The subject matter of this book is so engaging and so fascinating, it was able to overcome my pre-existing mild dislike of the author, Sarah Vowell. IThe subject matter of this book is so engaging and so fascinating, it was able to overcome my pre-existing mild dislike of the author, Sarah Vowell. In the book, she shares her nerdy obsession with the oddities of American history and we join her as she travels to various landmarks related to presidential assassinations.
You don't have to know anything about James Garfield or William McKinley to appreciate the incredible stories of their demise. Vowell openly admits that very few do know anything about either of those presidents. I certainly didn't know much. The background stories of their assassins are especially engrossing. Some readers might fear morbidity with this topic, but the tone is more of wonder, education and appreciation for amazingly forgotten historic events than anything else.
My lukewarm feelings toward Vowell come from another book I read of hers, Take the Cannolis. I had the same problem with her in Assassination Vacation, primarily, that she can't stop reminding the reader that she is cool. In fact, she's so cool that she's okay with being a nerd. Also, she used to be a rock critic. Did she mention that she used to be a rock critic? Well, she was.
Still, I gave this book 5 stars and would absolutely read it again, because I know I wasn't able to absorb all the interesting facts she shared and I will be amazed by many of them a second time when I re-read this book....more
Having never heard of Huguette Clark, or her copper magnate father, W.A. Clark, before I picked up this book, I was amazed at how drawn into the storyHaving never heard of Huguette Clark, or her copper magnate father, W.A. Clark, before I picked up this book, I was amazed at how drawn into the story I became. Author Bill Dedman's explanation of how he discovered Huguette's never-occupied, monumental real estate holdings worked its magic on me and I was hooked. It's not just Huguette's bizarre reclusive lifestyle that fascinated me, but the fact that due to unusual longevity, she and her father combined lived for a total of 190 years. Between the two of them, they lived through a pretty sizable chunk of American history. ...more
Alexander approaches the story chronologically, providing context for the expedition by summarizing previous Antarctic explorations and the internatioAlexander approaches the story chronologically, providing context for the expedition by summarizing previous Antarctic explorations and the international competition surrounding them. For the story of the Endurance, Alexander draws material from the diaries, letters and later remembrances of the crew. Photographs and quotations punctuate many of the anecdotes of life aboard the Endurance, as well as the freezing hell endured after its’ sinking.
The book makes great use of the existing photographs of the ordeal and they do quite a lot to make these unbelievable circumstances more real to the reader. The ship’s photographer captured impossible, fascinating images, such as the enormous wooden Endurance being cracked like a bundle of twigs by mere shifts in the Antarctic ice....more
Simon Winchester knows how to make a dry subject interesting. In the case of this history of the Oxford English Dictionary, he makes it fascinating.
HSimon Winchester knows how to make a dry subject interesting. In the case of this history of the Oxford English Dictionary, he makes it fascinating.
He occasionally makes use of words you haven't heard since you last studied for the SATs, but at the same time makes you feel more like he's relating this story while sipping single malt scotch and reclining before a fire.
Winchester's trademark is his frequent use of footnotes, these are almost always more than one sentence long and either elaborate on an aforementioned quirk or illuminate the backstory. I found myself checking for footnotes every time I turned the page because the information in them was always so unexpected and so enjoyable to read.
This book sheds light on the incredible process that goes into the compilation of such a massive reference book, but spends enough time on the colorful characters and ridiculous delays to keep the story entertaining.
Nonfiction can be very dry on audio, but Devil in the White City is a great example of an engaging nonfiction audiobook. The storytelling manages to bNonfiction can be very dry on audio, but Devil in the White City is a great example of an engaging nonfiction audiobook. The storytelling manages to be in-depth and detailed without losing the interest of the audience.
Also, I'm a scaredy-cat. Like crazy. But somehow, this is a detailed story about a serial killer that I found interesting instead of terrifying.
