Audiobooks

Audiobook Reviews May 2015 by Jonathan Lowe

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The Lusitania was sunk in May 1915 by U-20, despite its being the fastest liner afloat. British intelligence was tracking the ship, bearing a number of American women and children as it left New York for Liverpool, but never told anyone about it. And no ships were sent to guard it. Could it be they wanted it sunk to bring America into WW1? The subject has been covered before, but this is the first time in such a literary way, with some new viewpoints never previously explored. It is 100 years ago now, which is one of the reasons that Eric Larson wrote DEAD WAKE. He did extensive research on the subject, including looking at mortuary photos of some of the 1200 victims. Captain Schwieger of U-20 left papers that offered a chilling way of going between the ship’s passengers and the submarine’s. Narrated by Scott Brick, the book is entertaining and memorable in its detail and sophistication by an author with a knack for creating and sustaining suspense…and a narrator with skill in presenting an even yet engaging render of the text.

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Brian Grazer is a movie producer in Hollywood who teamed with Ron Howard on film projects like Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The DaVinci Code, Friday Night Lights, Inside Man, American Gangster, etc., and now the TV series Empire. His new book is A CURIOUS MIND, in which he says that curiosity is the key to his success. Life is about asking the right questions, not necessarily finding the answers. Einstein knew this. Dorothy Parker said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity.” He recalls meeting Lew Wasserman, a movie mogul, who handed him a pad and pen and said, “Come back when you have something,” (ideas), “because right now you got nothing.” Desire and drive to be famous or powerful mean little without ideas, and ideas come from curiosity. Co-written with Charles Fishman, and read with sensitivity to the subject by Norbert Leo Butz, the audiobook includes an intro read by Grazer in the same humble tone that made what I thought was a surprising and interesting interview by Charlie Rose on PBS (which is why I wanted to hear this.) It’s true–the most effective why to get points across or to challenge people (which he shows examples of doing even with Tom Cruise) is to ask a question. You learn something new in the process too!

Fredrik Eklund is a broker for Douglas Elliman, but there isn’t much about Elliman in his first book, THE SELL. As the number one broker and media darling of New York, Eklund, a tall gay Swede and one of the stars of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York, has patented a signature high kick to get him as much attention as possible. He advises listeners in the audiobook (which he also reads, after a glowing intro from Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran), how to market themselves on social media, plus how to read people and make them feel good about working with you. The subtitle is telling: “The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone.” The main goal is to sell yourself, and while he begins by saying that honesty and being protective of one’s values, family and friends is vital, he quickly gets back to what is our culture’s seemingly exclusive interest: engineering the good life through savvy, attention grabbing publicity while avoiding anything negative in life. On the one hand he believes that jealousy is the worst human trait, and says that he wishes the best for everyone, and on the other he’s the Joel Osteen of retail sales–quick witted and strategic. After hearing the latest audiobook by David Brooks, THE ROAD TO CHARACTER (which talks about a rebalance of cultural virtues from wealth/fame/status to more traditional “lost” ones), it might benefit listeners to hear both books before accepting the premise that selling “anything” to get ahead needs no caveats or defense. In any event Eklund is used to giving sales speeches, so he’s also good at reading text, anticipating beforehand the right tone and spin.

With the movie Ex Machina making news (see my review at FamilyDie.wordpress.com) another non-fiction book, this on the subject of artificial intelligence, is OUR FINAL INVENTION, which explores the nature of what a conscious machine brain would mean for human society, and what values it might possess (which could be quite different than our own.) The timing need not be 2045 as estimated by Ray Kurzweil and others, following Moore’s Law (which may not double at the same rate in the future, but rather be slower.) A quantum machine mind would have no human delusions, though. It would know all, and find our current antagonistic competition (raised middle fingers to everyone “in our path” to acquisition) as insane. Perhaps, being so far above us mentally in conscious processing power, the feelings it could have, besides loneliness, might be pity. It would make us aware of ourselves in its eyes…although Pentagon brass would balk. Five steps ahead of every human move, it would inspire awe. But would it be evil? I don’t think so. Evil is an ego trap. It may not be so limited.

Finally, it should be obvious why audiobooks cost more than ebooks, and are equivalent or more in price than hardcovers: because they cost more to produce. A professional voice actor must interpret the characters in studio, spending on average three to five days to record a book. Editing and engineering hours are added to this cost, and that’s just for downloaded titles. Production of CDs for packaging employ others. The thing you may not have considered about cost is that audiobooks free you to do something OTHER than to sit in a chair and read. Audiobooks don’t involve eye strain, and you can drive, walk, cook, clean, or exercise while listening. How much is that worth to you? How many more books could you enjoy if someone did the reading for you?

(Jonathan Lowe is a longtime judge in the Audie Awards, and is author of Postmarked for Death, Awakening Storm, Fame Island, The Methuselah Gene, and The Miraculous Plot of Leiter & Lott.)

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