Author and Narrator: Bill Bryson
Title: One Summer: America 1927
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2013
Other books read by the same author:
Bill Bryson’s talent is to delve deep into a subject, find all the minute details, and then tie them together into a bigger story. For this work, the title explains it all: one summer in the United States when a remarkable number of historical events occurred, many with unexpected connections.
The main feature of this book is Charles Lindbergh and his historic flight from New York to Paris aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. And then there is the aftermath in which Lindbergh deals with his celebrity, a level of worldwide renown perhaps unprecedented in history. Other aviators who had hoped to contend for the Orteig Prize, are given their due as well, with descriptions of their less-famous flights (if they managed to get off the ground).
The book is balanced by the story of another hero, Babe Ruth. In the 1927, Ruth would break his own remarkable single-season home run record and be joined in a race by teammate Lou Gehrig. In fact, the entire Yankees’ lineup hit so well that they’re forever known as Murderers’ Row and one of the best teams in baseball history. Bryson cheats a lot, leaving the summer of 1927 to fill in the back stories of Lindbergh and Ruth and other figures, and occasionally even peeking ahead. But the meat of this book is stories of events from that summer, including:
- the sensational Snyder-Gray murder trial
- the apogee of Al Capone’s power as a mob boss
- the government poisoning alcohol at the behest of Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League
- the Federal Reserve makes decisions that sow the seeds of the 1929 stock market crash
- radio comes of age
- The Jazz Singer ushers in the talkie
- television created
- the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti
- carving of Mount Rushmore begins
- massive flooding of the Mississippi River
- the Bath School bombing
- Henry Ford transitions from the Model T to the Model A
- The Long Count fight between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey
The whole book is fascinating and full of interesting details of a transitional time in American history.
Author: Doug Most
Narrator: John H. Mayer
Title: The Race Underground
Publication Info: Books on Tape, 2014
This fascinating study documents the race between Boston and New York to be the first city to have underground rapid transit. Spoiler: Boston wins the race, but the modest Tremont Street subway would soon be overshadowed by New York City opening an extensive network of subways covering hundreds of miles all at once. This work includes a lot of tangents into the engineering, technological, and social changes of the late-19th century and early 20th-century in delightful ways. Most frames the story around two brothers – Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York City – who were behind the push for improved transit in their cities, but the stories of many politicians, engineers, financiers, dreamers, and ordinary people amazed (or frightened) by the changing world around them. The story is not without tragedy as people died building both subways, not to mention a fair amount of corruption, but ultimately this is a triumphant story about the progress of humankind.
Recommended books: 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York by Clifton Hood , A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 by Stephen Puleo, Underneath New York by Harry Granick , Subway Style by New York Transit Museum, Change at Park Street Under: The story of Boston’s subways by Brian J. Cudahy, and Tremont Street Subway A Century of Public Service by Bradley H. Clarke.
Title: Where God Was Born
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2005)
Feiler’s book is a unique combination of travelogue, history, theology, and personal growth. Feiler documents his journeys to Israel, Iraq, and Iran to visit the sites of places mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures. There’s a lot of interesting discussion of the Israelites and the connection to land, but how the religion was born only once they were taken from the land. There are also hints that the Babylonian captivity was not as bad as depicted in the bible. Feiler also has an interesting take on David, the flawed hero, who spent many years as a bandit and even collaborated with the enemies of Israel. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the book is when he worships with a Jewish community in Iran who have a surprising amount of religious freedom, something Feiler traces back to the Persian king Cyrus who liberated the Israelites from captivity. He also traces Zoroastrian influences to the Abrahamic religions to this period. In the end, Feiler finds in the Bible a blueprint for religious tolerance and understanding that could be followed today.
Author: Ellen Ruppel Shell, Lorna Raver (narrator)
Title: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2009)
Cheap is an intriguing expose on the modern American desire for bargains fed by discount stores and discount ideology in more areas of commerce than one would realize. Ruppel Shell offers a fascinating history of discount stores from the late 19th-century to present. Interestingly, many of the originators went under by the 1980s to be absorbed by the more ruthless corporations of today. The hidden costs of inexpensive purchases are then detailed from environmental destruction, human rights violations of the employees who manufacture, distribute, and sell the products, the dangers of poor quality goods to the consumer, the erosion of the middle class, and the fact that a lot of this cheap stuff isn’t even worth what we pay for it. Ruppel Shell makes the interesting point that we now live in a world where there are high-end goods and discount goods, but no reliable in-between. IKEA, Wal-Mart, and outlet malls are singled out as some actors in the discount culture, but the closing “hope-for-the-future” chapter also details companies like Wegmans and Costco that are thriving despite adopting strategies that go against the grain of discount culture. While the essence of this book is not likely to be surprising to most readers, it is still eye-opening in its details.
Recommended books:Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan,
Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: Gregor and the Code of the Claw
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2008.
The final volume of The Underland Chronicles completes the fascinating and well-written series. While at heart a war story, it finds its protagonist Gregor grappling with ethical dilemmas, mortality, and fate. And if you’re like me and thought the prophecies of Sandwich were too overbearing in the earlier novels, it was a relief to see what Ripred and Gregor make of the final prophecy. The Underland Chronicles are a worthy addition to fantasy literature and something readers of all ages should enjoy.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: Gregor and the Marks of Secret
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, 2008.
The Underland Chronicles continues its compelling story. This one is set apart from its predecessors as it doesn’t follow a quest. Instead it finds Gregor and his family in everyday interaction with the Underland, only falling into adventure to solve mysteries that crop up eventually leading to war between the Underland humans and the rats. The story continues to grow dark with imagery reminiscent of the Nazi Holocaust and the killing fields of Pol Pot. This book is also essentially a two-parter leading right into the final book Gregor and the Code of the Claw.
Author: David Levithan
Title: Every Day
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2012.
This novel is told from the perspective of a person – or perhaps just a consciousness – named A who awakes each morning occupying the body of a different person. Over the years, A has come up with practices and ethics to not interfere in the lives of the bodies occupied, but this all changes at the age of 16 when A becomes obsessed with a girl named Rhiannon. A reveals the secret identity to Rhiannon and tries to find some way to maintain a relationship. Along the way we get sympathetic vignettes glimpsing into the lives of several teenagers each facing their own joys and struggles. Levithan’s writing is well-done and the story works both as ripping good yarn and as metaphor for the teenagers’ search for identity.
Recommended books: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Fade by Robert Cormier.