Washington: A Life is another masterpiece by him.
It's always good to go through the histories of founders of great nations, and this is no different. Of particular note is that Chernow is as thorough as ever, going through Washington's business dealings and carefully noting his dress, horseback riding style, and the routes he took when campaigning both militarily or touring as a political leader.
The book drags sometimes - Chernow's hyper-thorough, which is fantastic except when you want the pace to pick up - but some of the details are really fantastic. I got some great ideas on dress, presentation, ethics, communication, building intelligence networks, recruiting, endurance, and diplomacy from the book. Also, the ending of the book is probably the most interesting - seeing how Washington and Hamilton modeled the Federalist platform loosely on British Imperialism was amazingly insightful. The points about state debt, finance, and taxation were fascinating.
Enjoyed this one quite a lot and feeling much more intelligent about early American affairs.
Heaven's Command - An Imperial Progress: Also excellent, but throws a hell of a lot of names and dates at you really fast. If you're not already familiar with Victorian Britain, it can be overwhelming... but then, you've got to start somewhere, eh?
I love the author's approach to history in the book. He picks a character or two from a region and follows them around, putting all the events happening in their eyes with a "real time feel" - he doesn't foreshadow or make foreboding writing when a campaign is going well but ends disastrously... it lends some suspense to the work, and moments of amazing drama and reversals in battle. You're genuinely curious as to how things are going to work out.
On a pragmatic note, this was pretty insightful book on how to get a whole culture united behind a cause... you have to appeal to different interests in different ways. When the British were able to get the humanitarian and religious factions onboard with imperialism, they had literally their whole society united for its cause. The ensuring moral high ground let them take over much of the world.
The stories in this one are fascinating too, taking you to remote outposts on the frontiers of Canada, murder and death cults and cannibalism in South Asia and Africa, the extended and ongoing conflict with the Afrikaner Boers... there's some seriously crazy moments in the book.
Another key lesson: Don't negotiate with Afghan tribal leaders who just murdered your emissary and hung him on meathooks in the marketplace. He's probably going to betray your treaty as soon as you leave your fortifications.
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization - A flawed masterpiece. On the one hand, it's a masterpiece. It's a tour de force of the history of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), with many great stories and a great storytelling style.
On the other hand, it's a deeply flawed work, because the narrator clearly has a "rooting interest" - he clearly loves Byzantine culture, and he keeps talking about how awesome it is. He gives unequal treatment of atrocities by Byzantine Commanders and those of adversaries. When a Byzantine force burns a city down in retaliation, his attitude is kind of, "well, boys will be boys..." but when an adversary does it, he goes, "Oh the horror and injustice!"
Still, a masterpiece. It's exactly what I look for in an overview - captivating characters and stories, distilled key lessons, lots of things to pick up, and a good ability to put things in context with other key regions and players, which is difficult due to the central location of the Empire.
Another criticism - he kind of runs out of steam at the end, which is understandable given that it's a long work, but some of the most interesting parts of the book happened at the end. He could have spent more time with the empire teetering on collapse and the rise of the current powers of the region.
But still, a fantastic book. If you don't know Byzantium and like history, grab this one. The coverage of Justinian and Belisarius is particularly fantastic and nuanced, and it's a really good book.
Next up - I just picked up copies of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Pax Britannica: Climax of an Empire, Charlemagne, Alexander Hamilton, and I'm finally going to take another crack at Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Audible is the most awesome thing ever - so, how do I get time to read so much? Audible.com. Seriously, I love this service so much. The credits thing they offer is great - $7.50 per book. I mean, I really like Audible.
Here's Audible links if you're subscribed -
If you're thinking of only grabbing one on audio, get Heaven's Command. The narrator is amazing - he does all these different accents and is really enjoyable to listen to (the American accent is kind of funny, but the way he does English, Scottish, Irish, and others is pretty astounding - talented dude).
Did I mention I really like Audible? Anyways, yeah, it's how I get through so many books. I've always got something on in my headphones. Audible's strongly recommended if you've never tried it before.
And as always, please recommend more good books in the comments.
i was just reading
and i don't remember if you had talked about the post yet.
as for a good book, im not sure if you've ever read a short history of nearly everything by bill bryson. he is a very good writer about science and facts without being boring.
Thanks. Unfortunately, I've always found audiobooks hard to listen to. There are a number of podcasts I love, but I think something about hearing writing that's intended for the page hasn't worked for me.
But I recently was able to enjoy a short story (written AND read by Cory Doctorow--I think that helps), and your post is motivating me to try audiobooks again, since I do spend a huge amount of time in the car (sadly).
I generally try to buy things piecemeal - I'm a believer in Felix Dennis's adage that "Overhead walks on two legs." So I try to buy things individually, which lets me have a good grasp on where money is going.
But Audible is awesome. At some point, I made the switch from reading to listening to most of my books, and the service is bloody amazing.
They have a "credit" system where you sign up, and you get one credit for month, and one credit gets you an audiobook. $7.49 for the first three months, then $15 per month after that. They also send out targeted offers to buy credits cheaply.
I just finished Anthony Everitt's "Augustus" and got started on Ted Turner's "Call Me Ted." Just bought Jan Morris's Heaven's Command from the Pax Britannica series too. They have tons of fiction if that's your thing, but I'm more impressed with their catalog of history and biographies which are the hardest kind of books for me to find digital copies of. I'll pick up Ron Chernow's "Washington" and "Hamilton" biographies after I finish Call Me Ted and Heaven's Command.
Also, another option to think about - a friend of mine who is huge into audiobooks shared a tip - you can share an account with up to 3 mobile devices, so my buddy splits a 2-credit-per-month account with his two roommates and they can all listen. It's a cool option if you have a regular reading club.
Audible.com has a very mature customer acquisition and retention strategy. I originally signed up for Audible after they sponsored of one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life. Audible was offering a free audio book, just to try the service. I decided to try it.
Little did I know that I was entering the Hotel California of software subscription services. I'm not upset with them -- it's more that I'm in awe of their ability to keep me as a customer for a year longer than I expected.
The reality is that Audible is expensive -- around $15/month to be able to purchase one audio book per month. After using up my free month, and then paying for two additional months, I realized I wasn't going to use it enough to justify the cost since I'd only listened to one audio book in a three-month span, and I went to cancel it.
Audible then offered me a deal: Just $5 for me to keep my existing credits for the next year. Since I had two audio books I hadn't read, I took the bait. But I never used those credits so when the renewal came up, I knew I really wanted to cancel.
Here's what the process was like when I just tried to cancel the account: