Audiobooks

September 2014 Audiobooks Review by Jonathan Lowe

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IN A ROCKET MADE OF ICE by Gail Gutradt is non-fiction about the HIV children of Wat Opot, in rural Cambodia. It’s a community started by a former Vietnam medic that is discovered by the author, whose life was transformed by the encounter with stigmatized children who deserve to grow up in a place like this, without judgment, (and instead with love.) This is the kind of book the world needs to hear now, in addition to war chronicles detailing battles (often, as in Africa, with children bearing the automatic weapons.) While nations wave their flags and rattle their sabers, it’s the children who can remind us that we are all universally innocent before we start playing our violent ego games. Narrator Lorna Raver is marvelous, being an experienced stage and film actress with a gift for empathic involvement with character. About this audiobook, she told me, “While the author protests that she is not primarily a writer or a journalist, I thought she did a lovely, obviously heartfelt, job telling the story of Wat Opot. My admiration goes out to Wayne Matthysse and Gail Gutradt!” And this from Wayne at the Wat Opot community: “Gail brought our everyday life into stories people want to read about. Her honesty and openness about her experience here is impressive. Although Wat Opot today is not the same place she writes about, the disease still rears it’s ugly head occasionally in one of our small children and we are reminded of those days.”

Also check out THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan, about a widow who starts over in a small town in Vermont with her young daughters. who later become estranged and move away. After their mother’s death, they are then brought back to the town to hunt for a hidden key to a safe deposit box left by their mother with their inheritance inside. (Kinda like various clues to hidden money that made news recently.) Amy Rubinate narrates with a subtle and poignant grace, and told me this about the novel and the previous The Mill River Recluse: “I thought both books were beautifully written, with a kind of timeless grace. I like to imagine several generations all enjoying them together; they’re books my mom and grandmother and I would have shared. Hope you love them as much as I do! This is the kind of series where you might want to read both books. The first book adds a lot of depth and history to the second one.”

Next, after hearing Ronald Kessler’s audiobook FIRST FAMILY DETAIL, you have to wonder if they shouldn’t call it The WHITEWASH House. Kessler updates information previously covered in “In the President’s Secret Service” and “Inside the White House” with new revelations. The information comes from present and former Secret Service agents, some of whom were told not to cooperate with the journalist when it was learned he was writing this book. Was Richard Nixon a sociopath? All the traits were there: charming, ruthless, opportunistic, and dismissive of critics and dying soldiers. Johnson was even more of a klutz than Ford (who was cheap and a bad tipper, while pocketing mini bottles from parties.) Clinton had multiple mistresses, and was always on the prowl. Hillary? She always knew, didn’t care, and didn’t want to hear more and have to face questions. Clinton’s presidency was called by agents “one long pizza party,” in which anyone would show up at any time to throw ideas around, regardless of how it inconvenienced agent planning. (Note that this book is seen mainly from the agents point of view.) Reagan, Bush 41 and George W, (and their wives) were loved by agents for being on time and respectful, while the Clintons were never on time and dismissive. Jenna Bush (codenamed “Twinkle”), though, despised being watched by agents, and snuck out whenever she wanted with her sister. Still, vice presidents and their relationships with agents is even more interesting. Joe Biden is described as wasting taxpayer funds by delaying trips in jets and helicopters, while “putting America at risk” by not giving the Service sufficient notice of his plans (or not having national security information nearby.) Al Gore was disliked by agents too, because he “farted in the limo, and didn’t care.” Agnew was a moral majority icon without morals or ethics himself, willing to take bribes and denigrate those opposing Vietnam as “unAmerican.” Dick Cheney was more of an enigma, but was liked by agents “since he was professional and businesslike.” (Perhaps like at Halliburton?) Regarding Romney’s clash with agents over his protection, and Obama himself, there’s not much until the last hour. And you’ll have to hear that for yourself. All in all, another interesting book with lots in information about how the Secret Service operates (with its failures and own inefficiencies added in passing.) Bear in mind that this book doesn’t care much about Presidential policies or the effects of these policies on our current or future situation. I’ve interviewed Kessler about his book “The Season,” about the billionaires of Palm Beach, but narrator Michael Bybee is unknown to me. He was trained by Pat Fraley and Bob Bergen, however, and is completely listenable and on top of steering the narrative without falling away from interest or engagement.

Finally, DRIVING HONDA by Jeffrey Rothfeder may, at first hearing, seem to be a long winded advertisement for Honda Motors. After all, there is a long list of accomplishments made, including how Honda has become the most profitable car company, making the most number of engines in the world…which in turn last longer on the road than any other manufacturer, while meeting stringent air quality and gas mileage standards. But then comes the philosophy of Soichiro Honda himself, an enigmatic but perceptive man who embraced paradox, hands-on knowledge, and individualism. How did he achieve what he did? The managerial style of Honda is the answer. The audiobook, narrated by veteran voiceover artist Mel Foster, lays out a unique path taken by Honda from the beginning. Unlike American car companies, and even other Japanese companies like Toyota, Honda sought to decentralize their operations, using localization strategy. They chose a tiny town in Alabama for their first factory here, shunning MBAs and media types for their leaders, and focusing on engineers. They encourage debate and experimentation. And they spend more on research and development than any other car company. Hence, the subtitle of this audiobook: “Inside the World’s Most innovative Car Company.” Rothfeder has done his research in investigating the histories and work ethics of those behind “The Honda Way,” and concludes with an examination of free trade, tariffs, and globalization. Business leaders would be well advised to listen to this, as it shows how and why finding the cheapest workers for one’s company by going overseas doesn’t always work (as many who did so in China are now leaving as China’s wages rise), and that Honda’s strategy of becoming integrated within the culture of whatever they are, while not imposing control from an ivory tower halfway around the world, is the most innovative and flexible of survival techniques. “Success can be achieved only through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents one percent of your work, which results only from the ninety-nine percent that is called failure.” Sounds like something Michael Jordan might have said, but this is Soichiro Honda speaking, the Michael Jordan of the manufacturing world…an area far more important to world economies and standards of living than is basketball.

For free sample downloads of Jonathan’s novels, go here: https://sites.google.com/site/audiobookreviewer/

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