"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No, They Can't: Why Government Fails - But Individuals Succeed (audiobook) by John Stossel

Libertarianism thought delivered painlessly by nice guy Stossel

Published April 10, 2012 by Simon and Schuster Audio.
Read by the author, John Stossel
Duration: 9 hours, 14 minutes

The title of this audiobook, No, They Can't is a play on the 2008 campaign slogan of then-candidate Obama, "Yes We Can!" Stossel, of course, is the TV consumer reporter turned anchor of ABC's 20/20 who now hosts a weekly show of Fox Business News and a series on one-hour specials on Fox News. He has won nineteen Emmy Awards. He begins his book with an explanation of why he left ABC after more than 20 years and how the culture of ABC made it very uncomfortable for him to explore stories in any way except the tried and true politically correct way.

The premise of the this audiobook is that the entire thought process behind that campaign slogan is wrong  - the government cannot do a lot of the things that people want it to do, and even if everyone agreed it should give those things a try, it would do a very poor job of them because government is inefficient at almost everything it does.

Stossel is an outspoken but soft-spoken Libertarian and he makes a very thoughtful presentation of Libertarian thought on a variety of topics. He generally starts with a variation on this phrase: "Intuition tells me...but reality has taught me..." and presents a commonly held belief (like minimum wage laws helping younger workers) and then presents research that shows that that belief is incorrect (many have no skills and having to pay them more than they are worth means they are unlikely to be hired in the first place).

Stossel covers a variety of topics including free trade, how federal regulations can help the businesses they are intended to regulate, food police, government-provided health insurance, the "nanny state" government, gun control and lots more. The strength of the audiobook is not the ideas (they are fairly standard Libertarian fare) but the way that Stossel presents them. Stossel is inherently likable and he has done a lot of thinking and research to present his arguments in clear, everyday language. His "Intuition tells me...but reality has taught me..." format acknowledges the logic of people that disagree with him and then he lays out his arguments with his nice guy style.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on May 30, 2012.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

The first of a set - "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse"

Published by  W. W. Norton and Company (April 1, 1999)

Most readers of those two books read Guns, Germs and Steel before Collapse in the order in which they were published. I, however, read them in reverse order of publication. Many were critical of Collapse because it was too close to Guns, Germs and Steel in theme and topics covered. I suppose that I am a bit disappointed as well, but not too much.

Yes, they cover some of the same material, but really they are the twin sides of the same coin - the rise of societies and the fall of societies. With a little bit of editing, Jared Diamond could have merged these two books into one and created one monster-sized tome (800 plus pages) on the rise and fall of societies around the world.

Diamond's theses are cogent, coherent and clear. Really, it is a wonderful volume for the student of world history who wishes to take some steps into the deeper end of the scholarship pool. Despite the easy writing style (Personally, I've never had much respect for some serious scholars who seem to delight in making their texts as dense and difficult as possible), these are lofty thoughts that are often painstakingly laid out.

On occasion, Mr. Diamond's descriptions were a little too detailed (especially concerning the domestication of grains) and I found myself skimming several pages. But, those moments were rare and normally I found it to be interesting in the least and from time to time I had an "Aha!" moment while reading.

If you enjoy this one, be sure to read Collapse.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Guns, Germs and Steel.

I give this one 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on October 3, 2006.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

15 Seconds by Andrew Gross

To be published July 10, 2012 by William Morrow (DWD's Reviews received a preview copy from the publisher)

Andrew Gross has learned a thing or two from his former writing partner, James Patterson. In this case, he has learned to deliver a great summer read. Nothing too complicated. Don't think about it too much - just go with the book and let it take you for a ride.

In 15 Seconds, we get a man-on-the-run because he is falsely accused of murdering a police officer. Henry Steadman is a well-respected plastic surgeon who donates lots of time and money for worthy causes. Suddenly, he's being hunted by every police officer in town for a murder that he did not commit (but he did witness it) - and they are in a shoot first, ask questions later mood. To make matters worse, Henry gets a phone call from the real killer telling him that his daughter has been kidnapped and will be killed if Henry turns himself in.

So, Henry runs for his life while he tries to figure out who really killed the police officer and has taken his daughter.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 15 Seconds.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on May 23, 2012.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hell's Legionnaire (audiobook) by L. Ron Hubbard

 Join the French Foreign Legion for grit, danger and adventure.

Multicast performance  
Published by Galaxy Audio
Duration: 2 hours, 18 minutes

First published in the magazine Mystery Adventures in 1935 , Hell's Legionnaire is part of a large series of books and stories that are being re-published by Galaxy Press as part of their Golden Age Stories series. In reality, they are a collection of L. Ron Hubbard's early works that were published in magazines and as pulp fiction books. Hubbard was a prolific writer and he wrote a lot of action stories that translate quite well into the multicast performance audiobook format. The book is performed by several cast members with sound effects and are reminiscent of the old-time radio shows that were popular when the stories were written.

This audiobook consists of three short stories. All of the stories are about the famed French Foreign Legion and their fights with the Berbers in North Africa. The first is the title story. Hell's Legionnaire features a member of the Foreign Legion who has gone AWOL because he has killed an officer in self-defense. As he is fleeing, he stumbles across a Berber camp that has taken a group of American geographers prisoner and has tortured and killed them all, except for one beautiful woman. The escaping Legionnaire must decide if she should save her and possibly lose his own life (to the Berbers or to the French).

The second story, The Barbarians, is the best of the three stories, but also the most gruesome. It features graphic violence and details a torture scene. When the head of a legionnaire is sent to a Legion fort in a box, Captain Jack Harvey is sent out to find Caid Kizigh, the Berber tribal leader who is responsible. Of course, lots of violence and mayhem ensue.

The last story, The Squad That Never Came Back, is a sad commentary on human nature. It is the longest story (at 1 hour, 10 minutes it is longer than the other two stories combined). It tells the story of a corporal who leads an eight man squad out on a patrol only to find that the Berbers are a dangerous enemy, but gold-crazed legionnaires are even worse. It turns out several of his men know where a ancient stash of gold and jewels are hidden in an ancient Roman city and some of them are determined to get it  - and get rid of everyone who could claim a share of it.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Hell's Legionnaire.

Reviewed on May 21, 2012.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Crossroads (audiobook) by L. Ron Hubbard

Multicast performance
Published by Galaxy Audio
Duration: 2 hours, 17 minutes

First published in the magazine Unknown in 1941, The Crossroads is part of a large series of books and stories that are being re-published by Galaxy Press as part of their Golden Age Stories series. In reality, they are a collection of L. Ron Hubbard's early works that were published in magazines and as pulp fiction books. Hubbard was a prolific writer and he wrote a lot of action stories that translate quite well into the multicast performance audiobook format. The book is performed by several cast members and are reminiscent of the old-time radio shows that were popular when the stories were written.

This audiobook consists of 3 short stories. The first story is the title story. The Crossroads is the story of an old farmer in the Depression who thinks that the Roosevelt Administration's orders for farmers to destroy food (in an effort to raise prices for food) is just plain silly when there are hungry people in the city. So, he loads up a wagon with vegetables, hitches up his horse and heads off to the city to sell them.

But, on the way he comes upon an unmarked crossroads. He decides to just wait until someone comes by and can point out the direction he should go. But...this is a crossroads in time and space and the three roads lead to three very different places. The farmer interacts with all three of them and barters his vegetables for a great number of things until he decides it is time to just head home...if he can!

The second story is Borrowed Glory. It features a lonely old woman who is dying. She has no family, no money and no friends. Two genies look at her and decide to bet on human nature. One believes that she will appreciate 48 hours of youth, beauty, wealth and romance. She will gladly go back to her old, lonely self and savor the memories. The other genie bets that she will be even more miserable having realized all of her dreams and then lost them. The story itself is quick with a memorable twist. Worthy of a Twilight Zone episode, except that Hubbard wrote it about 20 years before Rod Serling was making them!

The third story, The Devil's Rescue, features a sailor who is lost at sea and picked up by The Flying Dutchman, the legendary cursed ship that can never come to port. When the Devil himself comes to check out the Dutchman's newest crew member there are lots of surprises for everyone.

This collection is quite strong. These three stories, even though they are very different in tone, make for a fine two hours of listening.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Crossroads.

Reviewed on May 20, 2012.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

A True Classic

First published in 1939.
Winner of The National Book Award in 1940.

Richard Llewellyn (1906-1983)

I read How Green Was My Valley way back in high school more than twenty-five years ago and I remembered it fondly, if vaguely. I found it on the bargain shelf at a local bookseller and I picked it up on a whim. Sometimes, when you re-read a book from your childhood it is much worse than you remember because tastes mature. In this case, I found How Green Was My Valley to be even better than I remembered.

The book is set in Wales and features a family of Welsh coal miners and is told through the point of view of Huw Morgan, the youngest member of the family. Llewellyn captures small town life and Welsh customs and makes the reader feel the rhythm of their lives. These are turbulent times in Wales - the wages for coal miners are dropping because there are fewer jobs to be had and more men than ever to fill them. Their world is changing and families are breaking up to move to America and other places that have more opportunities.

But, the book is not just a story of economic woe. It is the story of a boy standing up to bullies, of boys becoming men, of the difficulty of living life and showing Christian forgiveness, first love, forbidden love, the dangers of denying true love and, most of all, it is a story that emphasizes the importance of family.

If you have seen the 1941 movie (as I recently have), the book is far superior to the movie.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: How Green Was My Valley

Reviewed on May 19, 2012

Trouble on His Wings (audiobook) by L. Ron Hubbard

Multicast performance
Published by Galaxy Audio
Duration: 2 hours, 6 minutes

First published in the magazine Five-Novels Monthly in 1939, Trouble on His Wings is part of a large series of books and stories that are being re-published by Galaxy Press as part of their Golden Age Stories series. In reality, they are a collection of L. Ron Hubbard's early works that were published in magazines and as pulp fiction books. Hubbard was a prolific writer and he wrote a lot of action stories that translate quite well into the multicast performance audiobook format.

This audiobook features Johnny Brice and Irish Donnegan, two news cameramen who work for a company that makes those newsreels that used to run at the movie theaters. Brice and Donnegan will go anywhere and do just about anything for the big news story, including jumping out of airplanes, get shot at, braving forest fires and flying into a war zone.

While on a big story, they pick up a beautiful girl that they call "Jinx." They call her Jinx because when she is around things seem to go wrong for Donnegan and Brice and they get into lots of trouble, both when they are filming their stories and with their boss back in New York City. Brice wants to dump Jink as soon as possible but he discovers that she is wanted by unknown pursuers and he fears for her life so he reluctantly keeps her at his side as his career unravels. It seems that "Jinx" truly is a jinx.

Brice and Donnegan are a likeable pair and the actors that portray them convey a sense of camaraderie and respect for one another as they try to work through this patch of bad luck. The low level sexual tension between Jinx and Brice keeps the story moving along nicely as they alternately flirt and fight and Brice works to get away from her and then goes off in search of her.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Trouble on His Wings.

Reviewed on May 19. 2012.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Death Waits at Sundown (audiobook) by L. Ron Hubbard

Lots of fun in a small package.

Duration: Approximately 2 hours
Multicast Performance
Published by Galaxy Press

First published in Western Story Magazine in 1938, Death Waits at Sundown is part of a large series of books and stories that are being re-published by Galaxy Press as part of their Golden Age Stories series. In reality, they are a collection of L. Ron Hubbard's early works that were published in magazines and as pulp fiction books. Hubbard was a prolific writer and he wrote a lot of action stories that translate quite well into the multicast performance audiobook format.

This audiobook is actually three short stories. The first story is the title story of the collection. It features a wrongly accused man named Frank Taylor. He has been convicted of murder and robbery so that the new town sheriff can confiscate his land. But, the new sheriff never counted on Frank's brother, a famed gunslinger from Texas, comes to town to save his brother.

The second story (Ride 'Em Cowboy) is a love story that takes place during three rodeo events. I think it is the strongest of the three stories. Long Tom Banner (a national rodeo champion) has a crush on Vicky Steward, the most successful woman on the rodeo circuit. But, sparks fly as he tries to express his feelings while they compete against one another in three rodeo events.

The Boss of the Lazy B is the last story. It also features a frustrated man but the story is much more complicated and the ending was less satisfying than that of Ride 'Em Cowboy. Big Bill Bailey is the area's most successful local rancher. He leads a posse to arrest Spick Murphy, a well-known rustler who is rumored to have killed more than a dozen men - and nearly gets killed in the process. Bailey's love interest, Susan Spice, decides that Murphy has been wrongly accused, succeeds in helping Murphy defend himself in the trial and then hires Murphy as a hand at her ranch. But, can Murphy be trusted and will Big Bill Bailey get past this insult to his judgment?

This series is a great bit of escapist fiction.  The multicast performance sounds like an old-fashioned radio drama. Lots of fun in a small package.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on May 17, 2012.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Morning of Fire: John Kendrick's Daring American Odyssey in the Pacific by Scott Ridley

Well-researched but ultimately fails in its goal

Published by William Morrow in 2010

John Kendrick was a well-respected sailor from the Boston area during the Revolutionary War era. He was rumored to have participated in the Boston Tea Party. He captained a privateer, captured prizes and was highly regarded by political and business leaders and the men who sailed on his ships.

As America struggled to revive its foreign trade after the Revolutionary War (The United States was officially cut off from English trade) tales came to Boston about the beautiful furs available along the Northern Pacific coast of North America. Investors hired Kendrick to lead an expedition of two ships to explore the trading opportunities in the Pacific. Kendrick set off in 1787 to find new markets for American goods. He ended up visiting what is now Alaska, Washington State and British Columbia, Hawaii, China and Japan. He nearly sparked a war between Spain and England, got involved in a brutal war in Hawaii, nearly was killed by officials in Japan (if he had been discovered), survived a monsoon, suffered through the bureaucratic shenanigans of Chinese port officials and was betrayed by the captain of the second ship of his expedition.

Reading about all of that adventure makes this book sound like it would be exciting, but this book does not live up to the exciting life lived by Kendrick.

What this book does well:

-This book is extraordinarily well researched. I would imagine that Ridley laid his eyes on every known scrap of paper that mentioned Kendrick or his voyage that has survived to the modern day. He includes dispatches sent to the court of Spain and England, notes from his American employers and more.

-America's place in the geopolitical situation of the day is laid out nicely. Spain was declining, Britain was pushing to take over its role as master of the Pacific, Russia was pushing into the Northern Pacific from its Asian ports, France was floundering in the throes of the French Revolution, China was involved in trade only, Hawaii was coveted by all of the major powers as a place to refit ships in the middle of the Pacific.

What this book does poorly:

-Ridley establishes that Kendrick was the first American in the area and he compares him to Lewis and Clark and Daniel Boone. However, that is not an apt comparison. Daniel Boone and his generation of explorers directly led to the American occupation of the Ohio River Valley and the Tennessee Valley. Lewis and Clark's route to the Pacific, especially their trip up the Missouri River was, quite literally, the route taken by hundreds and later thousands of settlers within a generation or two of their trip. Kendrick's men were the first Americans to reach the Washington State area, but it was largely settled by Americans who followed Lewis and Clark's route.

-I found this book caught up in its own minutiae, and the larger goal (why Kendrick's long trip was important) was lost in the ups and downs of fur prices and blow-by-blow details of negotiations. I learned about the prices of furs in China, the nasty wars of Hawaii's various kings and how Western involvement was a factor, about how England and Spain nearly came to war over the Pacific (what Kendrick does not stress is that England and Spain nearly came to war over some thing or another many, many times while England was ascending and Spain was declining on the world stage). Spain's strategies to recapture its actual control of the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys (it had the Mississippi Valley in name, but not much control in reality) were discussed. So much detail was involved that I often felt like I was slogging through the book. The telling of the story drowns in the sea of details. When Ridley pulled out of full detail mode the book was quite excellent. But then the extraneous details would start to fill the book again. I literally read dozens of histories a year and I am a history teacher. I love reading history and this book was a chore for me to read.

-Too much of the historical record has been lost. Ridley has reference after reference to what Kendrick "may have" or "probably" did. While these leaps of faith and logic all made sense, it may have been more prudent for the author to have pulled away from his devotion to detail and simply lay out the facts he had and tell the story in a broader sense rather than insisting on a detailed look at facts he really did not have.

I rate this history 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Morning of Fire.

Reviewed on May 12, 2012.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp) (audiobook) by Vince Flynn

Continuing with the "prequels" of the Mitch Rapp story

Published in 2012 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Read by George Guidall
Duration: 10 hours, 49 minutes.

Vince Flynn's long-running character Mitch Rapp was introduced and developed as a successful and established CIA Counter-terrorism agent - sort of an American James Bond, if you will. He is dangerous, effective, and willing to break the rules in order to get the job done. After ten books featuring Rapp, author Vince Flynn decided to explore Rapp's early years. This is the second book in that exploration of his early years.

