Audiobooks

December 2014 Audiobooks Review by Jonathan Lowe

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knifefights

Former Lt. Col. John A. Nagl has written a memoir titled KNIFE FIGHTS: Modern War in Theory and Practice. Narrated by Brian Hutchison, it details the shift toward counterinsurgency within the military after the Gulf War, in which Nagl saw action as a tank commander after leaving West Point. Nagl’s path led him to study and write about this shift in “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife.” He next became an operations officer, then worked for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, eventually writing a new field manual on doctrine. “When it comes to modern war, there are only bad choices,” he says. “The question is which are better and which worse.” He details this new reality on the battlefield, showing that the old shock-and-awe way doesn’t work, and only creates more enemies. Iraq? “It’s a war that did not need to be fought,” he says. Serious mistakes were made by Rumsfeld and others, with a slow and bureaucratic Pentagon needing a reboot on policy so as not to repeat those mistakes. It’s a sobering book that in some ways parallels another new book, not on audio yet, titled “Why We Lost,” by former Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, who said that if we go in and fight ISIS for Iraq with full on-the-ground operations, “It would be like four times biting that poison apple: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and then Iraq again.” What’s needed is to fight smarter, not harder. Enlist the locals, and force them to defend themselves, too. Otherwise it’s no different than warfare welfare. It is very ably narrated by Hutchison, who brings both theory and personal history to life with an engaging and nimble tone.

SPAM NATION by Brian Krebs follows “The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime—From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door.” Krebs is editor of a security blog and former Washington Post reporter. It’s a must-listen deftly and intelligently narrated by Christopher Lane, tracking the methods used by the “digital mafia,” those growing legions of spammers who phish and snare unsuspecting computer users, since criminals find it easier to steal your identify or credit card numbers than to get a real job where you have to punch a clock and count on working for thirty years before retirement on a meager pension. Criminals always look for shortcuts, and in ways they are no different than players at singles bars wanting to score with naive young women. Their “lines” come in the form of code or enticing promises. Their viruses, similar to VD, here troll for access to your computer and data. When “private parts” are invaded, privacy is no more, and piracy occurs. These digital mobsters can be individual hackers in Russia, or American spammers who use Yahoo accounts for a hit-and-run attack, with the goal of harvesting passwords and usernames and selling them to the black market. Cyber crime is up, especially during the holiday season, and home invasion is down. Why? It’s easier. There’s less risk. And you can come away with more money (or credit to buy stuff) before the victim even knows what happened. This is a book the Postal Service should want to promote, since it just might send more people back to mailing letters for business payments (and even personal letters) rather than to risk being hacked and bankrupted. A postage stamp, after all, beats an email if your personal account numbers falling into the wrong hands in calculated into the cost.

Bartow J. Elmore delivers another sucker punch to the world’s more ubiquitous brand. CITIZEN COKE: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism is read by William Hughes, and continues on the theme of the books The Coke Machine and Salt Sugar Fat to examine the strategies employed by Coke to succeed on the backs of suppliers, franchisees, and duped consumers. By spending a billion dollars per year on ads that link it to everything from happiness to patriotism to (believe it or not) a memorable funeral, the world’s favorite soft drink is, instead, linked to diabetes, cancer, and environmental degradation. In Colombia and India people have rioted in protest of crimes committed by Coca-Cola bottlers, only to meet resistance by police, hired thugs, and denials by company honchos. Now a history teacher at the University of Alabama, Elmore grew up in Atlanta drinking Coke, and uncovered disturbing truths about the shift in American business practices while researching the history of the company…which led him to outline it all using the ingredients which Coke uses—from water and sugar and high fructose corn syrup to aluminum, plastic, and glass.

Going from tiny bubbles to those who today manufacture news bubbles in order to sell you more junk, ALL THE TRUTH IS OUT: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai is about how the Gary Hart affair changed the way the media reports political campaigns. More than this, it’s the turning point for when even network news became entertainment, and scandals (both on and off the field) became the target of TMZ, BuzzFeed, and competing mud-slinging advertising. It’s all a sport now, actually…and it all started when someone snapped that photo of Hart and his mistress next to a yacht called Monkey Business. Rob Shapiro reads, and with a more sober tone than those you hear on Yahoo, telling you the latest “trends.” What does “trend” mean, anyway? It’s like a big mirror, a mass Selfie saying, “this is you and what you’re watching.” Bai seems to be saying that most people don’t realize that to get to the truth, you need to read the fine print, and to break the mirror and look behind it in order to see who’s holding the mirror (and why.) Otherwise, we’re all just monkeying around instead of solving problems.

Finally, the classic film THE THIRD MAN was written by Graham Greene, and is available as a full cast play from L.A. Theater Works on audio as well. Called the greatest British film of all time (and on many top ten lists of best films ever filmed from any country), the movie is a classic mystery that starred Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton, about a western writer who attends a friend’s funeral in Vienna after the war, only to discover that he may not be dead after all…which leads to an investigation of who “the third man” seen at the supposed accident may have been. The dialogue is given talented new voices in this production, including the voices of Rosalind Ayers, Barry Phillips, Kelsey Grammer, Ian Abercrombie, Ethan Glazer, and others. Other Greene titles on audio are The Quiet American (made in a movie as well), The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, Brighton Rock, The Living Room, The Comedians, and The Little Fire Engine.

(My new audiobook, The Umpire Has No Clothes, is out Dec. 1 at Amazon and Audible. It’s like a sports comedy album, but over two hours long, and the perfect Christmas gift download for anyone taking sports way too seriously. Narrated by ESPN producer Barry Abrams, who does a great job animating the text!)

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