Interesting and well written. Filled with pertinent information, yet a bit long-winded at times.
The book is not merely a biography covering the lifeInteresting and well written. Filled with pertinent information, yet a bit long-winded at times.
The book is not merely a biography covering the life of one man, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). It starts with a description of the world he was born into - Prussia, Pre-Romanticism and the eminent philosophers, poets and writers of the time, i.e. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich von Schiller, to name but a few. Humboldt came to spend long hours with Goethe. These prominent thinkers influenced who he was to become. Their lives and the lives of others Humboldt associated with are discussed. Another two such men are Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Humboldt’s theories, experiments, books, travels and companions are covered. The book does not conclude with his death. It continues, showing how he directly influenced others, in particular Charles Darwin, George Perkins Marsh, Ernst Haeckel and John Muir. It is through these men that ecology, conservation and preservation has become what it is today. Others are mentioned too. The book ends with the hope that we reclaim Humboldt as our hero or at least re-acknowledge the importance he has played in how we view nature. Humboldt's thoughts and writings lie at the beginning of a chain of men who have brought us to where we are today in the field of environmentalism.
How much do we learn about Humboldt’s personality? Well he never kept his mouth shut, and he was indefatigable. In a conversation you couldn't get a word in edgewise. Being with him must have been quite a strain. Whether he was homosexual or not is unclear. How he could have possibly had time for anything other than his artistic, philosophical and scientific pursuits is the prime question. He seems to have had neither the time nor the interest for a lover. He was a fervent abolitionist.
The audiobook narration is by David Drummond. I found it too fast, particularly in the beginning. There is just too much information to absorb. Later it gets easier. Some words are unclear. Narration does not influence my rating.
Rivers, minerals, lakes, parks and many, many places are named after this Prussian. I didn't even know who he was! It is stated that more places have been named after this man than anyone else. His views have shaped our very concept of how we see nature. He realized back in 1800 the interrelationship between all aspects of nature. He understood that nature is one unified whole, and that an interdisciplinary approach is essential to solving problems, one such being climate control. ...more
These letters are described in this way at Audible:
"The deepest currents of passion seldom break the surface of literature. Romantic classics abound; but however skilled a writer may be in verbalising an emotional experience, he cannot publicly evoke the heat of blood, the yearning of soul, bared in perfect intimacy between two beings. But letters can do this, and songs never meant to be sung by any but the lover, or the beloved."
"The Letters of Heloise and Abelard perpetuate perfectly the bitterness of love thwarted and betrayed. How these letters were preserved no one quite knows. But they are as authentic as the two people from whose tormented lives they were wrung."
I certainly need help if I'm to fully understand the letters, let alone judge them.
The narration is done by two: Claire Bloom and a male narrator that is not stated! Bloom does a very good job in expressing through her intonation her emotions. Her lines are easier to follow than the male narrator who reads Abélard's letters.
I have done a little research. The letters are written years after the love affair. The two fall passionately in love. She gets pregnant, and they marry. Her parents are furious. He is castrated. Their physical love and passion is transformed into a "spiritual love". I certainly did not get all of this by listening to the audiobook! I did feel Héloïse's love for Abélard in the lines of her letters to him, less in his to her.
Review to come. I have to figure out why I cannot give this more than three stars. I know I liked it, but how could it have been improved? What was miReview to come. I have to figure out why I cannot give this more than three stars. I know I liked it, but how could it have been improved? What was missing? Please remember that three stars is nevertheless a book I can recommend to others.
I didn't know much about Louisa, the wife of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the US. He was the son of the more famed John Adams, the second US President. What I knew I had learned from John Adams by the fantastic author David McCullough. It is very hard to succeed as well as McCullough; having read one book on a related topic you tend to make comparisons between the two. John Quincy, the son, was also a diplomat, a Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. As a diplomat he played an important role in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812. He was stationed in Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. As President he couldn't do very much, having a Senate that opposed him. As the Massachusetts member of the House of Representatives, for the last seventeen years of his life, he is known for his opposition to slavery on moral grounds. Equality was to be afforded all Americans. He feared that the issue could lead to dissolution of the Union and bloodshed. There is the husband in a nutshell.
This book focuses on Louisa, and while it touches upon historical events, they are the backdrop rather than the central focus of the book. I would have appreciated more about the War of 1812, more about Adams' rival Andrew Jackson. He became the seventh President. In relation to Jackson, the Battle of New Orleans is mentioned and then dropped. I am not an historian; I wish more facts had been filled in. Interesting side issues are touched upon, such as the electoral process for the Presidency, but that is dropped soon too. Only as Louisa becomes more interested in politics does the book focus on historical events. Even if this is a book about Louisa, it is possible to also deliver on both husband and wife and on both the personal and historical events. Often different interpretations of the known facts were presented. This I liked, but at the same time I wanted the author to more often conclude with a summary of that presented, to help me interpret these facts.