Rapp's bosses have developed a list of terrorists that Rapp is supposed to terminate. These assassinations have all been quick, clean affairs - there is no collateral damage, no clues are left behind and terrorists around the globe are left to wonder who is next on the list. The book starts with Rapp on a mission to assassinate a Libyan terrorist who is visiting Paris and staying at a high class Paris hotel. All seems to go well until Rapp is surprised by a team of armed men and he is forced to fight his way out of the terrorist's hotel room and flee for his life. Rapp assumes that his mission was compromised by someone at the CIA - someone has gotten their hands on the list and was waiting for him. The firefight at the hotel kills 9 people and the CIA assumes that Rapp has gone rogue. Rapp searches for the men who set him up and for anyone he can trust in the CIA while the CIA tries to find him and sort through all of the mayhem and destruction to find the truth.

The action in this book is first rate. The premise is also first rate. The book would have been better if there had been less long conversations amongst all of the conspirators and more summaries of those conversations. An hour could easily have been edited out of this audiobook and it would have done nothing but make it better.

That being said, George Guidall's strong narration and easy mastery of multiple accents (French, Spanish, Arab, British, Southern and even more) make the book an enjoyable listen. Perfect way to make the morning commute a bit more interesting.

Get this book on Amazon.com here: Kill Shot by Vince Flynn.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on May 5, 2012.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid (audiobook) (abridged) by Denis Leary

Published in 2008 by Penguin Audio
Read by the author, Denis Leary
Duration: 5 hours (abridged)

Denis Leary. If you have never seen his act before, catch a bit of him on the internet and see if he suits your tastes. If he does, this book is just a lot more of the same - Leary's acid commentary on stupid parents, the Catholic Church, why there won't be many female race car drivers, obese people, helicopter parents, George W. Bush, his family and just about everything else are designed to outrage as much as entertain. Do not listen to this book if foul language or rude comments are a deal-breaker.

Leary's tales of his childhood are actually quite endearing and they make up the best part of the book. His anger at the Catholic Church is only partially tempered by respect for the Catholic school that he attended as a child (in reality, the Catholic Church becomes the whipping boy for all organized religion) and his politics clearly run to the Democrat side of the spectrum. His arguments are entertaining (usually), but not always coherent. He never quite addresses the issue of correcting the problem that too many Americans are "fat, loud, lazy and stupid" except to stress the importance of family.

Leary reads the book himself and any listener familiar with Leary's performances will recognize that this book is essentially an extended version of his live show - it is well-polished, smooth and comes off feeling fresh.

Get this book as a download at Audible.com by clicking here.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on May 4, 2012.

Rabbit in the Moon (audiobook) by Deborah Shlian and Joel Shlian

Published in 2011 by Spoken Word, Inc.
Read by Barbara Whitesides
Duration: 12 hours, 40 minutes.

If I told you that I had just listened to a thriller set in China during the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989 involving secret plots among the top levels of the hardline Chinese leadership, the underground protest movement, an adventurous young Chinese-American doctor who is just beginning to learn about her Chinese roots, an intricate plot to keep her trapped in China by an evil man, a budding romance, Chinese gangsters, a corrupt Korean businessman, a motorcycle chase, gunfights, daring escapes, an introduction to Taoist philosophy and a possible cure to aging you would think that this would be a real whiz-bang listen.

The book revolves around Dr. Lili Quan, a Chinese-American doctor who is offered the chance to study in China. It turns out that certain members of China's corrupt leadership have brought her to China to use her as a tool to get at her grandfather's (he is also a doctor and Lili thought he was dead) secret cure to aging. Meanwhile, the Tienanmen Square protests are starting up and Lili Quan finds herself being torn by loyalty to her family, the lure of new medical discoveries,  her new romantic interest and her desire to escape to freedom in America.

But, slow pacing, incessant  flashbacks (surely there must be a different way to remind the listener about an important point than a flashback to the scene just a few pages back that repeats the character verbatim?) and a budding romance that goes into way too much detail and angst for this guy just drags the book down. A couple of hours of this audiobook could have been edited out and made it a much more exciting read.

Barbara Whitesides does give a strong performance. She is especially strong with the variety of Chinese accents (male and female, old and young). However, the story is just not as strong as her skills.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Rabbit in the Moon.

Reviewed on May 4, 2012.