of the book.

I should also mention that George Guidall does an admirable job of narrating the book, and his voice is well suited to listening even at relatively fast speeds. I enjoyed listening to him.

Overall, Gates of Fire is a must read for anyone interested in ancient Greece, Sparta, or the Greco-Persian Wars. And thanks to the strength of Pressfield's writing, there's a lot here to enjoy even if you aren't an avid classical or military history fan.

  • The Storm Before the Storm

  • The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic
  • By: Mike Duncan
  • Narrated by: Mike Duncan
  • Length: 10 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 2,860
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 2,655
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 2,640

The Roman Republic was one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of civilization. After its founding in 509 BCE, the Romans refused to allow a single leader to seize control of the state and grab absolute power. The Roman commitment to cooperative government and peaceful transfers of power was unmatched in the history of the ancient world. But by the year 133 BCE, the republican system was unable to cope with the vast empire Rome now ruled.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Interesting, albeit a bit dry

  • By Aria on 11-14-17

Dense yet enlightening

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

Reviewed: 01-26-18

I have never read Mike Duncan's work before, so I wasn't sure what to expect from his latest book. It turns out that I quite enjoyed it.

Duncan is clearly an expert in Roman history. His depth of knowledge of names, relationships, and concepts is truly impressive, and it lends an air of credibility to the narrative that would be difficult to match. That credibility is, perhaps, the book's greatest strength. However, The Storm Before the Storm's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.

Duncan does an admirable job of describing the political machinations, popular sentiments, and cultural shifts that led the Roman Republic toward its death--and toward the birth of the world's longest-standing empire. He masterfully describes how the breakdown in unwritten societal and political norms began to fray the threads that bound early Roman society, and he astutely connects those subtle breakdowns to the rise of dictatorship. In particular, he does an excellent job of capturing one of ancient history's most interesting (and least frequently told) stories: the rise of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the man whose revival of the Roman dictatorship paved the way for Julius Caesar's ascension and the birth of the Roman Empire. And unlike most author-narrated audio books, he conveys his work well as a narrator.

The story told here by Duncan is an important one, and the timing of the publication certainly isn't an accident. There are many, many parallels between the story of the fading Roman Republic and the modern United States. However, Duncan's focus on historical details somewhat clouds these connections and the stories underlying them in a fog complexity that often distracts from the statement being made. The incredible amount of historical detail packed into Duncan's book is so dense that it can make it difficult to follow the narrative at times. I often needed to rewind certain sections to be sure I knew who was involved, and I occasionally found myself having to use Google to refresh my background knowledge enough to restore meaning to parts of the narrative. While this never fully hampered my enjoyment of the book, it did make me work harder than I might have liked to maximize that enjoyment.

Still, I found my time with The Storm Before the Storm valuable. I would recommend the book to others interested in political or Roman history. Just be warned that you may need to do some work to get the most out of the experience.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Mayflower

  • A Story of Courage, Community, and War
  • By: Nathaniel Philbrick
  • Narrated by: George Guidall
  • Length: 12 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1,819
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,160
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,157

From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as best-selling author Nathaniel Philbrick reveals in his spellbinding new book, the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a 55-year epic that is at once tragic, heroic, exhilarating, and profound.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fascinating book about a little-understood time

  • By John M on 02-04-07

Fascinating, but wanders a bit far afield

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

Reviewed: 01-26-18

I am a massive fan of Nathaniel Philbrick. He is uniquely talented at identifying and conveying the narratives that bring history to life for modern-day readers. His Valiant Ambition and In the Heart of the Sea are among the best non-fiction history books I've ever read, not only because they bring to life nuances and humanity that are lost in less colorful texts, but because they are meticulously researched and educational.

In this regard, Mayflower is another triumph. It is thoughtful, well researched, and illuminating. However, the story of the Mayflower and the initial pilgrims makes up only a relatively small portion of the book. It is in the early phases of the story, when the pilgrim's find themselves in a new land facing unknown dangers and enigmatic Native American tribes,that Philbrick's Mayflower is at its best. These parts of the book are absolutely captivating, and narrator George Guidall does an excellent job of bringing them to life.

However, the book quickly moves on from the early years to examine the more formal establishment of English settlements in what we now know as New England and the ways in which these settlements interacted with one another and the surrounding tribes. While certainly interesting from a historical perspective--it is fascinating to learn about how these early diplomatic and military adventures catalyzed the development of the Boston into what it is today--these stories feel far removed from the early, tentative steps of the pilgrims into into the New World. I certainly found the politics of early American settlements interesting, but the latter parts of the book saw me missing the sense of mystery and the unknown that pervade the earlier chapters.

None of this is to say that you will not enjoy this book if you are interested in the true story of the pilgrims or Plymouth. You will. It's hard not to enjoy Philbrick, after all. But to wring the most out of the experience, you need to have a deep interest in Native American history and the diplomatic goings-on of the early American colonies.

  • Tattoos on the Heart

  • The Power of Boundless Compassion
  • By: Gregory Boyle
  • Narrated by: Gregory Boyle
  • Length: 7 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 2,481
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 2,275
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 2,272

As a pastor working in a neighborhood with the highest concentration of murderous gang activity in Los Angeles, Gregory Boyle created an organization to provide jobs, job training, and encouragement so that young people could work together and learn the mutual respect that comes from collaboration.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Compassion is God

  • By Jay on 02-08-14

Memorable story of violence and compassion

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

Reviewed: 01-15-18

I heard Gregory Boyle speak at a fundraiser last year. An unassuming man, he has mastered the art of cadence. He will hit you with heartrending stories of hardship, struggle, and desperation that bring tears to your eyes, then rescue you from the depths of empathetic misery with a genuinely funny joke that forces you to laugh out loud through the tears. This duality of emotions--the combination of pain and laughter--is a perfect metaphor for Tattoos on the Heart, a painful yet uplifting examination of poverty, crime, violence, and the human spirit.

Fr. Boyle's speaking cadence and personality have found its way into this book, and the result is an emotional roller coaster that I imagine mirrors how he has felt nearly every day of his long career working with gang members. Boyle is relentlessly focused on people. He does not delve into policy issues or politics or culture. He frames every issue, every moment of happiness or agony, against the backdrop of flawed people (including him) trying to make their way in a world most of us can scarcely imagine. Along the way, he offers a breathtaking examination of determination and redemption that very few books can rival.

Tattoos on the Heart made me cry numerous times. It also made me laugh, sometimes while crying. And in the end, it left me with a renewed faith in the power of, as Fr. Boyle puts it, boundless compassion. In that regard, the book is a spectacular success that I would highly recommend to just about anyone.