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By Jonathan Lowe

June 2012

by Jonathan Lowe

The chairman of Exxon/Mobil once stated that his company need not concern itself with America since his was not an American company but an international company. Indeed, like Coca-Cola, most of its revenue comes from overseas, where its hold is greater and its influence stronger. Corporate headquarters in Texas, where the wife of CEO Lee "Iron Ass" Raymond once socialized with the wife of global warming denier Dick Cheney, is called "the God Pod." Yet it lobbies Washington like the banking industry does in order to avoid regulation, even when it spills oil in Valdez or becomes involved in civil wars. PRIVATE EMPIRE by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Steve Coll is the full story of this largest of corporations, narrated by Malcolm Hillgartner, whose mellifluous yet authoritative voice is always a pleasure to hear, and ideal for the material. Indeed, performing the audiobook's Clive Cussleresque passages, there is more intrigue here than the TV show "Dallas" ever had, as the political scope of the story extends back through generations of presidents, kings, dictators, and despots. The book explores both the history of oil industry and the secrets behind the scenes of its biggest player, including how the current CEO has come to acknowledge the science behind oil's impact on climate change, and has begun steering the company to a greener future---before it becomes too late.

SNOW WHITE gets a humorous twist similar in tone to the Dark Shadows movie starring Johnny Depp in the hands of the late great audio dramatist Yuri Rasovsky. This new two hour full cast production features Sandra Oh, Simon Helberg, Kate Burton, Barry Creyton, Robin Sachs, Armin Shimerman, Ned Schmidke, and Melinda Peterson. Delightful and gruesome fun the Brothers Grimm never imagined. Highly recommended.

Malcolm Hillgartner ably narrates GAME OVER, which, despite all the negative Penn State fan reviews, does put into perspective the principals histories in an attempt to understand how such a scandal could happen. To dismiss the book as shoddy is also inaccurate, since it is well written, even not given the time restraints in writing it. (These are not hacks, they are professional journalists, one of whom won a Pulitzer Prize.) Sandusky has been blamed, for sure, but given that his upcoming trial had yet to play out, the focus by the authors is to ponder the culture of a major college athletic department where a Sandusky could continue unchallenged for years. What did Joe Paterno know? Enough to get him fired. Even players in the locker room suspected something, or they wouldn't have joked about Sandusky. Penn State fans are fanatical about condemning this book and calling any more attention to their pain, but it is ingenuous to turn on the press, given our current culture, which demands answers. Children can suffer in silence while God-like figures believe they can look the other way. (Authors: Bill Moushey, Robert Dvorchak)

What do you get when you combine the plotting talents of David Baldacci with the acting chops of narrators Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy? THE INNOCENT is another team play by these three, the last being Zero Day. Here the action consists of a hitman named Will Robie who is hired by a government agency (like the CIA), and then, when he decides not to go through with it, becomes a target himself. His compatriot is a 14 year old girl named Julie whose parents were murdered for mysterious reasons that lead to something much bigger. The characters are new, the plot intricate, and the climax comes in waves, like a woman's orgasm. Is the audiobook that good? Almost. McLarty trades off Cassidy like a tag team, trading turns with the aid of occasional transitional music that never overpowers the narrative but rather enhances it with odd pulsing undercurrents. Mostly it's solo McLarty, without effects, and he has a natural and engaging manner, whether in dialogue or exposition

Finally, BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain, is read by Oliver Wyman, and is a novel featuring Beyoncé in a role unlike any prior: that of not being the center of attention. The author, in telling his story from the point of view of a soldier appearing as a "hero" in a Dallas Cowboys half time show, holds up a mirror to our culture while telling a sensitive and tragic tale of facile greed, naiveté, and blindness. Billy, as a character, sleep walks down that stage, dazed as though in a dream. His is like a kind of shell shock, experiencing the fake adulation for his group--called the Bravos--as they parade in front of a roaring crowd who view them as symbols no different than mascots in bull costumes. They've been in battle, and will be returning to battle soon, but in the meantime here they are next to Beyoncé, in George Bush's Texas stadium circa 2004, on tight focus from Fox News, and no one has a clue to who they really are, or what war is really like. They aren't even sure who they are, or why they are here. But the listener knows they are fighting eternal battles manufactured by the Pentagon and by Presidents looking to preserve their political edge and their cronies' pensions at the expense of the taxpayers, while mothers who have to bury their kids need to hear about Patriotism, God, and Country. The novel is a stunning indictment of our letting all this happen without really knowing why.

2012 Past Columns