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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

DEC 2013
by Jonathan Lowe

Thomas Cahill reads his book HERETICS AND HEROES, an examination of the Renaissance and Reformation in his Hinges of History series, with particular emphasis on popes and kings, Thomas Moore, Martin Luther, the Black Death, and how individuality's flowering put a damper on the violent ignorance of the late Middle Ages. Parts of the Middle East may still be living in those ages, but for the most part religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular has moved away from lopping the heads off (or burning alive) those who disagree with it (although corruption remains.) This is partly due to Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Galileo, and others, but what is fascinating about this history is how "all encompassing" religious oppression was then, and how the poor citizen was powerless to resist being jailed or murdered on a whim, (and without recourse to some nonexistent law, since those who sold heaven and hell for a fee owned both your body and soul.) In fact, one alternate title for this book might be "Dictums and Victims." Even Martin Luther, who resisted papal authority in favor of reasoned interpretation of scriptures (free of selling holy favors for gold), was not averse to having at least one man burned alive for not believing in the Trinity. Why fire? According to Cahill, because it prevented the heretic from being resurrected. Cahill is not a fan of the Catholic church, even into the modern age. Readers can only hope that reformation and renaissance continues, and that we aren't pulled back into historical darkness, ignorance, and violence once again.

Why do wars happen, despite desires to live in peace? The question is answered in THE WAR THAT ENDED PEACE: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan, an award-winning historian, PhD Fellow of the Royal Society, and professor of international studies at Oxford. Read by Richard Burnip, this 32 hour epic of audio non-fiction tells what led to WW1, as crowned heads of Europe failed to support general expectations for a prosperous future in the 20th Century, allowing events to swing instead toward the hell of trench warfare and mustard gas. MacMillan offers up a deep and compelling education on the whys of war, which are many. Rampant expansionist Capitalism, often cited by the liberal left as being a cause, did not play a direct role in WW1. It was instead militarism and patriotism that mostly did the deed, as the ethnic nationalism that Einstein decried exploded like a firestorm, and sent young men in droves to sign up and then die with their indoctrinations of fear and hatred of outsiders. For years before the war there had been (as there is today) a glorification of military virtues and war heroes, especially from the conservative right. Then, as now, says MacMillan, terrorists plagued societies with random violence, while sports and the Olympics were espoused to prepare young men to fight, to encourage nationalism, and for nation states to perceive each other as rivals in a "survivor takes all" game. This fomented ethnic racial tensions between German and French peoples or between Celtic and Slavic peoples, each side not only feeling superior, but also being told that the other side needed to be "brought down." All that it needed was one match to be dropped. And it was all supported by Social Darwinism, a widespread belief that only the strong deserved to survive, and that violent conflict was nature's inevitable way to cull the inferior. Such beliefs next led to the rise of Hitler, who glorified the idea of an ethnically pure Super Race before whom the world must be forced to kneel. This devastatingly prescient cautionary history is intricately researched and relevant to politics as played today, the battle lines drawn between any and all possible groups or cliques of humans who don't see the fallacy of their jingoistic delusions (of grandeur.)

Also new is DAYS OF FIRE: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker, the definitive 29.5 hour examination of their controversial presidential partnership for those eight years that changed America forever, and plunged us into off-the-charts deficit military spending at a time when American banks were in orgiastic profit making mode.

Reader Mark Deakins narrates this chronological moment by moment public and private account of how Bush ended up with the lowest public confidence rating in history (worse than Nixon at his end) due to "shock and awe" strategies: shock due to sledge hammer tactics in the Middle East, and awe that no one in the administration foresaw the financial unraveling due to unregulated con artist banking CEOs. Bush was even flummoxed by Alan Greenspan's signing off on bailouts against his own six decade advice. Is politics a game, with head butting concussions on both sides, rendering the players addle brained? This is also obvious, which may explain why McCain chose inexperienced airhead Sarah Palin as running mate, and then called a big meeting during the financial crisis only to mostly sit on his hands and effectively hand Obama the presidency. Bizarre listening by the chief White House correspondent for the NY Times, and author of The Breach and Kremlin Rising.


Donald Fagen of Steely Dan has a memoir out titled EMINENT HIPSTERS, which he reads himself on audio, appropriately enough. Not being an actor or stand up comic, he doesn't animate the text much, and so mostly sounds like he's reading, the peek into his personality coming from a cleaner, even tone. Not as dramatic as Rita Moreno reading her memoir, (where you get to hear her emotions in every sentence), or Steven Tyler's memoir, (where you hear a massive ego expand into a weather balloon destined for the stratosphere), Fagen is more about self deprecation than ego, and has been a columnist with an acerbic wit for many years. This might also explain why much of his work is so original, satiric, and introspective. Who knew that he was such a science fiction fan, and an analytical one to boot? The first two of the four disks are interesting because Fagen details his influences before and after attending Bard College, with sideways glimpses of jazz luminaries (overrated or not, like Henry Mancini) and others like Jean Shepherd---a magical poet philosopher turned movie maker and video essayist (Jean Shepherd's America), whom Fagen idolized until he saw him on stage as a needy narcissist. The final two disks include an extended diary of a more recent tour on the road as a "jazz geezer."

Finally, Billy Collins is a former U.S. Poet Laureate whose latest collection is AIMLESS LOVE, wry and occasionally witty observations on various subjects that are typically the realm of window sitters on trains or in cars at parks. One of the short poems, (which could also be described as verbal essays,) is titled "The Trouble with Poetry,"and may explain why this is Collins first compilation in twelve years.

It points to the dilemma of being a poet---of always seeking to find a new poem everywhere, and to struggle to make the new comparisons between things, which constitutes a poet's reason for being. What happens after all comparisons have been made, and you become unemployed? Of course it's not possible to run out of observations until you're dead, but the point is valid. What Collins tries to do in each poem is to state the obvious, and then put a twist on it. The twist can be subtle, or it can surprise. The best thing about his poems, though, is that they know when to stop. He doesn't overwrite them, like many poets I've heard reciting their work as is they were reading the Ten Commandments or some other holy text, trying to wow us with their importance. Which is more important, anyway: the poet or the poem?

Jonathan's romantic suspense story/script Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac
can be downloaded as a free PDF here:

(Making news is someone in Florida winning over half a billion dollars in the Powerball. Coincidentally, my novel THE INSTANT CELEBRITY is about a $552 Million Florida Powerball winner who disappears, buys a Caribbean island, and finances an attack on a corrupt dictator so that he can reemerge a hero. The audiobook version is "Fame Island," read by Emmy winning film actor Kris Tabori.)



2013 Past Columns