The backdrop of the Chicago World's Fair is fascinating in its own way, directing the reader's attention to the suspense of accomplishing the huge ordeal of building the White City in a limited time period....more
This book is equal parts emotionally-effecting and educational. I learned more than I ever knew about the Hutu-Tutsi conflict and Burundi's involvemenThis book is equal parts emotionally-effecting and educational. I learned more than I ever knew about the Hutu-Tutsi conflict and Burundi's involvement in the genocide that I always associated exclusively with Rwanda.
The story is compelling and Deo is an incredible character to follow through difficult, terrifying and uncertain situations. He is intelligent, enterprising and frighteningly naive. Deo doesn't give up - not when the bricks of his dream-clinic melt in the rainy season, not when tauting Hutu militias throw rocks at the bush in which he is hiding, not when no one responds to his attempts at friendly greetings as a delivery man in New York.
I found Deo's story incredibly touching and expertly re-told in the capable hands of Tracy Kidder. This is a fascinating and satisfying story....more
**spoiler alert** I can't believe they found him! They found George Leigh Mallory! Just lying there! Unbelievable!
What a great expedition - to underta**spoiler alert** I can't believe they found him! They found George Leigh Mallory! Just lying there! Unbelievable!
What a great expedition - to undertake all the expense and risk of a trip to Everest - to investigate a great Everest unsolved mystery, rather than to focus exclusively on making the summit.
I began this book listening to it on audio, but that was a huge mistake. This book doesn't belong on audio at all, it's like reading "Where the Wild Things Are" on audio. I got the print copy a few discs in and spent hours looking at the great photos of the artifacts discovered, Mallory's resting place and journal entries. It's a very visual book, you've just got to see it.
The approach is very scholarly, the authors lay out their research and theories very carefully and carefully evaluate and eliminate the unknowns and impossibilities. They can't say for sure if Mallory and Irvine summited Everest, but they fill in many of the pieces that have been missing from their famed attempt.
An exciting read for an Everest fan - but seriously - get the print edition. You won't be sorry....more
I'm not particularly interested in the American Revolution or the founding fathers, but I picked up this book because I thought I might learn some intI'm not particularly interested in the American Revolution or the founding fathers, but I picked up this book because I thought I might learn some interesting stories. And I certainly did.
This book uncovers incredible stories of women running farms, businesses and families through the uncertain times of late colonial life. There are stories of women defending their homes from Loyalists, outwitting the British as spies and even fighting on the front lines.
Two famous women, Martha Washington and Abigail Adams have rather top-billing, but they had very interesting places as the female leaders of the new republic's social scene.
However, readers (or listeners, who may appreciate the familiarity of Cokie Roberts as the reader) should be fully prepared to develop a surprising dislike of Ben Franklin. I have been used to thinking of Ben Franklin as radical printer, ingenious inventor, skilled negotiator, but this book shows him as husband and father and I thought he sounded dreadful as both.
I looked forward to turning on this audiobook the moment I got in my car and raced through it with hardly a pause for radio or music. I thought a few times that I might have found reading it a little tedious, but I was never bored while listening....more
This book traces two story lines: a modern-day mystery involving a polygamist cult, an estranged mother and son and murder and a historical retellingThis book traces two story lines: a modern-day mystery involving a polygamist cult, an estranged mother and son and murder and a historical retelling of one family's experience of Mormonism from conversion under Joseph Smith to polygamist disillusion to apostasy.
I preferred the historical storyline, but thought it was skillfully combined with the contemporary plot line. I was more impressed still when I learned that the character of Ann Eliza Young, was a real wife of Brigham Young and a major figure in the fight to end plural marriage.
The story is brilliantly crafted and told using multiple character voices through diary entries, student research proposals and Wikipedia entries. The mystery itself was a little weak, but the major characters were compelling and well-imagined.
