"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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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas: The Story Behind An American Friendship by Russell Freedman

Another winning book by Russell Freedman

To be published in June of 2012 by Clarion Books (DWD's Reviews received an advance copy for review purposes)

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for his 1989 book Lincoln: A Photobiography and he returns to familiar ground with this dual biography. He begins with Douglass and then alternates back and forth between the two men, highlighting important aspects of their lives and the areas that they had in common (such as being self-educated, self-made men).

The almost square shape of the book lends itself to pictures and Freedmen fills the book with drawings, etchings and photographs of the era, including the image I have included here of a "Watch Meeting." Thousands of people gathered together to await word of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation (he had promised to do so several months earlier unless the Confederate States returned to the Union). I had no idea that such events occurred, but Freedman includes the image I have posted on the left and makes the day and the event come alive as a point of intersection of these two lives.

The first time these men met was after the Proclamation was signed. Douglass was concerned about the African-Americans who were now permitted to join the regular army by the Emancipation Proclamation. He wanted to insure that they would really be able to join the fight, that they would receive the same pay as white soldiers and that they would be able to become officers. He and Lincoln talked for a long time and even though Douglass had sometimes been a bitter critic of Lincoln (he thought he moved too slowly on emancipation), he came away impressed. He and Lincoln seem to have gotten along quite well and Douglass left impressed. For his part, Lincoln told Douglass to come see him whenever he came to Washington, D.C.

Calling Lincoln and Douglass friends is, of course, an exaggeration. They got along well, they respected one another and, if there had been enough time, probably would have become friends. Sadly, the assassination of Lincoln makes that all just speculation.  But, they certainly had an excellent friendly relationship and it always interesting to see how two towering figures of American history interacted with one another.

This is an excellent dual biography for students in middle school and upper elementary and certainly belongs in every school library and social studies classroom library that has students of that age.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas: The Story Behind An American Friendship.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Idiots Unplugged: Truth for Those Who Care to Listen (audiobook) by Glenn Beck

Beck makes his points but this is a tedious collection.

Published in 2010 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Read by Glenn Beck and Pat Gray
Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Idiots Unplugged is a collection of promotional sketches that were aired on Beck's nationally syndicated radio show to promote his 2010 book Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government. Every sketch starts and ends with the same theme song (which means you get to hear it 15 or 16 times in an hour and 15 minutes of listening! Fun? No.)

Every sketch consists of Pat Gray speaking with a muppet-like voice and stating some sort of fairly common liberal argument. Beck then lays out his counter-argument, tells you where to find it in his book and then the liberal caller calls him fatso or makes some other insult about his weight.

While Beck's arguments were generally sound, the easy, slow pitch softball style set up of the questions make the arguments way too pat and simple. These sketches were probably pretty entertaining when originally aired on the radio show with 24 hours between each of them, but back to back to back to back they lost a lot of their oomph.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Idiots Unplugged: Truth for Those Who Care to Listen.

Reviewed on April 19, 2012.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Phantom Patrol (audiobook) by L. Ron Hubbard

Duration: Approximately 2 hours
Multicast Performance
Published by Galaxy Press

First published in 1935, The Phantom Patrol 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 Phantom Patrol is the story of Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Johnny Trescott who commands a patrol boat looking for drug smugglers off of the coast of Louisiana. He and his small crew have been working for months to catch one smuggler in particular and are close to catching him. While closing in on this smuggler, they are called away by a distress call from a plane that has made an emergency landing in the water. The smuggler turns the tables and gets the drop on the Coast Guard boat and captures it, the crew and the survivors of the plane wreck...and that's just the beginning of an action-filled adventure with romance, gunfights and plenty of intrigue.

The fact that this book was performed by multiple cast members makes this story very entertaining - very much like the old-time radio shows that were popular when these stories were written.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

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

Reviewed on April 11, 2012.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flameout: The Rise and Fall of Burger Chef by John P. McDonald

Lessons on how to grow and then kill a restaurant chain

Published in 2011 by CreateSpace

In Flameout, John P. McDonald tells the story of Burger Chef, the one burger company that outpaced McDonald's and could have taken its place at the top of the fast food heap. In 1971 there were 1,200 Burger Chef restaurants and less than 1,300 McDonald's restaurants. By 1982, what was left of Burger Chef was folded into the Hardee's chain and was no more.