So the central focus is Louisa. She is a difficult person to study. One minute she is strong and then she is weak. One minute I felt sorry for her and the next I felt like wringing her neck. You can take just about any of her statements and find contradictions. How do you draw an accurate picture of her? She did an awful lot of griping in the beginning, on her travels and when she was first married. This was one point where I wanted to wring her neck. I thought, "Appreciate what is given to you. How many women were able to travel like this?!" I know the travels were difficult. We are told she is sick often. We are also told that she says she is sick sometimes when she is not, to get out of something she doesn't want to do. Having been told that I was often left wondering if she was really sick or not! Much is drawn from Louisa's correspondence. You can say whatever you want in a letter; it does not have to be true! Do you understand why I sometimes was left wondering how to interpret the facts?
By the book's end I feel I came to know Louisa, not by what she said, but more by watching her actions over her entire life. She was a social creature. She certainly seems manic depressive. One minute up, next minute down. She had a hard life, (view spoiler)[the loss of three of her four children and the numerous miscarriages (hide spoiler)], but she also was also given many fabulous opportunities for enriching her life! She was contradictory in most every aspect of her being. She loved her husband and hated him. She was self-reliant and then collapsed in a heap. She had feminist views....but certainly not always. Many statements in the book can be debated and discussed. This makes for an interesting book.
The audiobook narration by Kirsten Potter was good. I grew into liking it. In the beginning I disliked how her intonation reflected her view of what was stated. You could hear what she thought of the events. Her views are those of a modern woman. I prefer a more neutral reading, and I don't want to view historical events through a contemporary lens. Yet, it wasn't hard to follow and the words were clear. It was easy to differentiate between quotes and the author's own lines. A bit too fast sometimes. The last hour of the audiobook could be notes. I recognized that sentences throughout the entire book were repeated. Nothing new was added. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
An engaging memoir focusing upon the author's life in the predominantly white Irish Catholic “Old Colony Housing Project” neighborhood of South BostonAn engaging memoir focusing upon the author's life in the predominantly white Irish Catholic “Old Colony Housing Project” neighborhood of South Boston. 85% lived on welfare. The author was born in 1966. The book follows the family through the 70s to the middle 90s. We are told at the start that four of the family's eleven children will die. Living conditions in the area start out bad and get progressively worse. Initially focus is set on the virulent sentiment against compulsory school busing. W. Arthur Garrity Jr. of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts enforced a compulsory busing plan of students between predominantly white and black areas of the city. What follows are the busing riots of 1974 -1976. Crime, drugs, violence, racism and social injustices mount. All attempts at desegregation and integration are futile. We watch how this plays out in the family. We watch how the four children die and are told of the death of numerous acquaintances. The telling is grim.
I am glad I read the book. Previously I supported busing, naively assuming this must aid desegregation, but as it was done here in Boston it didn't. The book made vividly clear what life was like for the residents of the area.
I had a few problems with the book. I never came to understand the love the author felt for his neighborhood; this is an essential part of the book. There are court proceedings that are not clearly presented. Part of the problem here is that important events are not satisfactorily emphasized making events difficult to follow. You are left only with a general, fuzzy understanding of what exactly happened! The fate of family members is clearly told, yet the fates of numerous other acquaintances are only rapidly sketched. Through mentioning so many we are to understand the size and the gravity of the problem, but in that there are so many and each one's fate so summarily told they become mere numbers rather than breathing, living human beings the reader might feel empathy for. I found this unsatisfactory. Acronyms abound, and they are not defined the first time they are introduced. Frustrating to say the least. These are all small quibbles; I am glad I read the book.
The author reads his own book. It is clear, but at times too fast. ...more
I totally disliked this book. I have read Woolf previously and enjoyed several of her volumes. I cannot imagine that the few lines of stream of consciI totally disliked this book. I have read Woolf previously and enjoyed several of her volumes. I cannot imagine that the few lines of stream of consciousness writing could be a stumbling block to readers. The problem here is instead that this is a polemic. A polemic is by definition:
-an aggressive attack or refutation of the opinions or principles of another -the art or practice of disputation by controversy
Aggressive is the word to focus upon.
The substance of this novel is based on lectures given by Virginia Woolf at Newnham College and Girton College, two women's colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. A fictional narrator is woven around the “extended essay” based on the named lectures. These lectures are about women both as authors and as characters in fiction. A second fictional character is added by Woolf - Judith, Shakespeare's sister.
The fictional characters and narrative allow the author to use her distinctive "stream of consciousness" technique but it is used sparingly and not hard to follow.
