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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

February 2011

by Jonathan Lowe

Brian Greene is a popular physicist whose PBS series and book "The Elegant Universe" was a hit with geeks. I suppose the word "geek" offends some, but having written for astronomy publications myself, I'm telling myself not to take offense. . . especially since what being a "geek" means, in fact, is that you actually read books instead of watching "Dancing with the Stars" or "American Idol" on the boob tube while slurping 64 oz. sodas. (Sidebar: Was The Fonz a geek? If so, what was he doing at Book Expo? I turned around from Larry King, and almost bumped into him.) Anyway, Greene's new book THE HIDDEN REALITY is narrated by the author on audio, who is an excellent reader. What is Brian talking about here? Oh, not much, just the biggest questions in the universe. (Hint: that's NOT about the outcome of some playoff game, either.) What he's exploring is the possibility that there may in fact be multiple universes. . . (perhaps, in one universe, Sarah Palin even wins the Presidency). Does this all sound like fiction to you? Well, guess again. Mathematics actually points in this direction. Greene covers a range of theories about parallel worlds in this intriguing and mind opening exercise of the imagination. It's cogent, concise, and stranger than anything in science fiction. As a professor of physics and math at Columbia, and having worked at Cornell after graduating from Harvard and Oxford, does Brian even look like a geek? Maybe we need to redefine the word, considering the world's youngest billionaire is also a geek, as are Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

What part did the riff raff of society play in forming our country? A very large part, says author Thaddeus Russell. A RENEGADE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is narrated by Paul Boehmer. This fascinating alternative to conventional history textbooks shows how prostitutes rather than feminists won liberation for women, and how rock and roll brought down the Berlin wall. While some of his logic may seem a stretch, Russell makes a serious case explaining the influences that ordinary citizens--particularly criminals--made in forging the freedoms we enjoy today. Narrator Boehmer is convincing in his own way, too, with these fun (and hitherto suppressed) facts about slavery, the founding fathers, and various political radicals.

Next, one of the most listenable of narrators, Richard Poe reads CHARLIE ST. CLOUD, by Ben Sherwood, which seems to combine story elements from "Field of Dreams" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" to follow one brother who--after a near death experience--plays ball with his death brother, who never ages and is stuck in time and frozen love. Can Charlie move on, released from the past, with his beautiful Tess? Poe is perfect to keep the sentimentality here in place, while never losing the engagement of the listener. An afterward read by the author describes Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx, with his commentary on the film adaptation's choice to use a fake cemetery.

Finally, while reporting on desperate women defecting from North Korea at the Chinese border, Laura Ling and a colleague were captured by soldiers and interrogated, then imprisoned for five months. Only with the help of Laura's sister Lisa (former host of The View), whose contacts on Capitol Hill aided her, was their release negotiated. Laura, exhausted and grateful, co-wrote and co-narrates their engaging memoir, SOMEWHERE INSIDE, which needs little vocal dramatization to maintain suspense. Since their voices sound similar, a brief musical interlude separates their alternating accounts, aided by the shift in locale, and the audiobook confirms the sisters' bond to each other while revealing the fear behind the words.

2011 Past Columns