I was particularly interested in this book because when I was a kid, the Burger Chef Fun Meal with Burger Chef and Jeff and all of the punch out things you could make with the tray/box were just about the best restaurant experience a little boy could have.

This could have been a very boring tale, but McDonald makes it interesting. He tells about the innovations that took Burger Chef from being just a demonstration restaurant (it was designed to showcase the restaurant equipment manufactured by General Equipment) to the fastest growing restaurant chain in America. And, just as clearly, he details the leadership confusion that led Burger Chef to disaster.

This was a good read, especially for all of us fans of the Fun Meal!

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Flameout: The Rise and Fall of Burger Chef

Reviewed on April 10, 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Roadwork (audiobook) by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)

A story of a man whose world has fallen apart

Published in 2010 by Penguin Audio
Read by: G. Valmont Thomas
Duration: 9 hours, 40 minutes.

Way back in 1981 Stephen King released Roadwork under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Bachman was the name King used to sell pulp fiction type stories so that he could afford to pay his bills and not hurt his reputation as he waited for his work he submitted under his name to take off. King opens this book with an interesting introduction that explains his rather complex relationship with his pseudonym.

Roadwork, on the surface, is simple enough. A man in this forties is losing his house, his job and the memories that he holds dearest to the expansion of a highway through his neighborhood. Due to imminent domain, Barton George Dawes will lose his last connections to his son who has died three years earlier due to a brain tumor. He will lose the house that he and his wife scraped and scrimped to buy. He will lose his career at the local laundry and the memories of the brothers who loaned him the money to go to college so that he could help them with their family business. His son is gone, the laundry has been swallowed up by a large corporation (he manages it for them and they show little interest in the business), his wife has become less of a friend and lover and more of a roommate.

Basically, Dawes' life has fallen apart and he is angry about it. Very angry.

Stephen King
Dawes refuses to look for a new place to live, even though the rest of his neighbors have sold out and moved on. He refuses to search for a new location for the laundry. Instead, he quietly goes behind everyone's backs and purchases weapons and contacts a local mobster about buying explosives so he can blow up the highway.

As a forty-something myself, I found myself sympathizing with Dawes to a point. Dawes has invested everything in a life that has come to nothing - no family, no job, not even the house he has worked for all of these years.

G. Valmont Thomas did a remarkable job of voicing Dawes, his internal alter-ego (Dawes often talks to another person in his mind) and the supporting characters in this tragedy. There is no great moral in this book,  no happy ending. It is a tragedy in the original sense of the word - everyone can see it coming from a mile away but what can a man do when he has nothing left to lose?

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Roadwork

Reviewed on April 6, 2012.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely

To be published in June of 2012 (DWD's Reviews received an uncorrected proof advance copy) by Harper.

Dan Ariely's The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty is a fun look at a serious topic - lying. Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, describes his simple experiments and details his results in a light, easy to understand way. His results are often surprising and counter-intuitive.

For example, it is often considered that people are dishonest because they have calculated the risk of being caught and the reward if they get away with the dishonesty and act accordingly. Ariely demonstrates that this is incorrect and spends the rest of the book showing what conditions are more likely to cause dishonest behavior and what conditions decrease dishonesty.

This could have been a stupefyingly dull book, but Ariely has a deft touch and makes it a very fun and very quick read.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves

Reviewed on April 3, 2012.

Imperfect: An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott and Tim Brown

Entertaining Sports Autobiography

Published by Ballantine Books in April of 2012

Jim Abbott will always be known as "that one-handed pitcher" and in Imperfect he discusses the fact that his life has always been defined by his birth defect. Or, has it? As I read this book I found myself wondering if his missing hand limited him, propelled him or if he would have gone just as far if he had had both hands?

Abbott and Brown work together to create a very readable, entertaining book. I found the descriptions of 1970s and 1980s era Flint, Michigan and his life growing up just as compelling as his stories of how he overcame the difficulties he encountered by having just one hand.

I was aware of Jim Abbott as he played but as his career waned I lost track of him. Also, I had no memory of his playing in the 1987 Pan-American games in Indianapolis even though I have always lived in Indiana and those games were a very big deal when Indianapolis hosted them.

Abbott tells the story as a series of flashbacks told as he describes his no-hitter he pitched on September 4, 1993 against the Cleveland Indians. It is an interesting way to build the book - the book ends with his success in the game as he describes a frustrating erosion of his skills as a pitcher that caused him to retire in 1999. We hear precious little about his post-baseball life. If the assumption was that the average reader would not care, that is a disservice. I would have enjoyed reading more about his transition to the non-baseball world.