What I objected to was the aggressive, angry and negative tone of the lectures, the central and most important focus of the book, i.e. the non-fiction part of the book. Over and over again with example after example Woolf illustrates how historically women have been dominated and repressed by men. She rants that society has made it impossible for women to promote themselves. To succeed they must have both money and "a room of their own" where they can write undisturbed. Rather than ranting about the past I would have preferred that Woolf focused not upon the negative but those few women who have succeeded. Give positive examples for other women to follow rather than focus on past failures. There have been female authors who wrote and were acclaimed as early as in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Aphra Benn (1640-1689), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), Mary Masters (1706?-1759?), Fanny Berney (1752-1840) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) to name but a few! There are female artists too. I say encourage rather than discourage.
There are a few descriptive lines in the fictional sections that I enjoyed. I could scarcely appreciate them due to the anger boiling up in me.
The audiobook I listened to is narrated by Juliet Stevenson. She is utterly magnificent. It was not the narration that caused me trouble. The audiobook has no introduction but at the end there are fragments of poems. These poems are called short stories, which they really were not. Merely very short fragments of something…… They did not speak to me. ...more
This was my first Paul Theroux. I was impressed, and I will read more by the author.
I chose this because of the theme - the South. I like reading SoutThis was my first Paul Theroux. I was impressed, and I will read more by the author.
I chose this because of the theme - the South. I like reading Southern literature. The author is not only well traveled but also well read. The book covers racism and poverty in the South today, historical background and a thorough study of Southern literature and its authors. The book does not cover anything to do with urban centers or coastal regions. Nothing about Hurricane Katrina, not a word about Florida, nothing about the wealthy, nothing about tourist attractions. Just so you know. The words "Four Seasons on Back Roads" in the title are meant to tell you this. This is Theroux’s latest book, published in January 2015. It is completely up to date. It looks at the poverty of the South. It draws an intimate portrait of its denizens. Their friendliness, their willingness to talk, their love of stories as well as their abject poverty, illiteracy, incredibly poor housing conditions, lack of health care. Racism, the all engulfing importance of the church and possession of gun are pivotal to the South. Why? How this has come to be so is clearly shown.
Theroux knows the history of the South, relating historical events alongside his conversations with those he meets on his travels. He meets indigenous people, both the worst off and those who have climbed up one notch. Immigrants, Blacks and Whites. The common denominator of all are the struggles and the oppressive indifference of the moneyed. Repeatedly the conditions in the South are compared to those of the Third World and the millions spent there, but not spent in America's backyard. Theroux's past travels give him the knowledge to draw such comparisons. He fills in the statistics. The book weaves history into the present. The main focus remains his talks with the poor living in the South today. The book captures their milieu, their life and their sentiments. It is a book about people. That Theroux makes four trips, in fall, winter, spring and then summer over one and a half year (2013-2014), is important. By doing this he sees places more than once; he builds up close relationships with those there. He chats with them. He eats with them, shares a beer and goes to the gun shows. Not once but many, many times. He gets their trust. With that trust he learns much more than a casual visitor could ever achieve.
The book consists of the four travels taken in the four respective seasons. Between these he throws in "interludes" on related subjects: the term "nigger", Faulkner and Southern Gothic literature. Southern literature is a thread woven throughout the entire book. He concludes with an epilogue, summing up his personal thoughts. The whole book reflects Theroux's personal views. You cannot get away from that, not ever. He backs up his views with solid facts, historical events, statistics and quotes. He's got quite a bit on Clinton, his youth in Arkansas and how this shaped him. His personality as viewed by Theroux. That the Clinton money has done so little for the South is pointed out more than once. The why of it is discussed. There is a good balance between current versus historical details.
The beginning is slow. He begins with a long hullabaloo about air travel which irritated me; I was impatient for him to get me down there to the South. The further you go, the further you are drawn into the lives of the people he met in the South and the better the book gets! Give it a chance. Parts are repetitive; it felt as though the four central sections were written separately, thus leading to repetition. Yet the four separate trips worked well as a means of getting deeper into the soul of the South. What is Southern identity and how has it grown from its history?
The writing is excellent. There isn't a whole lot of description about natural phenomenon, but when there is it is stunning. How he describes his short sojourns home in Cape Cod were beautiful. I wanted more, but of course we had to leave and go south. Then later I got the ridges in the Ozarks. A thunderstorm and a tornado watch in Arkansas were thrillingly told….but not overdone. You’ll find out why. So, good writing as well as solid content and thought provoking ideas. The book is personal; we are given the author's views. A reader must accept that opposing views are perhaps not voiced.
