Audiobooks: An Old Tradition Made New
The sharing of information is an old tradition. Its roots are in the gatherers of the Paleolithic period. Our ancestors would share their wisdom as a way to pass on what was safe to eat or how to properly prepare the food the hunters would bring home. It kept our species alive. Today, information sharing still has its place, and these audiobooks share their knowledge and wisdom this new form, reviewed in our Audiobooks 2017 special section.
The Worry Trick is an energetic and illuminating self-help book for anyone who struggles with worrying too much.
The Worry Trick, written by David A. Carbonell and narrated in audiobook format by Stephen Paul Aulridge, Jr., offers an enlightening new method of managing anxiety with clarity.
The book deconstructs how the brain responds to “worry” (or anxiety), breaking down the reasons why people worry at a level that impacts their everyday lives. It reframes the issue as not a personality flaw, but an evolutionary response. This eye-opening approach successfully strives to help chronic worriers work with the current of their thoughts rather than focus on how they are thinking “wrong.” The Worry Trick picks apart typical ways people try to mitigate their excessive worrying–simply trying to think “positively,” actively trying not to think about their worries, and avoiding triggers—in a way that is unpredictable and also makes perfect sense.
The unique method incorporates bits and pieces of cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, while rejecting other aspects of these popular approaches. By consolidating these theories and presenting them using easily digestible and funny anecdotes, this book offers a new way of thinking about thought, itself. The book never falters in the clarity of its message, and typically the bold jokes do well at enhancing the ideas on anxiety.
The Worry Trick translates well into an audiobook format. The narrator’s personable and lively audio enriches the text, and together they work to infuse a potentially dry and clinical topic with charisma and accessibility. Aulridge’s voice is balanced in a way that reflects the text and theme of the book—professional, yet animated.
The Worry Trick is an energetic and illuminating self-help book for anyone who struggles with worrying too much.
PAIGE VAN DE WINKLE (January 23, 2017)
During this enjoyable and educational recording, it becomes clear that the people of North Korea are slowly becoming their own saviors.
Listening to Caroline McLaughlin’s engrossing audio recording of Jieun Baek’s book North Korea’s Hidden Revolution feels a little like being told a scary bedtime story of a horrific land ruled by a despot, whose people could benefit from the arrival of a benevolent prince or some other fairy-tale staple.
Chapter after chapter details an impossibly harsh regime that promotes its leader as a god, complete with legends of his incredible deeds, and even an ideology-supporting version of the ten commandments. Though many details of living under the totalitarian Kim regime seem fantastic, they’re all first-hand accounts by defectors Baek has interviewed, discussing the near-crippling government oversight of entertainment, social gatherings, and food distribution, along with the falsehoods of government propaganda. The Kim regime claims, for example, that the United States invaded North Korea to start the Korean conflict.
The defectors’ incredible stories of daily tyranny and harrowing escapes are related by McLaughlin with only subtle, yet effective, distinctions in her tone, allowing the impact of the defectors’ own words to deliver their messages without undue embellishment. The recording becomes a bit dry in its concluding summary section, losing some of its sense of immediacy as personal narratives give way to a textbook-style tone, but even here the topic carries McLaughlin through, with fascinating glimpses as to what a reunification between North Korea and South Korea might look like.
North Korea’s Hidden Revolution soars highest with simple stories of smuggled USB drives, pirated DVDs, and the role of foreign media in opening the perceptions of North Koreans to the truth about their country’s status in the world. There don’t appear to be any easy solutions for those inside North Korea—no prince or savior is on the horizon—but during this enjoyable and educational recording, it becomes clear that the people of North Korea are slowly becoming their own saviors.
PETER DABBENE (January 23, 2017)
War on Crime policies of the ‘60s have consequences that can be seen in today’s police militarization and mass incarceration.
The United States comprises 5 percent of the world’s overall population, but 25 percent of its prison population. How this state of mass incarceration came about is the subject of Hinton’s deeply researched and thoughtful work From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime. Josh Bloomberg’s narration gives it the respect that this important subject deserves.
The origin of the world’s largest prison system is often linked to President Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs, but Hinton argues that its source can actually be traced back to the bipartisan policies of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society reforms of the 1960s. Hinton effectively shows how Johnson’s War on Poverty was quickly eclipsed by his War on Crime, which placed incentives on punitive actions. These policies have consequences that can be seen today, from the militarization of police to overrepresentation of people of color in the prison system.
Bloomberg’s voice maintains the seriousness that this text requires without devolving into a lecturing tone. The recording is clear, with a professional sound quality. Bloomberg’s intakes of breath during pauses in sentences may be loud and distracting to some wearing headphones.
Listeners should consider why they are interested in this book when determining if the audiobook version is right. The text is dense with information. If it is being used for research, the audiobook may not be the right choice. It can be harder for the mind to fully take in all the nuances of information at the speed with which books are generally read out loud, and there is no table of contents, index, or notes included. If listening for personal interest, Bloomberg’s steady pace and pleasant tone are a nice match for this important work.
CHRISTINE CANFIELD (January 23, 2017)
The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships
This is a welcoming workbook for women who are ready to break new ground in their relationships.
Who doesn’t want to get her way more often? Julie de Azevedo Hanks specializes in helping women tap into their needs and desires, as they learn to ask for what they want in a way that is positive, authentic, and strong. The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships is a wonderful audiobook that provides an empowering boost for women ready to take control of their lives.
Believe it or not, assertiveness starts with good boundaries. Hanks quickly breaks down her definition of “assertiveness.” It isn’t bossiness, and it isn’t trampling on other people, either. Assertiveness, she says, is “an expression of difference—there’s no real need to express our thoughts and feelings if they’re the same as everyone else’s, right?” Women fear that differences will create distance, but clearly communicating and valuing them actually builds relationships and confidence.
Narrator Rebecca Roberts’s tone is conspiratorial, confident, and feminine. The audiobook is broken into fifteen chapters that cover basic techniques for becoming more assertive. Guided meditations are included as well, with the intent of helping women identify the memories and feelings that influence their choices. Although Hanks has a PhD and a long career as a psychotherapist, this book primarily includes anecdotal evidence rather than scientific data. Including examples from actual clients she’s helped adds variety.
Roberts’s voice is soothing, and softens some of the audiobook’s more intense moments. Hanks’s key message is that women, who often feel overwhelmed and overlooked deserve to be heard and valued. Rather than wait for this to be given, she urges women to help themselves by learning to use a few simple tried-and-true tools.
CLAIRE FOSTER (January 23, 2017)
Johnson offers an optimistic boost to anyone who’s ready to try something new, at any age.
In his wonderful new audiobook, It’s Never Too Late and You’re Never Too Old, Vic Johnson shows that you don’t have to choose to “get old.” Using inspiring anecdotes, the audiobook is both reassuring and compelling.
The audiobook is divided into fifty sections, each with the story of a famous person who found success after the age of fifty. These are all familiar names: Colonel Sanders, Raymond Chandler, and Julia Child are on the list. But how did they become successful? What were their struggles? Johnson relates their biographies, focusing on how each person overcame their obstacles—from health issues, to financial failure, to family problems—to capture personal success. In each story, Johnson emphasizes that age isn’t the issue. Age is a state of mind, and the fifty stories reinforce the same lesson for the entire audiobook.
Narrator Eric Synnestvedt has a wonderful, positive tone that sustains Johnson’s material well. His voice is pleasant and professional. He enunciates clearly, and sticks to the story without dramatizing. Although it’s obvious that there will be a happy ending to each story, Johnson uses suspense to keep the listener guessing. There is none of the standard self-help fare of practical advice, checklists, journal exercises, or guided meditations. Instead, Johnson lets his subjects’ biographies do the talking.
Johnson’s definition of “success” is fairly narrow: financial security and professional reputation. It’s actually comforting for millennials and other younger listeners, too. Do what you love, Johnson reiterates, and don’t lose hope. There’s always time left to live your dreams.
An excellent and relaxing audiobook, It’s Never Too Late and You’re Never Too Old offers an optimistic boost to anyone who’s ready to try something new, at any age.
CLAIRE FOSTER (January 23, 2017)
This illuminating, unique composition was crafted by the hands of a master.
Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty is a prismatic analysis of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence and a glimpse into the often enigmatic culture of Japan.
Straddling both the East and West, Fujimura is in an advantaged position to explore the Japanese context of Endo’s novel about Portuguese Jesuit priests wrestling with the nature of faith, doubt, and betrayal in medieval Japan. He approaches his subjects with a skilled hand, painting with words. As an audiobook, the narration is smooth and clear enough to convey the full impact of Fujimura’s prose.
Many Western readers of Silence may struggle with the ambiguity and suffering present, and while Fujimura offers a competent literary analysis of the novel itself—particularly a revealing chapter devoted to the motivations, psychology, and redemption of Endo’s Father Rodrigues—the wider discussion of Japanese culture and the nature of art, especially religious art, are the most compelling portions of the book. Here, the tenuous relationship between faith and doubt is unabashedly explored. Fujimura insists that doubt is an integral part of a deep faith and that it is possible to maintain orthodoxy while still remaining open to the myriad possibilities of the unknown and the unquantifiable.
Japanese culture has an affinity for ambiguity and therefore rejects most modes of black-and-white thinking. Endo refers to this as the “swamp of Japan” and argues that for Christianity to have any hope of taking root there, it must find some way to adapt. Fujimura looks to the mysteries inherent in artistic creation and suggests that Christians must become comfortable outside of prescribed boxes.
Silence and Beauty is an illuminating, unique composition crafted from the finest materials in the hands of a master.
MEAGAN LOGSDON (January 23, 2017)
This valuable recording reminds leaders that relationships are a key to business success.
Businesspeople on the go will value listening to The Relationship Engine: Connecting with the People Who Power Your Business, by Ed Wallace. Through the masterful reading by Tom Parks, this professional recording precisely communicates the author’s tips for building strong business relationships. Divided into thirty-eight tracks, the MP3 includes a glossary and a pdf with diagrams and charts, visually conveying concepts such as relational leadership and credibility.
Without faltering, Parks consistently reads the text clearly but sometimes at a clip. Listeners may need to replay rapidly delivered lists and cross-referenced items so they can process and digest the in-depth material. The five foundational principles are rattled off without skipping a beat. As listeners are thinking about displaying worthy intent and caring about people’s goals, passions, and struggles, their minds are forced to race forward and grasp points about making every interaction matter, valuing people before processes, and connecting performance to a purpose.
A lengthy opening anecdote describing the author’s panic after learning about his son’s accident may leave some people wondering about any possible business connection. However, Parks’s expressive storytelling skills will carry them forward until they learn about a hospital employee who helped Wallace find his son quickly. After his son’s recovery, the author applies this memorable moment—about making others’ interests a priority—to his business model.
Those who are accustomed to reading business books in print may also find the audio format challenging. Without the ability to flip back and forth easily to review interconnected and repeatedly referenced principles and strategies, some listeners may feel frustrated trying to relocate specific points.
However, with a wealth of case stories, nomenclature, and tools to absorb, any of the points that stick will remind leaders that relationships are a key to business success.
ANDREA HAMMER (January 23, 2017)
Shalva offers solid and upbeat advice for those struggling to control their fixations on the future.
Being motivated and driven seem like positive characteristics, but for ambition addicts, wanting to do and be more often comes at a high cost. Benjamin Shalva, a self-professed ambition addict—as well as a freelance writer, rabbi, meditation teacher, and yoga instructor—shares his experiences with ambition addiction and in this audio version of his book Ambition Addiction.
The book is read by the author, which makes for a personal feel. Shalva works to change his tone and keep delivery interesting, though it is easy to drift as lists of activities repeat alongside multiple cautionary tales aimed to scare ambition addicts straight.
The title otherwise works well in audio form, with the author directing listeners to a website to find printable resources, though a table of contents to assist with second listens might have been helpful.
Shalva argues that ambition addicts are dogged by uncertainty, vulnerability, and mortality, and that they use their heightened ambitions as a way around these inevitabilities. Their lives are ruled by what he calls “any day now,” a movie that runs in their heads, showing their yet-to-be-achieved successes and allowing them to feel like they have made it.
The alternative, he says, is to replace “any day now” with “this day now,” and he offers tips and guidelines for cultivating mindfulness, gratitude, and compassion that he says have helped curb his ambition addiction.
Ambition Addiction offers a solid plan for ambition addicts willing to do the work of paying attention to their lives and the people in them. As with approaches to any other addiction, ambition takes daily, consistent work to tackle, but Shalva shows that it is worth the effort.
SARAH WHITE (January 23, 2017)
Cohen’s book traces how the current nasty and mean mode of political discourse developed.
With an election over and an inauguration on the horizon, books that explain the current political state are of renewed interest. Impossibly broad promises aside, let it suffice to say that Michael Cohen’s American Maelstrom will prove to be an invaluable tool for understanding the evolution of American political discourse into the state we suffer through now.
Opening with the end of the LBJ administration and the surprising dissent from a member of his own party, Cohen sets out to illustrate how the American world of politics was impacted by the radical changes to society that would become the hallmark of the 1960s. The historical events many might expect to read about are often given only glancing mentions here, where the lens is instead focused on the political ripples those events sent through Washington, D.C.
Tasked with keeping track of a massive number of characters and their plans, Cohen lays out his knotted subject into understandable narratives while moving smoothly from the macro level of the national mood to the micro level of political dealings.
The narration by Stephen Paul Aulridge, Jr, is well done. His clear, rich voice is well suited to Cohen’s writing. Auldridge’s various voices and accents help to differentiate where quotations have been used and to assist in keeping track of the vast number of players in this drama. The recording quality is consistently excellent on download, if sometimes distorted on Audible’s player.
This is not a biography of America in the final half of the twentieth century, but is instead a study of how a political organism responds and evolves in response to stimuli. While politics have always been nasty and mean, American Maelstrom offers a rare look into how our modern political discord developed.
CONSTANCE AUGUSTA A. ZABER (January 23, 2017)
These collected seminars will introduce the brilliance of the renowned philosopher to new audiences.
Just So brings together three of renowned philosopher Alan Watts’s seminars. Just over ten hours long, its content is fascinating from beginning to end, offering truly profound insights into the workings of the cosmos.
These three seminars cover a range of topics, including psychology, biology, physics, religion, and economics. They draw on theories and ideas from various spiritual systems and philosophies to present a clear and compelling view of the universe. Its observations stand to be very helpful in understanding and improving everyday life.
This is not an audiobook for background listening; it is too full of deep ideas. While some of its concepts are readily clear, most require effort to be meaningfully processed, as with notions like: “you do not carry on an existence without a society, and the reactions of other people to you provide you with the mirror in which you attain a realization of yourself.”
It will almost certainly be necessary to listen to parts or all of this audiobook more than once. Happily, there is an insert included with the discs that breaks down the topics covered, from disc to disc and track to track.
These are recordings of live seminars, and the sound quality reflects that. There is occasional laughter and audience rustling, and even the sound of an airplane at one point. Though such moments are distracting, Watts is a dynamic speaker and it is easy to get reimmersed in his voice and his message.
Just So is an exciting audiobook for anyone interested in spirituality or philosophy. Watts was a well-known philosopher in the 1950s and ’60s, and those who were fans then will appreciate this chance to revisit his brilliance. Perhaps even more significantly, Just So will introduce his ideas to a whole new generation.
CATHERINE THURESON (January 23, 2017)