I was especially touched by his tales of parents bringing kids to meet him when he was a major leaguer. He grew weary of them because they could be emotionally draining, but he ended up appreciating the fact that he was a living example of overcoming a problem that certainly would have stopped most people. It is a testament to Abbott that he grasped his value of his celebrity and used it in such a personal way.

I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Reviewed on April 3, 2012.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II by Penny Colman

A well-written different view on the story of World War II

Published in 2002 by Crown Publishers (Random House)

This book is aimed at students from grades 5-12, although I found it interesting and learned a lot.

World War II histories abound. Histories of the complete war, various theaters, biographies of units and single officers fill the bookshelves. I have seen books that look at the role of women in the war - the home front, as pilots, intelligence officers and so on. But, I have never seen anything about female war correspondents. I did not even know that there were female war correspondents - I simply assumed that the sexist attitudes of the day would have not allowed them to work.

Happily, I have been enlightened by Penny Colman. She tells the story of the war through the eyes of several female war correspondents - sometimes through direct quotes, sometimes through reproductions of the headlines of their articles that are placed throughout like in a scrapbook. The history of the war and the story of these war correspondents was woven together seamlessly and very well done. The pictures are either pictures of the women correspondents or pictures taken by them (or both).

Female correspondents were everywhere - at the taking of the Sudetenland by German, scooped the rest of the world on the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, among the refugees fleeing Paris, in Moscow when Germany attacked the USSR, in Europe, on Iwo Jima, there when concentration camps were liberated, in Italy and on and on and on.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on April 2, 2012.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Car Talk: The Greatest Stories Ever Told: Once Upon a Car Fire (audiobook) by Tom Magliozzi and Ray Magliozzi

Published in 2006 by HighBridge
Duration: 1 hour

Usually Ray and Tom Magliozzi's "Car Talk" show on NPR is a mixture of humor, stories and lots of advice on car repair and maintenance. This collection, though, is all funny stories (only the barest amount of car advice is given).  There are sixteen stories in all, with topics ranging from the dangers of carrying plywood on the roof of your car to what to do if a customer brings in a really smelly car to how one of the brother's did during his stint in the army as a young man (hint: not well). Some are really funny, some are merely amusing but if you are a fan of the show you will enjoy this collection.

Get this audiobook from Amazon.com here: Car Talk: The Greatest Stories Ever Told: Once Upon a Car Fire.
I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on April 1, 2012.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (abridged audiobook) by Vonda N. McIntyre

Published in 1986 by Simon and Schuster
Read by Leonard Nimoy and George Takei
Duration: 90 minutes

I picked up this audiobook on cassette at a clearance book sale in the "who's going to want this stuff?" section. Mostly, it was serious junk. Educational software that only operates on Apple IIe,  VHS copies of movies that I've never heard of starring some guy that was on some TV show that I barely remember and DVDs of some pastor's sermons on any number of topics (still in the plastic!). And, suddenly, I find a memory from my high school and college years - a genuine Star Trek audiobook from 1986!...on audiocassette! And...narrated by George Takei and Leonard Nimoy! So, I scuttle out of there like I've found a gold bar and pop it in car's cassette player - one of the advantages of having a 12 year old car is that it has a multimedia (CD and cassette) stereo system.

Back in the day, audiobooks were almost always abridged, sometimes criminally. This 274 page book is abridged to a mere 90 minutes. To be honest, if it weren't for my faded memories of the movie, I don't even know if there is enough plot here to tell the story.

George Takei from a scene in the movie Star Trek IV

But, I enjoyed it immensely - I am a fan . Takei reads the story except for the internal musings of Spock, which are, of course, handled by Nimoy. It turns out that George Takei is a very strong audiobook narrator. His Scottish accent for Scotty is very strong, his southern accent for McCoy is smooth and understated and his Kirk is interesting. Several times Takei sneaks in his take on Shatner's stilted....way...of...pausing....when...he...speaks. I loved it.

So, in a sentence, the book is way too abridged but the fact that it was narrated by Takei and Nimoy made it a joy to listen to anyway.

Get this book as a audio download from Audible on Amazon.com here: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Adapted) .

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on April 1, 2012.