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Tad Davis

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  • The Portrait of a Lady

  • By: Henry James
  • Narrated by: John Wood
  • Length: 23 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 419
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 336
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 340

When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to enjoy the freedom that her fortune has opened up and to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors, declaring that she will never marry. It is only when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the cultivated but worthless Gilbert Osmond that she discovers that wealth is a two-edged sword.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Highly recommended

  • By David on 06-26-10

The first James novel I enjoyed

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

Reviewed: 07-14-18

At last: a Henry James novel that I actually enjoyed! Part of that is due to the wonderful narration of James Wood; part to the spirited character of Isabel Archer, whose intelligence and good humor surpass those of any other James character I’ve read.

Isabel is a young American woman who visits her expat cousins in England. There she meets with unexpected good fortune, but her naïveté leads her into an unwise relationship with a couple of gold-diggers. The ending of the novel is ambiguous, but I choose to regard it as moving toward a moderately happy ending that lies just outside the boundaries of the novel.

The characters are all sharply drawn and full of life. Special honors go to the American journalist Henrietta Stackpoole, an inveterate gossip and a good and loyal friend. Even the villains of the piece, nasty and cold as they are, have motives that rescue them from being caricatures.

James Wood breathes life into the novel with a brilliant take on each character. It’s a tough one: there is such a mixture of British and American voices that it’s hard for any one narrator to get it all right. I’ve read some comments here about his failure to quite get the American accents right; all I can say is that, as an American, the accents sounded fine to me — at least, they didn’t call attention to themselves as irritants.

I have two more Henry James novels on my bucket list. I hope I’m as lucky with them. I’d be happy to listen to this one again.

  • The Wars of Reconstruction

  • The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era
  • By: Douglas R. Egerton
  • Narrated by: Eric Martin
  • Length: 16 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 91
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 81
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 81

A groundbreaking new history, telling the stories of hundreds of African-American activists and officeholders who risked their lives for equality - in the face of murderous violence - in the years after the Civil War. By 1870, just five years after Confederate surrender and 13 years after the Dred Scott decision ruled blacks ineligible for citizenship, Congressional action had ended slavery and given the vote to black men. That same year, Hiram Revels and Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first African-American U.S. senator and congressman respectively.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Essential reading for all Americans.

  • By Becky on 09-23-15

Atrocities

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

Reviewed: 07-05-18

As a chronological history of Reconstruction, “The Wars of Reconstruction” seems fragmented at times; the story of the rise and fall of the Klan, for example, appears in bits and pieces across several chapters, and is somewhat diluted as a result. But Egerton is writing a different book, not a strictly chronological history but one that highlights the organized violence that destroyed this promising attempt at progressive reform. The narrative is filled with accounts of appalling murders, massacres, and mutilations. (In one case, a supporter of Reconstruction was allowed to live, but only after he’d been taken into a swamp and castrated. In other cases, peaceful assemblies of freed people were broken up and hundreds killed.)

The depth of racism in the post-Civil War South is almost unbelievable. The dignified debates of the South Carolina constitutional convention were, in the popular imagination, a minstrel-show mockery of government. (I’ve read transcripts of some of those debates, and they are impressive.) Benjamin Randolph, a black state senator, fought hard to include provisions for universal public education, and to increase voting rights for blacks and whites. He was gunned down by the Klan in October 1868.

One of the most wrenching parts of the book describes the thousands of personal ads taken out by freed people; some black-owned newspapers were largely devoted to this. The ads were attempts to track down spouses and children who’d been separated by slave-owners looking for ready cash. Parents knew who their children had been sold to, but not where they’d ended up. The fabric of family life had been destroyed.

Egerton carries his narrative well into the 20th century. He describes the efforts of African American scholars like WEB Du Bois to set the record straight on Reconstruction, and the futility of their efforts as the racist glorification of The Lost Cause took root in American cultural life. Many, if not most, Americans today think of Reconstruction as an evil attempt by carpetbaggers and scalawags, along with illiterate and gullible blacks, to profit off the degradation of the South. If nothing else, the accounts of courage in the face of the atrocities in this book will show that version of history as the atrocious lie that it is.

Eric Martin’s narration is steady and matter-of-fact throughout.

