Audiobook Reviews May 2016 by Jonathan Lowe



Want to know more about Trump’s private world? In MADNESS UNDER THE ROYAL PALMS, Laurence Leamer tells the story of Palm Beach, Florida, and the rich socialites who vie for pecking order in the rarified and stratified ranks of the super rich. It’s all here, too: the mega mansions bulldozed to build even bigger ones so that one can overshadow the neighbors, the pretenders who gate and party crash (one only to commit suicide in disgrace upon discovery), the status symbol cars and yachts, the endless charity events in which more is spent on flowers and food than is given to the charity, the trophy wives and husbands, the Bernie Madoff con, and the time when rapper Diddy had sex on the beach in broad daylight on the Trump estate…and Trump almost sent an email defending him until he heard there had been children in the area. The rich really are different, but are no more exempt from greed, ego, and the desire for approval than anyone else. This is why they congregate together: to compete with peers while pretending sophistication, to imagine they have “arrived” at the pinnacle of success in this elite class (some of whom don’t read anything except “The Shiny Sheet,” which is the Palm Beach society events and gossip newspaper.) There is a woman who lives alone in a 20 bedroom mansion with a dozen servants. She bulldozed a former historic mansion to build her 20,000 square foot palace. Why? To get talked about. There are wars over shrubbery, parking spots at clubs, who gets memberships and who doesn’t. Why put up with it? If you have a billion dollars, why live in Palm Beach at all? Well, here’s the thing: it’s easy to lord it over the drooling masses. It’s like shooting ducks in a barrel. But can you “win” over other billionaires? As a trust fund baby, can you build a yacht just a foot longer than anyone else’s in town, and get a photo in the Shiny Sheet…guaranteed to bring invitations to the top private parties, where Trump or Forbes or a pharmaceutical heir may shake your hand and welcome you to the fold? On the flip side, across the bridge in West Palm Beach, there is a homeless shelter. One of the party crashers lived there, acquired a nice suit at a flee market, got a haircut, and became a con man party planner. (Funny. My novel Fame Island features such a guy, and even starts with the Trump quote: “People are impressed by fame. Think big, and live large.”)


On the flip side of all this, the audiobook SUCCESS AND LUCK by Robert Frank is a scientific examination of chance in business and personal success, with the subtitle: “Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.” In it, Frank debunks the idea that hard work alone or “picking oneself up by one’s bootstraps” results in the vast fortunes acquired by many icons we often worship as role models. More likely, it is a combination of work and chance: a small advantage magnified over time, or a “nip slip” viral event, or (in the case of running races) a tailwind. Everything has to go right. Without her sex tape, Kim Kardashian would be unknown today. Without his dad, so would Trump. Even many music icons got a break without which they would now be unknown. Does this mean we should count on everything going right for us in multiple “lightning strike” chance incidents? Many in line at talent shows do hope for this, and some of those gave up traditional careers in medicine or education to do so.

What is wrong with finding middle ground, a much more likely niche in which to do your best? To examine that, listen to REWORK by Jason Fried. It champions the middle class, the small company or business which almost always is more sustainable and both environmentally and people friendly. Growth being the goal, and laying waste to the competition the imperative, in Big Business what you get is a “Mr. Wonderful” morality in which hidden costs for pollution are picked up by taxpayers while one seeks to hide profits offshore and hire low wage workers there too. Sure, Wal Mart is a large employer, but one does not see all the mom and pop startups put out of business by them, while they exploit workers and give little to charity.

Yet we have been BRANDWASHED (listen to Martin Lindstrom’s book of the same name) to believe that big is best, that might makes right, and that one must put blinders on, toward the goal of “owning” the most stuff—and joining the ones who build high walls to keep out any riff raff who don’t.

Our whole mania over competition itself is wrong, according to Paypal founder Peter Thiel in ZERO TO ONE, and this is also echoed in ANTIFRAGILE by statistical scientist Nicholas Taleb, who shows that, not only can’t the world afford unfettered growth anymore (there being no more worlds to conquer without stepping on more poor and powerless,) but the artisan economy of small business is the only way to save us from ourselves. (Notes: Lindstrom was an advertising executive named one of Time’s most influential; his book is narrated by Dan Woren, an award winning voiceover actor in both audiobooks and video games. Taleb holds a PhD, MS, BS, and MBA from the Universities of Paris and Pennsylvania. He is professor of Risk Engineering at NYU’s Polytechic Institute, and lectures at Oxford, Stanford, and MIT. His book is narrated by actor and stage director Joe Ochman. Peter Thiel is currently chairman of Palantir Technologies, an analytical software company. Narrator of his book is the co-author, Blake Masters, cofounder of Judicata, a legal research service company. Jason Fried is cofounder of 37Signals, a software company profiled in Time, Newsweek, and Wired. His book is narrated by actor Mike Chamberlain, a Boston College trained Shakespeare, radio, and video game performer. Robert Frank is economics professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, and a columnist for the NY Times. He narrates his own book. Laurence Leamer is a journalist and former Newsweek reporter who has also written for the NY Times and Harpers, with books on the Kennedy women and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He lives in DC and Palm Beach. His book is narrated by Todd McLaren, a voiceover actor for radio, TV, and documentaries.)

New and interesting in audio fiction this month is WAR HAWK by James Rollins, read by Scott Aiello; ELIGIBLE by Curtis Sittenfeld, read by Cassandra Campbell; AS TIME GOES BY by Mary Higgins Clark, read by Jan Maxwell; THE LAST MILE by David Baldacci, read by Kyf Brewer and Orlagh Cassidy.

Recommended for you