The audiobook is read by a cast, which helps to differentiate between the time periods and the point of view from which each chapter is told. ...more
I was amazed how quickly this book had me, a red-blooded American, sympathizing with the Soviet world champion chess player. When it comes to chess, oI was amazed how quickly this book had me, a red-blooded American, sympathizing with the Soviet world champion chess player. When it comes to chess, of course Americans would the underdogs against the Russians. But when it came to the 1970s match of Soviet ideological outcast Boris Spassky vs. America's darling Bobby Fischer, I suddenly became torn.
We Americans are supposed to love Fischer! All most of us really know about him is that he is a one-of-a-kind chess player and that we are rooting for him. But once you hear even a little bit about Bobby Fischer's atrocious behavior, from age 14 until the present, you may have a hard time cheering for him. I found that while I could definitely be amazed by him; I couldn't even like him!
This book does a fantastic job of explaining the incredible mental abilities of chess players and how often these same qualities make them very unusual individuals. I found that it pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of the Soviets as well as the Americans quite evenly. Not knowing much about the world of professional chess, I was amazed to read stories of Fischer's shocking, childish behavior, especially against the backdrop of an unusually normal Soviet opponent during such a groundbreaking match.
Without getting too technical or too specific, this book manages to move step by step through the approach to Reykjavik and the surprising events of the drawn-out tournament while maintaining an even voice and entertaining anecdotes. I highly recommend it, but be ready to change your opinions about an event you likely have never given much thought to at all....more
Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a classic Victorian gentleman explorer. He was built to explore the Amazon - proving immune to malaria and the variColonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a classic Victorian gentleman explorer. He was built to explore the Amazon - proving immune to malaria and the various other tropical fevers the plague Westerners there. He takes small parties carrying limited equipment, he makes friends with the Indians and he can live off the land. He never says die. He's awesome.
He's also, well, a little nuts. Not so much in the beginning, but after WWI, he starts to feel his age a little more, it's harder to get funding and a millionaire rival begins exploring roughly the same region of the jungle as Fawcett. He becomes more reliant on spiritualism and more obsessed with the idea of proving his theory of Z, an El Dorado-like city deep in the Amazon.
His expeditions, his disappearance and the multitude of failed investigations and missions to find him make for great storytelling. Author Grann does a fine job of combing through his history, connecting with his relatives and parceling out the interesting details throughout the book. I found Grann's own trip into the Amazon a little unsatisfying - it also attempts to tie up the mystery of Z a little too neatly.
Neat and tidy as it may be, I do like the explanation of Z and the archeological evidence and expertise behind it. It means Fawcett wasn't going entirely mad when he pored over old legends of El Dorado, but I think it does mean that he never, never would have been able to identify what was left as what he was looking for, either. ...more
This book is fascinating to pick up and leaf through at random. I wish the Free Press would put out an updated edition, because there are so many greaThis book is fascinating to pick up and leaf through at random. I wish the Free Press would put out an updated edition, because there are so many great new stories and figures (KWAME) that need to be included!
Paging through this book is similar to being let loose in the Freep's clippings and photo archives - only without the dust. It's organized by topic so it's easy to skip to what interests you and it's nicely sectioned so that you can skim past an entry you don't care about.
Charming, interesting, funny and a great book for any Detroit native/fan....more
Seth Shulman's exposition of the shady tactics behind the invention of the telephone is an engaging read for anyone who has heard the one-sided tale oSeth Shulman's exposition of the shady tactics behind the invention of the telephone is an engaging read for anyone who has heard the one-sided tale of Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant toiling away at their workbenches.
Bell's background as a teacher of the deaf, the professional and personal pressure he faced to produce a working telephone and the underhanded actions of his business contacts to ensure that the most valuable U.S. patent ever granted was granted to Bell keep the story moving at an interesting pace. Shulman includes his discovery and research process as part of the story, so the book has a modern tone and isn't weighed down by too much discussion of 19th century technology.
I ended the book feeling bad for Elisha Gray, the forgotten pioneer of telephone technology and almost feeling worse for Bell, whose entire reputation is based on his lowest moment. A very interesting examination of a story few people ever question.