  • American Colossus

  • The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900
  • By: H. W. Brands
  • Narrated by: Robertson Dean
  • Length: 23 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 153
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 121
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 118

The three decades after the Civil War saw a wholesale shift in American life, and the cause was capitalism. Driven by J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and oth­ers like them, armies of men and women were harnessed to a new vision of massive industry. A society rooted in the soil became one based in cities, and legions of immigrants were drawn to American shores. Brands portrays the stunning trans­formation of the landscape and institutions of American life in these years.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 8 Thoughts on 'American Colossus'

  • By Joshua Kim on 06-10-12

Strong narrative

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

Reviewed: 06-29-18

With his usual narrative drive and extensive quotations from participants, HW Brands gives a portrait of the Gilded Age and the rise of the robber barons. Democracy and capitalism are usually described as apples and oranges — one a political system, the other economic — but Brands draws them in sharp opposition. He shows beyond question the way that free-range capitalism makes a mockery of democratic government.

As an overall history of the age, it’s lacking. Reconstruction is barely mentioned, and when it comes up, the focus is mainly on the effect of reconstruction policies on money. Most cultural trends are ignored. He misses a golden opportunity by severely limiting his references to Mark Twain: Twain was a perfect embodiment of the age, and nearly died on the shoals of capitalist envy. But he appears here mainly as the man who gave the Gilded Age its name.

Brands also steers clear of atrocities. Capitalism’s war on labor is described in exciting detail, but the far greater evil of white southerners’ war on freed slaves is only briefly touched on. In describing America’s imperialism of the 1890s, he includes only a brief mention of the atrocities committed by American troops in the Philippines. It was this very crime that turned Mark Twain from a self-satisfied expansionist into an angry and bitter opponent of imperialism.

But within the terms he’s set for himself, Brands makes his case. The robber barons — Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan — are all here; so are the champions of labor — Eugene Debs, Henry George, Coxey’s Army. And Teddy Roosevelt, imperialist AND trust-buster, cuts an imposing figure in the later chapters. While giving capitalism credit for some of the gains in living standards enjoyed by Americans, there’s not much doubt that his overall sympathies are on the side of labor.

It’s a pleasure to hear all this related in Robertson Dean’s smooth, deep voice. Once I got into it, I had trouble putting the audiobook down.

  • The Statesman and the Storyteller

  • John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism
  • By: Mark Zwonitzer
  • Narrated by: Joe Barrett
  • Length: 25 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 24
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 22
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 22

John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary and later secretary of state under presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, famous as "Mark Twain", grew up 50 miles apart on the banks of the Mississippi River in the same rural antebellum stew of race, class, and want. This shared history drew them together in the late 1860s, and their mutual admiration never waned in spite of sharp differences.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Chocked full of wit and wisdom!

  • By David J. Rosenbrock on 06-28-17

Good story well told

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

Reviewed: 06-05-18

The central notion of this book - the friendship of Sam Clemens and John Hay - doesn’t hold up that well. They are more acquaintances than friends, and they move in different social circles. But the book succeeds brilliantly anyway. It’s a good story well told, an outstanding example of narrative nonfiction.

It covers a critical period in the lives of both men. Sam Clemens has gone bankrupt and goes on a round-the-world lecture tour to restore his finances. His daughter Susy dies, and then his wife Livy; his daughter Jean has epileptic seizures. An initial proponent of war with Spain, he becomes radicalized by the horrific way freedom fighters in the Philippines are treated after the US wins "possession" of the islands.

John Hay, one of Lincoln’s secretaries during the Civil War, later served McKinley as ambassador to the UK and then Secretary of State. When McKinley is assassinated at the beginning of his second term, Hay stays on at State under Theodore Roosevelt. (TR, an ambitious, blustering, and shallow imperialist warmonger, doesn’t come off well in this book.) Hay oversees the resolution of a Canadian border controversy and the acquisition of territory from Colombia - territory that became the future state of Panama - to build a canal across the isthmus. (The US sent gunboats to discourage Colombia from trying to suppress the rebellion in Panama.)

Zwonitzer has a great eye for detail, and his narrative is vivid and entertaining. And Joe Barrett gives a fantastic performance. It should be an entertaining read for fans of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, John Hay, and anyone interested in this less-well-known (by me) period of American history.

  • Lorna Doone [Naxos]

  • By: R. D. Blackmore
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
  • Length: 25 hrs and 56 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 91
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 75
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 75

The Doones are a clan of murdering thieves, and among their victims is John Ridd's father. The strong, noble Ridd determines to avenge his father's death; but his plans are complicated when he falls in love with one of the hated family - the beautiful Lorna. Lorna is promised against her will to another; and that other will not let her go lightly. Set amid the political turmoils of the late 17th century, Lorna Doone brings West Country history and legends alive with wonderfully imaginative fiction.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Much better than reading it

  • By vhuggins on 04-19-12

Overlong but enjoyable

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

Reviewed: 06-03-18

Part swashbuckler, part romance, part hymn to the beauty of farm country. It reminds me a bit of Poldark - the original novel, not the TV version(s). Lorna Doone is episodic and a shade too long; what saves it and holds it together is the genial, self-deprecating common sense of the narrator, John Ridd. Jonathan Keeble delivers the entire book in regional dialect. It’s a bit softened, and perfectly understandable, in John’s case, but for the dialogue of some of his fellows, it’s full-blown. (Even there, though, the general sense is always clear.)

  • The Aspern Papers

  • By: Henry James
  • Narrated by: Adams Sims
  • Length: 3 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 2
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 2
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 2

In The Aspern Papers, a cold and ruthless literary biographer travels to Venice on the trail of personal letters belonging to the deceased American poet Jeffrey Aspern. His journey takes him to a dilapidated, rambling house belonging to an elderly woman named Juliana Bordereau and her lonely niece, Miss Tina. Just how far will he go to get what he wants? Will morality confront his personal ambition and literary curiosity?

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A strong plot

  • By Tad Davis on 05-24-18

A strong plot

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

Reviewed: 05-24-18

I’m not a fan of Henry James, but I’m trying to fill in some gaps in my education. This is the third of his novels I’ve read recently. The other two were Washington Square and The Europeans. The Aspern Papers, with its strong and focused plot, makes an interesting contrast with those two novels. (I found them to be diffuse, a bit drab, oddly structured.)

The narrator of The Aspern Papers has a very specific goal, and the story ends when that goal is finally resolved. He starts out as a likable, intense man, more than a little obsessed with a poet from a previous generation. He is editing the works of Jeffrey Aspern, and he has reason to believe that an old flame of the poet’s still possesses a great many of Aspern’s papers. What he does to obtain them quickly loses him any sympathy (at least from me). But there’s no question that he, and the other two main characters, are drawn convincingly and with nuance. He has the decency to feel guilty about his actions.

Adam Sims (not Adams Sims, listed as the narrator as I write this) is a good match for Henry James. All in all, this is an enjoyable listen.

  • The Europeans

  • By: Henry James
  • Narrated by: Adam Sims
  • Length: 6 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars 1

After the collapse of her marriage to an illustrious German prince, Baroness Eugenia Münster arrives in America with her brother, in search of wealthy New England relatives. The duo have an immediate impact on their American cousins, the Wentworths. The Baroness captures the eye of young Clifford Wentworth, and his girlfriend's older brother Robert; meanwhile, Felix falls for his American cousin Gertrude. The Wentworths are overawed by their European cousins and their frivolous lifestyle. What unfolds is a delightful comedy of manners.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Dreary

  • By Tad Davis on 05-16-18

Dreary

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

Reviewed: 05-16-18

I have a hard time getting into Henry James. This is my second try (the first was Washington Square); and so far, I’d have to say he’s a dreary writer, devoid of humor, writing about mostly uninteresting characters and incorporating the most vaporous of plots. This one involves not so much a love triangle as a love parallelogram: it works out for a couple of people and doesn’t work out for a couple of others. It could have been a lively story, but it isn’t. The changes in relationships could have come with deep self-reflection and emotional struggle, but they don’t.

Adam Sims is a good narrator and does the best he can with this dessicated crew of (mostly) New Englanders.

I’m not ready to give up on Henry James yet. When someone has a reputation like his, I tend to distrust my own responses: with all the critical praise of his work, there must be fire here somewhere. It wouldn’t be the first time that additional effort helped unlock the pleasures that an author has to offer. But I suspect one or two more novels by Henry James may be enough.