The audiobook narration I listened to was done by John McDonough. At first I didn't like it, but by the end I felt it was great. The narration is very slow, which I liked. Others may find it too slow. Southern dialect is superbly read. He switches back and forth without a hitch. You cannot tell if the person speaking is a Black or a White. Should you be able to tell? I don't think so. Sometimes you cannot distinguish between males and females, but most often you could. Often elderly women do have low, base, grumbling voices. ...more
ETA: The only thing that prevents me from giving this book five stars was that I wanted to hear the voices of Chapman and George Putnam. I wanted theiETA: The only thing that prevents me from giving this book five stars was that I wanted to hear the voices of Chapman and George Putnam. I wanted their personal words because I am sure they were hurt. To draw Amelia honestly, more of these two men's personal thoughts should have been given. Amelia was such a very strong woman. I admire her. Yet to view her honestly one has to acknowledge how her determination must have hurt others close to her. My rating is a rating of the book, not the person.
After chapter 2:
I know already that this is going to be a very good book. I adore meeting imaginative, special individuals, people with spark. Amelia was just such a person. Can an author write about such a person and make even them boring? I think so. What I am saying is that Susan Butler, the author of this book, has the knack of knowing what to put in a book to make a person's "story" sparkle.
I must add this. In the beginning you are plunked down not understanding who is who. Many have the same name or a nickname. Such is extremely difficult with an audiobook! You begin with the great grandparents on both sides. I went to Wiki for a clarification of who is who; this allowed me to stop worrying and let me suck up the delightful details instead.
I am not all that interested in "the pilot" Amelia Earhart, but rather the person.
(There are three Amelias! Amy is Amelia’s mother. Both the “pilot” Amelia and her maternal grandmother often go by the nickname Meeley. Her sister Muriel is Pidge. Her father, Samuel Stanton Earhart, is called Edwin. Her maternal great-grandmother goes by Maria. This should help!)
I think you see very much by looking at a person’s childhood. I see it as a plus that the book goes back several generations. Amelia was born in Atchison, Kansas, in the home of her maternal grandparents. She came to live several years with her grandparents and she shared several personality traits with her maternal great grandmother. To understand Amelia you have to get the feel of her environment and her family background. I even appreciated the historical details of whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state; this was an issue that shaped her whole family. In addition, there are amusing incidents related, like the ramp she constructed from the roof of the shed. This woman even as a child was always climbing up as high as she could, and she was thrilled by the speed of descent – “it was like flying”.
I definitely learned about Amelia. In fact she really was “not just a pilot, but also an educator, a social worker, a lecturer, a business woman and a tireless promoter of women’s rights” as stated in the book description. She was a whirlwind of a lady. She was feminine and strong. She knew what she wanted and she went after it. A person this strong can easily squash others. This is what makes me give the book four rather than five stars. Her strength simply must have been hard on other people. I am thinking of her beau, Sam Chapman, whom she kept hanging for years. I asked myself, “Is this a hagiography?” Well, she became such an American idol that it is hard to avoid singing her praise. Yet I would not classify the book as such. She makes mistakes, and she lies and that is given here too. Her ruthlessness is not shied from. I just wish that those whom she hurt could have been given a chance to speak from their heart.
All of her flying achievements are detailed. The word to emphasize is detailed. This may put off some readers. I found her achievements, the related history of aviation, as well as the in-depth discussion of her disappearance in 1937 fascinating. It has been thought that perhaps she was taken prisoner by the Japanese. Well forget that! I thought when one made a solo flight one was a-l-o-n-e. That is not so. There are navigators and co-pilots and …. These “solo flights” are the result of intense teamwork. Did you know that her first transatlantic flight in 1928, the first time a woman flew across the Atlantic, she was merely a passenger? OK, she was responsible for the flight log, but she didn’t even touch the wheel. The pilot was Wilmer Stultz with co-pilot Louis Gordon. Yet it is questionable if it would have happened had she not been there. Her role at Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland, is significant. I did sometimes get lost with the technical aspects of the various airplanes.
I see Amelia more as a pilot and a feminist than a social worker. When asked where she stood in relation to social work after gaining such aviation fame, she replied, “She had never left it!” Those were her words. In a pickle where she had to choose between one or the other I am certain she would prioritize flying. She needed, above all else, independence financially and emotionally. Read to find out what she stipulated before she agreed to marry George Putnam!
Read to see how with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt she prevented Gene Vidal from getting fired as Director of the Bureau of Air Commerce. She loved Gene too.
I adored the audiobook narration by Anna Fields/Kate Fleming, even if I at times had to rewind to jot down facts. She knows exactly which words to emphasize. Such a reader helps you “digest” the significance of each word. Superb narration. A five star narration without a doubt. ...more