Saturday, July 07, 2018

Time Well Spent: Four Audio Book Reviews

When I did denominational work, I frequently traveled by car and got into the habit of listening to audio-books, first on cassette tapes and then DVDs.  Now, of course, these are available as digital downloads on your iPhone or iPad.  Since the beginning of the year, I have had the opportunity to listen to four complete audio books.  As you will note, they cover a variety of topics and all provide interesting insights about people and culture.

Vance’s writing style is poignant, abrupt, and down-to-earth.  His memoir includes plenty of salty language that clearly expresses both his attitude and that of his family and friends growing up. 

Vance is a success story.  Coming out of a declining area of southeast Ohio, he survived a difficult childhood to enter the Marines and eventually graduate from Yale Law School.  A Republican, he is committed to investing in the area where he grew up as a venture capitalist, not-for-profit entrepreneur, and possible political candidate.

His book reflects the challenges faced by white working-class people who often barely survive in our culture.  Vance’s stance is realistic but hopeful.  The key insight here is that one person--his maternal grandmother--provided the intervention that changed his trajectory in life.  One person can make a difference.

How fitting it is to listen to this audio book while driving at high speed down an Interstate highway.  Author Tom Lewis recounts the developments of the United State highway system from the creation of the Bureau of Public Roads in the early 20thcentury, but the story goes into high gear with the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956 under the Eisenhower Administration.  

The key take-away here is the background, education, and motivations of the those who conceived and constructed our Interstate System--social planners, economic investors, and highway engineers.  They were often misdirected or blind to the consequences of their work.  In many cases, these players were neither interested in or trained to consider the impact that these super highways would have on people and culture.  

One of the most egregious proposals was an effort that would have separated the historic French Quarter and Jackson Square in New Orleans from the Mississippi River with an elevated Interstate highway.  Just think about sitting at the CafĂ© du Monde, eating your beignets and drinking your Coffee Au Lait while hundreds of trucks and cars passed by overhead! Thankfully, a few committed individuals stepped up to combat this idea.

Lewis’ book helps us to understand how this monumental work can both unite and divide us as a nation.

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos take center stage in this account of the effort to shift the paradigm for space exploration and exploitation but there are other players like Richard Branson and Greg Wyler.  Fernholz clearly shows how the military-industrial complex’s hold on space efforts has not only been wasteful but often less than successful.  With the support of NASA and the military, traditional aerospace firms like Boeing and Lockheed Martin have used regulatory and political pressure to edge out potential commercial competitors and preserve their domination in the field.
Amazon writes, “With privileged access to top executives at SpaceX, including Musk himself, as well as at Blue Origin, NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, and Virgin Galactic, Fernholz spins this high-stakes marathon into a riveting tale of rivalry and survival.”
This is an interesting story of government excess and entrepreneurial imagination with “the final frontier” as the backdrop.  Lots of fun!

My reaction to Brown is often divided between exhilaration and dismay.  Her honesty is disarming and her insight into the human condition is inspirational.  
I love this book because is addresses a theme that I have considered from time to time--the power of wilderness experiences.  From the accounts of Hagar and the children of Israel in the Hebrew Bible to the temptation of Jesus in the Gospels, wilderness in the human journey is a place of wonder and opportunity. Brown writes, "The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it's the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand."

Brown is, as always, candid about her own life experiences.  In one part of this book, she talks about being asked to speak in various venues if she will only adapt her clothing, language, or approach to fit into someone else’s expectations.  Her response is clear and profane!  She says, "True belonging doesn't require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are."  
This book is a real treat!

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