Sunday, March 29, 2020

4 History Audiobooks

I love listening to history books on audio. For me, fiction on audio has issues. Nonfiction is my preferred audiobook, and after memoir, history is just great. You might be familiar with the broad strokes, if you miss a line or two due to traffic situations, it won't affect the overall story, and it's usually pretty interesting.

I've gotten way behind on my reviews, so I thought I'd combine four history audiobooks into one post. By the way, if you're stuck inside and listening to some audiobooks sounds like a good idea, I get most of mine through my local library on the Libby app, and the rest through Libro.fm. On Libro.fm you can pick an independent bookstore and help support them through your audio purchases. Most libraries only have new releases and you might have to wait weeks or months for the hot ones. On Libro, their depth of backlist is greater, and you own it, so you get it right now, and you don't have to listen to it in two weeks or it disappears--ideal for longer ones. Now, on to the reviews!

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
It's good to start with an overview! This history goes back to the very beginnings of civilization, with beer. Water has rarely been potable once humans stopped being nomadic and settled down. Plus humans (and some other animals too!) have always had interest in intoxicants. After we got beer mastered, next up was wine. Following that, naturally spirits. Then we've got all of alcohol down pat, so on to coffee, tea, and finally cola. This book covers thousands of years of history, and I learned some really interesting tidbits, like how Pepsi was able to sell behind the iron curtain, therefore when the Eastern Bloc countries were finally opened to the west, Coke took over a symbolic of the west, even though Pepsi had long been available in Moscow.

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
While George and Martha Washington lived in Philadelphia, the second capitol of the United States, Pennsylvania had a law on the books that after 6 months, any enslaved person could petition for (and be granted) their freedom. Luckily for them, this was pointed out to them just before they were there six months, along with a loophole. If they took their enslaved people back to Virginia every five and a half months, the clock would restart every time. Well, if you think that was good enough for those enslaved people, who had worked alongside free whites and some free blacks in both New York City and Philadelphia, you'd be sorely mistaken. And one in particular, Ona Judge, Martha's personal slave, had had enough, and ran away. And man, the Washingtons really tried to get her back.

Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War by Steve Inskeep
Ah, how comforting it is to hear Steve Inskeep in your ear, talking just to you for hours on end. And about a truly interesting and largely forgotten character from the early days of the United States. Yes, I know you've heard of John Fremont, but can you tell me why? I sure couldn't. Turns out he was an explorer of the West, helped found California (and was one of its very first senators, just for a matter of months), fought Mexicans (sometimes illegally), was court-marshaled, and went on to run for president (not necessarily in that order). Along the way he married Jessie Benton, daughter of a longtime Senator, who turned out to be the famous woman behind a great man. John wouldn't have accomplished half of what he did, if it wasn't for Jessie's support, and more importantly her behind the scenes power, her understanding of political machinations and manipulations, and her ability to play the new media in a way never done before, making them the first real "celebrities" in the modern sense of the word.

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe
Most biographies of George Washington are written by men (and by most, I mean 99.9%) and they're mostly not very critical, rather fawning looks. Even the ones written by respected Big Guys in biographies, don't tend to question what they read in previous biographies about how Washington's mother was horrible (um, take context into consideration please, and also go back to original sources) and they also are overly concerned about Washington's lack of progeny and hence, his manliness (which never seemed to bother Washington.) So this is a refreshing look at him as a three-dimensional human. Ms. Coe isn't out to tear him down from his pedestal, but rather to make him not  a marble statue at all, but instead, a human being. It's fascinating and a fresh look and I listened to the whole thing in one day! (Yes, it did cover a little of the same ground as Never Caught. But not in a way that felt overly redundant. That incident here is just given a few paragraphs in the last section of the book. You should definitely read both.)

All four of these I borrowed from my local library via Libby. 

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