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Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

June 2007

reviewed by Jonathan Lowe

We all do it. After all, it's so easy to do. Just type out a letter or message, and two seconds later hit the "Send" button. Was it a mistake? Quite possibly, according to David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, authors of SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. For in sending an electronic letter, which you didn't have to print and fold and insert and stamp--and then take to a mailbox-- there wasn't time to reconsider your email's wording or necessity or possible effect. And then there's the punctuation to consider, and the innate tendency for an email's tone to be misconstrued. And what are the legal ramifications, since emails can now be introduced into court as evidence, as happened with Enron? Should you cc or bcc someone, or not? What happens if you attach a file to an email without asking permission first, and your recipient needs to get to a vital email just past yours in a hurry? How are your blunders and intrusions likely to predispose a client toward you, in such a case? People have been fired for sending emails to fellow office workers. People have been jailed over emails. But after listening to this sometimes amusing audiobook, read by the authors (who switch back and forth to preserve pacing and clarity) , you will definitely think twice before hitting the Send button, and that alone is worth the price of admission. In the meantime, they suggest picking up a pen or a telephone instead, which is sometimes the better choice anyway. (Random House Audio--2 hours abridged) Amazon

What is the definition of a pirate? You might be surprised, after hearing EMPIRE OF BLUE WATER by Stephan Talty. It's the true story of Henry Morgan, a Welshman who attacked a major Spanish port in the Caribbean in a decisive battle for the New World in the late 17th Century, and delivered a shocking result. The complex relationships revealed about this age of empire and exploration, together with the world views expressed by those in England and Spain, make the book interesting in itself. Add some bizarre characters, given life by narrator and actor John H. Mayer, and you have a fascinating tale of hard times set on the briny sea, where subterfuge and bold cunning matter just as much, if not more, than cannon shot. The fact that Morgan did not consider himself to be a wild man or pirate, but rather a faithful servant to the Crown, bears its own irony, too, and enables him to transcend the clichéd image of the pirate perpetuated by Hollywood. As real life usually does. (Random House Audio--6 1/2 hours abridged) Amazon

In THE CANON author Natalie Angier presents "A whirligig tour of the beautiful basics of science." Starting with an in depth examination of what science is--and is not--she describes the scientific method, including some definitions of terms. For instance, the word "theory" as used by scientists is quite different than the same word used by laymen. A "theory" is more like an established, proven fact, whether it be the "theory of evolution” or the "theory of gravity." What follows is an overview of physics, biology, chemistry, geology, and astronomy. Having interviewed hundreds of scientists over the course of her career as a science writer, Angier is also conscious of her audience enough to know that a straightforward presentation of so many facts is likely to daze as much as dazzle. So she adds a plethora of witticisms and metaphors to illustrate the concepts, with an ear for word play and irony. What exactly is electricity or stem cell research or gravity? One needs only enough curiosity to look beyond the sports page to this book for the fascinating answers. Narrator and actress Nike Doukas deserves no small credit, as well, for enlivening the engaging text with her own amiable personality, standing in for the author with her gift for inspiring enthusiasm. (Highbridge Audio--13 hours unabridged) Amazon

THE SECRET is a curious bestseller. Mostly hype without substance, it began as a website, much like "Blair Witch Project," and claims to reveal the great secret of wealth and fulfillment, employed by geniuses throughout the ages. What is this incredible secret? Think about what you want, and it will be attracted to you. Author Rhonda Byrne narrates, along with a host of motivational speakers, and even a wacky quantum physicist who has signed on to the idea that there's something mystical going on here. We are all like massive radio towers, Byrne says, broadcasting our thoughts to the universe, which senses the vibrational energy emitted, and responds accordingly. Aided by endless commentary of the "I agree, I agree" sort, the few points made by the book are repeated like indoctrination, while a moody yet beatific sound track lends it all the air of revelation. Want a Hummer or a private jet? That could be in your future, too, if you concentrate hard enough on it. Never mind global warming, or whether you SHOULD want more and more. Never mind the Biblical admonition that the love of money is the root of all evil, either, or any Eastern values concerned with accepting what is. Byrne, the Anti- Christ of popcorn psychology, would have you focus your thoughts on riches instead of seeking one's identity beyond thoughts--the traditional goal of meditation. This is why she picked people like Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup books, instead of Eckhart Tolle or Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche as one of her "seers." While it is true that one's thoughts influence one's direction or destiny, it is also true that thoughts are fleeting, obsessive, compulsive vapors of the mind, and shouldn't be believed without question. The secret to happiness is therefore not in acquiring and possessing as many symbols of wealth as possible via thought control, but in realizing that once you are no longer a prisoner of your thoughts--or others-- you will not need those things in the first place. (Simon & Schuster Audio/4 hours unabridged) Amazon

Finally, there is the TWINKIE, DECONSTRUCTED. Author Steve Ettlinger is aided by the personable voice of actor Mark Lund in this ear- opening road trip through the ingredient label of the iconic snack cake. Who knew that it would take six hours to describe how all these ingredients are mined, processed, and packaged? Due to Homeland Security, access to some of the chemical plants that create these additives is limited, but the author has done his research, and so takes the listener on a mind boggling tour of where emulsifiers like polysorbate 60 come from, how they are manufactured, and what other uses the common ingredients of processed baked goods have in products as diverse as paint or herbicides. Does it scare you to learn that it is more likely, when you bite into a creamy filling, that you're eating a former petroleum byproduct than you are eggs? Surprisingly, the author doesn't worry much about it. It is not his purpose to denigrate the food industry for focusing on taste, appearance, and shelf life as the Holy Trinity of profit. Rather, he cites FDA approval and industry cooperation in neglecting to name names "out of courtesy." So the book is not an exposé so much as a layout of the complex and sometimes secretive processes by which dyes, fillers, emulsifiers, and preservatives are produced in huge vats, and then subjected to high heat, acids, atomizations, extrusions, and a hundred other transformations before being added to foods that are cleverly packaged, shipped--and may wait in storage for months before being consumed. Crack an egg and try to do that. (Listen & Live Audio--6 hours unabridged) Amazon

2007 Past Columns


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