  • Felix Holt, The Radical

  • By: George Eliot
  • Narrated by: Nadia May
  • Length: 17 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 85
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 53
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 52

Relinquishing thoughts of a materially rewarding life, the respectably educated Felix Holt returns to his native village in North Loamshire and becomes an artisan. He is a forceful young man of honor, integrity, and idealism, burning to participate in political life so that he may improve the lot of his fellow artisans.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • four and a half stars

  • By connie on 01-02-08

Rewarding

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

Reviewed: 04-14-18

Although there’s an insanely complicated legal situation at the heart of this novel, I found it to be one of Eliot’s more agreeable and rewarding works. All characters (except the truly worst) are treated with a broad and humane sympathy, and there are touches of humor - something that her novels often lack. Despite the title, Felix Holt is not the most interesting character in the book. That would have to be Esther, daughter of the local curate, and someone who begins with a shallow love of appearances and ends with love and courage - and a delightful sense of flirtatiousness.

As always, Nadia May gives a sterling performance.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Waverley

  • By: Sir Walter Scott
  • Narrated by: David Rintoul
  • Length: 17 hrs and 9 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 8
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 7

Waverley by Sir Walter Scott is an enthralling tale of love, war and divided loyalties. Taking place during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the novel tells the story of proud English officer Edward Waverley. After being posted to Dundee, Edward eventually befriends chieftain of the Highland Clan Mac-Ivor and falls in love with his beautiful sister Flora. He then renounces his former loyalties in order actively to support Scotland in open rebellion against the Union with England. The book depicts stunning, romantic panoramas of the Highlands.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Loved it

  • By Tad Davis on 04-12-18

Loved it

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

Reviewed: 04-12-18

I love Walter Scott as a writer, and I love David Rintoul as a narrator, so my reaction to this delightful recording was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Scott’s story is a swashbuckler with a conscience, and one whose mostly happy ending is tinged with sadness at the tremendous losses that have been sustained. Edward Waverley is a dashing hero with a tendency to dither and bumble, which only makes him that much more likable. Some background on the 1745 revolt of Bonnie Prince Charlie is helpful and readily available from Wikipedia and elsewhere.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination

  • The Definitive Account of the Most Controversial Crime of the Twentieth Century
  • By: Lamar Waldron
  • Narrated by: Paul Heitsch
  • Length: 16 hrs and 25 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 35
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 29
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 30

November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the tragedy that has haunted America ever since. For the first time, this concise and compelling book pierces the veil of secrecy to fully document the small, tightly-held conspiracy that killed President John F. Kennedy. It explains why he was murdered, and how it was done in a way that forced many records to remain secret for almost 50 years. The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination draws on exclusive interviews with more than two dozen associates of John and Robert Kennedy.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Most credible view on Kennedy assassination

  • By devind on 03-14-18

Lost me on the single bullet theory

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

Reviewed: 03-16-18

The single-bullet theory can be criticized on many points. But it's really time to retire the old chestnut about the path being impossible because Connelly wasn't in the direct line of fire. Anybody who still brings that up, as Waldron does, immediately loses credibility.

Connelly was sitting in a small collapsible seat that was to the left of and quite a bit lower than Kennedy; a bullet that exited Kennedy's neck on a downward path could easily have entered Connelly's back at the point where his first wound occurred. (What the bullet supposedly did after that point, and where it ended up, are the points where the theory is vulnerable.) This has been demonstrated repeatedly in computer analyses of the assassination; Waldron dismisses them in a single sentence and never mentions the effect of the seating.

Debunking the single-bullet path was a memorable scene in Oliver Stone's film. But it's bogus: the stand-in for Connelly is sitting directly in front of the stand-in for Kennedy and at the same height. And that simply isn't how it happened.

And while debunking this theory makes the job of debunking the Warren Report easier, it isn't necessary. Oswald could have been the lone gunman AND there could have been a conspiracy. It's not an either/or situation.

For all that, Waldron may be right in his analysis of the motive, means, and opportunity. His argument supports the most recent official government conclusion (the House Assassinations Committee report): that Kennedy was probably killed as part of a conspiracy in which the Mafia figured heavily.

But when he started to argue that Oswald wasn't involved in the shooting at all, I lost interest and stopped listening. It should be noted that that same House report concludes that Oswald was the only gunman whose bullets actually found their target; and it presented considerable evidence as to his political motives in trying to kill Kennedy. I'll go back to Waldron's book someday, when I'm in the mood for a detective novel.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful