"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
Fifteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

WAYNE of GOTHAM (audiobook) by Tracy Hickman



Published by GraphicAudio in 2013.
Multicast Performance.
Duration: Approximately 6 hours.
Unabridged

GraphicAudio has been adapting novels into audiobooks that are performed by 20+ people like an old-fashioned radio play for years. In this case, they have adapted a novel by veteran fantasy/sci-fi writer Tracy Hickman. Hickman doesn't usually write about DC Comics characters, his reputation was made writing books related to the Dungeons and Dragons universe. That being said, the if you are going to make that move, going from knights in shining armor in big castles to the Dark Knight in Wayne Manor is a logical move.

The idea behind the book is a good one - Batman is getting threats and clues relating to his parents and family secrets that would be best kept secret.  The fact that Batman, not his alter ego Bruce Wayne, is getting these threats is significant because it shows that the unknown person knows his secret identity.

While Batman is trying to work this out, it becomes clear that a new villain has arrived in Gotham and this villain has the ability to implant memories into his/her victims and some of those victims are other super villains and they are being made to act on this unknown person's behalf.

More disturbing, Commissioner Gordon has been compromised and Alfred has become shifty and secretive and sometimes confrontational with Bruce Wayne. Batman may be truly alone on this one...

The premise behind this audiobook is solid and some of its luster may have been lost in the adaptation - I don't know because I have not read the original book. For example (*****spoiler alert - skip to the next paragraph), the Commissioner Gordon angle comes up and then just goes away when Batman and Gordon decide that Gordon just has to get over it - and he does.

There are some real strengths however to this book. It makes a nod towards the almost every incarnation of Batman - Adam West's Batman, the 1980's and 1990's movies and the Dark Knight series (it was written before the Justice League movies came out).

 If you are a fan of Batman, certainly give it a listen. It features an aging Batman who knows that he has limitations. It develops a great origin story for Batman's parents and Alfred's father. The lengthy Joker scene is quite good (the actor who portrays Joker is excellent) and even has some comic elements.  But, it is a hit and miss story with lots of description of the various Batmobiles and Batman's suit technology but not enough of the plot where it really counts. 


The idea is strong, but some scenes are fleshed out and some are just left vague, leaving this listener with the feeling that this was a good story, but it could have been so much better. If you are a fan of Batman, certainly give it a listen.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: 
WAYNE of GOTHAM (audiobook) by Tracy Hickman.

Friday, January 11, 2019

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY of the UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn



Originally published in 1980 by HarperCollins. Multiple updated editions have been printed.

Howard Zinn's (1922-2010) A People's History of the United States is perhaps the most famous and most controversial history book in publication today. 

I read this book because the former governor of my home state of Indiana and current President of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels, repeatedly criticized it and actually advocated blocking its use in public schools in Indiana, including Indiana University. Governor Daniels used to be a frequent guest on a local newstalk radio station in Indianapolis and this book came up enough times in the conversations that I became aware of it. Before that I had never heard of it - but he certainly put it on my radar. That's not really what he had intended, I am sure.

I found my copy of A People's History of the United States in a local thrift shop on a half price day, which made this book a true bargain at $1. I decided that, as a good and loyal American I absolutely had to read the book that my state government's former chief executive had decided was "truly execrable" and should be removed from all classrooms and see for myself if he was right.

Zinn has a theme that he hits consistently throughout his book and it is that the "haves" are continually using and abusing the "have-nots" throughout American history although, sometimes, the "haves" give in a bit and let some of the "have-nots" get a little more because it ensures their survival at the top. He argues that this was the case during the American Revolution. He would have been a big promoter of the idea of the 1% vs. the 99% that has come into vogue lately.

He also argues that the elites stoke class envy and racial animosities to create internal rivalries among the lower classes so that they fight among themselves and fail to see who their true enemy is. Throughout the entire book, the details change but this is the basic story.

As a history book, this book succeeds fabulously at hitting that one note over and over and over and over ad nauseam. Is he right? Sure - to a point he is right throughout the book. For example, he is right that the founders envisioned limited participation from the common man in the early American republic. But, other arguments sound hollow. 


For example, on page 37 of my 1990 edition he argues that racial animosities were practically created by the elites as a way to control the slaves. It is a clever argument and it is the culmination of a long argument that he had been making in the previous pages concerning the presence of anti-miscegenation laws in the new world. His presumption that, if left to themselves, the lower classes would have not had any racial issues because the passing of these laws shows that the elites were bothered by interracial romance and conspired to stop it before the lower class united and overthrew them. This sounds too organized for my tastes. Also, I have less faith in human nature than Zinn does - the same base thoughts that he despises in the upper class exist across all of the classes.

Strengths:

-The discussion of Andrew Jackson and Indian Removal.


-The discussion of the labor movement during the Gilded Age/Robber Baron era was particularly well-written and flowed well.

-He covers the governmental overreach during World War I well.

Weaknesses:


-He wrote this book as an antidote to the "hero" version of history - the version that teaches about George Washington's battlefield exploits but overlooks the fact that he held slaves. Sadly, in his zeal to set the record straight, he often overlooks the good (or even great) points about heroes that he is out to debunk. 

-The Andrew Jackson section says literally nothing about Jackson's strongest political fight - his fight against the National Bank. I would have appreciated a look at how the defeat of this bank and the subsequent "panic" (economic recession/depression) affected regular Americans.

-Sadly, he often ignores the "people" and creates a new set of heroes to replace the ones he has debunked. But, he does little to debunk his new heroes so the reader is left with, essentially, the same problem. Also, this does not make it a true "people's" history since people like Frederick Douglass and Emma Goldman are so extraordinary that they are, by definition, not stand-ins for the "everyman".

-The sections on the Vietnam War and the 1970's suffer from just being written too close to when the book was originally printed (1980). I think he was so close to the events that he had a hard time determining what was truly important and what was trivia. This made the book bog down with things like his stories of community newspapers printed on ditto machines as a sign that media was changing. When compared to the tsunami of change that the internet brought to media just a few years later, these little stories are quaint and irrelevant. 

-During the Cold War sections, it never addresses what the other side in this Cold War was doing and at least acknowledging that America and its allies had reasons to be wary of the USSR and its allies.

************

As I stated above, Zinn hits one note throughout the book. This note does appear in most mainstream history books, but not in great quantity. So, the book has value in that it does bring that part of American to the forefront. But, since it does not waver from its obsessive focus, it becomes a tool of limited value. To quote Abraham Maslow: 
  "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

Now, to go back to the beginning of my review - would I outlaw this book from being used in a classroom? No, of course not. But, I do not think it should be the only text used in a class. Individual chapters are sold as smaller books and I think that would be appropriate. If it were a year-long class I might have students read the whole thing so long as they were reading lots of other works.

I don't see what the big fuss is on either side, to be honest.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 
A People's History of the United States.