- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 9 hours and 26 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: November 24, 2009
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B002YJZEI8
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Top Customer Reviews
Anything but a dewy-eyed idealist (he jokes that his fellow liberals "are congenitally more comfortable humming the theme of All Things Considered than the theme of Crossfire"), Isaacson is insistent that liberal values, such as the free exchange of ideas, pluralism and rational, evidence-based decision making, are crucial to America's well-being. Above all, he concludes that "the need to calibrate a proper balance among opposing principles is evident in every issue we face today, from abortion to health-care reform to affirmative action."
A sizable cross section of the book is devoted to writings on his three biographical subjects, each subtly disclosing a different aspect of this worldview. He lauds Benjamin Franklin as a paragon of the American virtue of compromise, even going so far as to find a healthy dose of that quality embodied in our current president. For anyone who hasn't read Isaacson's exhaustive biography of Albert Einstein, the six pieces here, including ones discussing Einstein's view of God, his indirect but critical role in the development of the atomic bomb, and the essay introducing him as Time's "Man of the Century" make a persuasive case for his unabashed admiration of the brilliant scientist and humanist. Though he's quick to spotlight Henry Kissinger's faults, Isaacson's pragmatic outlook on American foreign policy comes through in his grudging admiration for the former secretary of state's brand of realpolitik.
Whether it's new media or biotech, Isaacson is an enthusiast about emerging technologies, and among the five pieces in a section entitled "The Age of Technology," he offers a substantial, balanced appraisal of Bill Gates along with a profile of his equally tough-minded competitor, Andrew Grove of Intel. Although he has chosen to present the piece in the section "Journalism," Isaacson argues convincingly and from the point of view of one immersed in the world of print journalism for a new system that will allow online media to evolve from what he believes is a failed advertising model to one based on readers paying modest sums for content --- what he calls "micropayments."
In any volume of this size and diversity, there are bound to be a handful of ill-chosen entries. The pieces on Reagan and Gorbachev have something of a dated feel, like an album of musty photographs dragged out by an elderly relative. Likewise, the transcript of an extended interview with Woody Allen focusing on his relationship with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter and the allegations of sexual abuse Farrow lodged against him (the interview in which Allen famously justified his actions by stating "The heart wants what it wants") strikes a discordant note in the distinguished company of Isaacson's worthier subjects.
But the book concludes stirringly with a passionate group of essays on New Orleans. While he has traveled the world, it's apparent that Isaacson's heart has never strayed far from his hometown, where he has returned some 20 times since Hurricane Katrina. He likens the "easy lethargy" of the city's recovery to culinary specialties like Creole gumbo and Cajun jambalaya, "which involve a variety of ingredients and spices that are blended slowly." And he offers a moving tribute to another one of its native sons, Louis Armstrong (his next biographical subject), who "stands as a rebuke to the great scourge of history and of our world today: the tribalism that pits people of different religions, races, and ethnicities against one another."
In this wide-ranging anthology, Walter Isaacson demonstrates much of what is praiseworthy about American journalism at its best. "Good narrative storytelling," he observes, "can bind us together, provoke shared sentiments, and evoke our common underlying values." If he and other generous and fair-minded journalists like him can make their voices heard above the bedlam of the 24/7 news cycle to inspire the next generation of their profession, that's reason to hope that the survival of the liberal democracy he cherishes will be assured.
--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (email@example.com)
This book is a collection of first rate essays and articles covering an array of American political and creative leaders as well as some thoughts on journalism and its future. The essays were written over a span of several decades, so in addition to the actual essays, each contains a foreword by the author to put it into current perspective.
All of the essays are good, but some are more interesting than others. Isaacson is clearly infatuated with Einstein, so Einstein gets more than his share of coverage in this collection. Very interesting and deserving material though.
My favorite was the piece on Bill Gates. Longer than most, it gives the reader a real feel for who Gates is and how he is wired. The essay addresses his many incredible strengths as well as some of his flaws. The eulogy for George Plimpton was also especially good.
I was particularly interested in the book's introduction in which the author explains his own background and how he got from New Orleans to Harvard to the editorship of Time and Chairmanship of CNN. Good stuff!!