One of the best straight up biographies I have read in a very long time. Beautifully written, never boring.
However, this is a book with a lot of inforOne of the best straight up biographies I have read in a very long time. Beautifully written, never boring.
However, this is a book with a lot of information in it, over 800 pages (or 70 hours on audio). This is Volume I of a planned three volume set on the Beatles. This volume only takes you from the childhood to just before the release of their first album in early 1963. Seemingly nothing that occurred to John, Paul, George or Ringo in the years between 1957 and 1962 is left unexplored. Extensive backstories on Brian Epstein, the Beatles Manager, and George Martin, their producer, is also included.
So, it really does help to be a Beatles fan, with a curiosity as to how they formed, and how their early lives led them to become the most successful and influential musical artists of the last 60 years. I count myself in that group, so I was hooked from the beginning.
While the book packs in a lot of information, it is never dense. You won't lose your place, or have thrown at you a lot of information in a short stretch that you struggle to remember. Lewisohn is a gifted writer so despite its length, it never becomes confusing.
The book does two very important things. First, it does a great job explaining the musical influences on young people in Britain at the beginning of the rock and roll era. Those influences were entirely American. Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis among many others, had a profound effect on the British rock and roll scene. So ironically, American rock and rollers were the influence for British bands, which then used that influence to create a new style that then became the biggest influence a decade later in America. I will be very interested in how Lewisohn treats that phenomenon in the next two volumes.
The second important thing about this book, is presenting the Beatles as people in a way that makes one rethink the stereotypes about them. Both John and Paul lost their mothers as teenagers, which had a profound effect on their lives. John in particular never had a semblance of an orderly home life, which helps explain the changes in his personality as the Beatles became more popular. Despite having to learn at a young age how to get by on the rough streets of Liverpool, which toughened him up, it left him most vulnerable to problems as the group got more popular. He, more than the others, always seemed to be in a period of trying to find himself. In many ways this made him a raging jerk, not thinking twice about hurting others with an offhand comment, perhaps trying to head off being hurt himself. He reacted more emotionally to being slighted than the others, which even came out in some of the interviews he did after the Beatles had broken up. This book helps explain why he behaved that way, and to have more sympathy for him in that regard.
It also dispels some of the condescension Ringo has received over the years. Sometimes viewed as the least talented of the group, in fact, it wasn't until he had joined them that they became the powerhouse group we recall today. He was the glue that held the group together musically.
There is way too much in the book to do a comprehensive review so I won't attempt it.
If you are a Beatles fan, run, don't walk to get this book. If you have an interest in social history, there is quite a bit here about the lives of the working class in Liverpool in the 1950s to interest you as well.
Well written biography of Elon Musk. I've always been interested in how Musk was able to be so successful in areas where so many have previously faileWell written biography of Elon Musk. I've always been interested in how Musk was able to be so successful in areas where so many have previously failed. Many have tried to start private space companies, all spectacular failures, and the litany of those who have tried, and failed, to develop viable electric car technology, is well known. The book does a good job arguing that in Musk we have a man with both the passion to do something historically beneficial to the human race, and the intellect and iron will to accomplish it. Both SpaceX and Tesla have defied all odds because Musk has refused to compromise his vision. That is what come through most clearly in this book.
While there is much to admire about Musk, and the author clearly does admire him, there are significant flaws in his character that are also discussed in this book. Musk can be petulant, cruel to others he views as not up to his standards, curiously unfeeling and unsentimental at times, and is a particularly difficult person to work for; making demands of his employees they only put up with because of a shared vision for the future, and the fact Musk is equally as demanding of himself.
The book itself is well written, structurally easy to follow, and manages to reveal the inner workings of a person notoriously concerned with his public persona. What comes across in the end is a man who, despite significant defects in his personality, is a visionary with the skill and drive to make that vision a reality. He set out to change the world, and he is doing it....more
Al Franken is a funny guy, and that is certainly on display in this book. He also is serious about what he wants to accomplish. What is great about hiAl Franken is a funny guy, and that is certainly on display in this book. He also is serious about what he wants to accomplish. What is great about him is he is able to use his humor to get across a serious point. And that is the point of this book.
Very well written pop history. Kluger also co-write Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 with Astronaut Jim Lovell that the movie Apollo 13 iVery well written pop history. Kluger also co-write Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 with Astronaut Jim Lovell that the movie Apollo 13 is based on. He is a clear fan of the space program and that shows through in this book. There is very little here NASA's public relations office would disapprove of.
It is a straight ahead history of the December 1968 mission of Apollo 8, focusing primarily on Frank Borman, commander of the mission, with a somewhat lesser focus on the other crew members - Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. He also spotlights some of the managers, technicians, and engineers at NASA who made the mission possible, particularly Cris Kraft, Gene Kranz, and Jim Webb
Kluger does a nice job with the narrative that does keep you interested throughout. If your sole interest is the mission itself and not the messy crap that happens behind the scenes when human beings are involved, this is the book for you. It was engrossing in that sense.
If you are looking for more behind the scenes stuff, the political and turf wars at NASA, how the Astronauts interacted with each other and with NASA, the finger pointing after the Apollo 1 fire, and more than a superficial look at the private lives of those involved, there isn't too much here.
If you are looking for an deeper analysis of Apollo 8's impact on America and the world, you won't get much of that here either; Kluger begins with the assumption that the mission had a positive, even transcendent impact.
An example of this is his treatment of the Astronauts' famous Christmas message from the moon in which they read passages from the Book of Genesis. Kluger treats this as a defining moment in the flight, and doesn't even attempt to question whether it was appropriate. In fact Madalyn Murray O'Hair, America's most hated atheist, sued the U.S. Government claiming it violated the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. And while the suit was dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction, NASA never allowed it to happen again. As an atheist myself I have to say I wince a bit when I hear those transmissions, and in my view O'Hair had a case. But in truth I was not all that bothered by it. It was a different time, a dangerous time, and though the passages have no effect on me (other than eye rolls), I can see they were welcomed by a weary world at the end of a very bad year!
In any case, the point is Kluger is not attempting to provoke a debate, or to look at the space program in a wider context. He is telling the story of the Apollo 8 flight to the moon, and that's it.
In this he succeeds admirably. If that is all you are looking for, it is well worth a read.
Note: I listened to the audio version of this book. Besides the book, Kluger's recorded interview with Frank Borman is included as well as an edited version of mission transmissions. A nice bonus! ...more
I want to write a review worthy of the book. I think that is going to require some thought and a return to some of what I have just read. But for nowI want to write a review worthy of the book. I think that is going to require some thought and a return to some of what I have just read. But for now let me just say this is a book you DO NOT want to read if you are looking for escapist entertainment. You need to think, on steroids, with this one. For such a short book, it really opens up a Pandora's Box of consequence.
Very solid look at the American space program leading up to Apollo 11's mission to the Moon. Starting with Goddard and Tsiolkovsky, through the GermanVery solid look at the American space program leading up to Apollo 11's mission to the Moon. Starting with Goddard and Tsiolkovsky, through the German program at Peenemunde before and during WWII, and ending with the successful landing on the Moon, Nelson does a great job utilizing the many sources available to him (both primary and secondary); looking at all sides of this history. In particular I was happy he did not shy away from looking at the dark underside of the space race, particularly American and Russian employment of former Nazi's to kick start their programs.
I have always been an unabashed fan of the American Space program. I still am. I much prefer knowing everything about that which I admire - good and bad - to avoid disappointment later.
Beach reading for history nerds. In the tradition of David McCullough, Nathaniel Philbrick and other popularizers of American History, Richard Snow, iBeach reading for history nerds. In the tradition of David McCullough, Nathaniel Philbrick and other popularizers of American History, Richard Snow, in Iron Dawn: The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Battle that Changed History, has taken a well known piece of American History, and transformed it into a rip snorting narrative. In this case, the epic sea battle between the first American ironclads, USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (better known as the Merrimack) has been given the narrative treatment, complete with fleshed out character studies, end of chapter cliff hangers, and a well defined story arc, that easily sucks the reader in. My standard for these books is if by 1/3 of the way through the book you forget you are learning history, it is a success. This book has no trouble meeting that standard.
The book is well written throughout, providing good transitions between chapters that keep you from wanting to take a break. Occasionally though, he breaks this momentum with a slight over adherence to maintaining its chronological format. An example is the chapter detailing the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads in which the Merrimack decimated the U.S. fleet anchored in the harbor. Describing the end of the battle and the commencement of nightfall I was waiting for some prelude to the arrival of the Monitor, which would be both accurate and exciting. He didn't, which took the wind out of my sails a bit as I kept reading. These momentum breaks were few and far between though, so not a serious detriment to the book.
He provides good insight into the building and operation of the two ironclads, without getting over technical, and his narration describes vividly what it was like for the two crews living and working on these ships. He also does a very good job fleshing out the personalities of the important players on each side without breaking the narrative momentum, which is a problem for other authors. There is no interpretive ground broken in this book, which was clearly not the author's intention anyway. He has given us a great story, well told.
Highly Recommended (but wait til a lazy summer day, preferably at the beach, to read it!)...more