I drive a lot. I mean a lot. Back and forth to Blacksburg to see dear old Dad has me on the road more hours and miles than I care to think about. And when you are on the road a lot, audio books become a wonderful and welcome companion. I have also found, if you find the right book, it can be a bonding experience with your passenger. My father and I do not agree on music, politics, religion and, well, practically everything on the radio. But who can say no to a non-fiction book? That is, as long as it has nothing to do with music, politics and religion and practically everything on the radio. Oh Dad, I love you.
Both The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant In War and Peace, by H.W. Brands and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham are wonderful examples of reintroducing us to historical figures we thought we already knew and learn we really did not know them at all. Both men were very much products of their time. Sure, they were flawed and biased and in some cases hypocritical. Many historical figures are. But after listening to these books, I am truly thankful for their many moments of brilliance as well.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard (not pictured) This book is amazing. It is the story of President James A. Garfield, his life up to and including his brief stint as commander-in-chief, the intriguing story of his assassination and tragically preventable death. I once read a quote that I will attribute to Tom Clancy which is “the difference between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction has to be believable.” Honestly, you could not make this story up if you tried. Listen or read this book, it is a-m-a-z-i-n-g!
Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss, by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. Remember what I just said about the previous books? How sometimes, circumstances unfold to allow a man, albeit often flawed, to make history and in some ways, make the world a better place? How we can mourn the waste of such potential when it is dramatically cut short? Well, Whitey Bulger, he is pretty much the total opposite of all that. Wasted talent and brilliance? Possibly. Sociopath? Definitely.
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, by Anne Applebaum, I loved the author’s previous work, the brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning Gulag: A History. I highly recommend it. It is a fascinating read. But, for me, the Iron Curtain, while interesting, is extremely detailed to the point that is weighed me down. Perhaps reading it instead of listening would be best. Or perhaps, just read Gulag: A History instead.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright. As a vocal advocate and proud member of the mentally ill, I am both fascinated by and terrified of Scientology. So I went into listening to this book with pre-conceived notions that honestly did not change after having listened to it. I believe in the modern practice of psychiatry and in the use of drugs in treating some mental illnesses. I can’t imagine my life without them. Perhaps it best to just say, I’m biased, listen and judge for yourselves.
On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, by Alexandra Horowitz. The author takes the reader on eleven walks. I almost stopped listening when the first walk turned out to be walking with her toddler and how she saw the world anew through her child’s eyes. I love children as much as the next person, but as a childless 43-year-old, I have already heard and read the “how amazing everything is again when you see it through a child’s eyes” epiphany one too many times. Thankfully her later walks included an urban sociologist, a geologist, a sound designer and an artist.
The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus, by Joshua Kendall. Oh I dream of being as anal retentive as the man who created Roget’s Thesaurus. I think if you looked under anal retentive in the thesaurus, it would say Peter Mark Roget. I also love that I can still remember whatthe first word I looked up in a thesaurus was. That would be placid. And yet I curse Roget’s creation that allows way too many writers the idea that using multi-syllable fancy words where a simple one will always do is considered good writing. Indubitably!
Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, by Albert Marrin (not pictured) A young adult audio, this book was a reminder that my job, while stressful and not the most secure, is most certainly not a sweatshop. I mean, can I really complain when I can step away from my desk and purchase a half-caf latte with skim while debating the merits of whether or not to add a banana nut muffin to my order?
Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius, by Sylvia Nasar (not pictured) I don’t know much about economics but Sylvia Nasar’s history of the field did teach me a little. And the only reason I learned a little was due more to my limited cognitive skills and not Nasar’s writing. I would suggest reading and not listening because, in the middle of the audio, for no apparent reason, the narrator changed from a woman to a man. WTF?