A quick round-up of recent audiobook ‘reads’, with thanks to Audible UK for the review credits (except for the first reviewed, which I borrow from the Toronto Public Library). I’ve kept the reviews very short on purpose. I’ll try to keep on top of these reviews in a more timely manner in the future.
Featuring: Philip Delves-Broughton, Irin Carmon, Jessi Klein, Shana Knizhnik, Antonio Garcia Martinez, Randall Munroe, Nick Offerman, Richard Porter, Amy Schumer
Philip Delves-Broughton, AHEAD OF THE CURVE (Penguin)
In this candid and entertaining insider’s look at the most influential school in global business, Philip Delves Broughton draws on his crack reporting skills to describe his madcap years at Harvard Business School. Ahead of the Curve recounts the most edifying and surprising lessons learned in the quest for an MBA, from the ingenious chicanery of leveraging and the unlikely pleasures of accounting, to the antics of the “booze luge” and other, less savory trappings of student culture. Published during the one hundredth anniversary of Harvard Business School, this is the unflinching truth about life in the trenches of an iconic American institution.
I received a UK review copy of this book back in 2008, and very much enjoyed it. Last weekend, I needed an audiobook for a hefty amount of driving I was going to do, so decided on this — something I’d already read, so didn’t matter as much if I missed something while driving (safety note: when driving, pay more attention to the road than the audiobook you’re listening to). On this second ‘look’, I found I enjoyed it just as much as I had the first time. Narrator Simon Vance does an excellent job: his delivery is smooth, engaging. The book itself is an honest look at two years at Harvard Business School — warts and all. It’s a journalist’s journey from hope and cynicism to acceptance, respect, and… well, still a hefty dose of cynicism. The author is honest about his shortcomings, but also unflinching when it comes to pointing out the weaknesses, hypocrisy and arrogance of HBS. Definitely recommended.
Ahead of the Curve borrowed from Toronto Public Library (not available via Audible UK)
Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik, NOTORIOUS RBG (Dey Street)
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame — she has only tried to make the world a little better and a little freer.
But nearly a half-century into her career, something funny happened to the octogenarian: she won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg first made her name as a feminist pioneer are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute.
Notorious RBG, inspired by the Tumblr that amused the Justice herself and brought to you by its founder and an award-winning feminist journalist, is more than just a love letter. It draws on intimate access to Ginsburg’s family members, close friends, colleagues, and clerks, as well an interview with the Justice herself. An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.
This book is excellent. Not only is it a biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but it is also an account of how she and her SCOTUS decisions have affected the US. I didn’t know a great deal about RBG, save for what I’d read in a few, relatively short magazine profiles. The story of her life and career are pretty damn inspiring, and not just for women. If you have any interest in politics, history and/or legal matters in the US, then you really should read (or listen to) this book. The narration is great, and the light humour keeps the story accessible and the pace moving. It’s lighter in tone than 99% of the other books on the Supreme Court and its Justices, but it is not flippant — you’ll come away not only with a greater appreciation for RBG’s brilliance, but also a better understanding of why her causes matter. Very highly recommended.
Notorious RBG on Audible
Jessi Klein, YOU’LL GROW OUT OF IT (Grand Central)
Explores the journey of the twenty-first century woman…
As both a tomboy and a late bloomer, comedian Jessi Klein grew up feeling more like an outsider than a participant in the rites of modern femininity.
In YOU’LL GROW OUT OF IT, Klein offers-through an incisive collection of real-life stories-a relentlessly funny yet poignant take on a variety of topics she has experienced along her strange journey to womanhood and beyond. These include her “transformation from Pippi Longstocking-esque tomboy to are-you-a-lesbian-or-what tom man,” attempting to find watchable porn, and identifying the difference between being called “ma’am” and “miss” (“Miss sounds like you weigh ninety-nine pounds”).
Raw, relatable, and consistently hilarious, YOU’LL GROW OUT OF IT is a one-of-a-kind book by a singular and irresistible comic voice.
This audiobook had me laughing out loud while walking around town. Not all the time, but there were a good number of comments and descriptions that were very funny. The author takes us through a wide range of topics and personal reminiscences. Klein’s narration is great, and the story is pretty interesting throughout. Sometimes the pacing dipped, and the overall narrative wasn’t quite as smooth as I thought it could have been, but overall this is a very good (audio)book. You’ll Grow Out of It is published by Grand Central Publishing in North America, and is available in the UK.
You’ll Grow Out of It on Audible
Antonio Garcia Martinez, CHAOS MONKEYS (Harper)
The reality is, Silicon Valley capitalism is very simple:
Investors are people with more money than time.
Employees are people with more time than money.
Entrepreneurs are the seductive go-between.
Marketing is like sex: only losers pay for it.
Imagine a chimpanzee rampaging through a datacenter powering everything from Google to Facebook. Infrastructure engineers use a software version of this “chaos monkey” to test online services’ robustness—their ability to survive random failure and correct mistakes before they actually occur. Tech entrepreneurs are society’s chaos monkeys, disruptors testing and transforming every aspect of our lives, from transportation (Uber) and lodging (AirBnB) to television (Netflix) and dating (Tinder). One of Silicon Valley’s most audacious chaos monkeys is Antonio García Martínez.
After stints on Wall Street and as CEO of his own startup, García Martínez joined Facebook’s nascent advertising team, turning its users’ data into profit for COO Sheryl Sandberg and chairman and CEO Mark “Zuck” Zuckerberg. Forced out in the wake of an internal product war over the future of the company’s monetization strategy, García Martínez eventually landed at rival Twitter. He also fathered two children with a woman he barely knew, committed lewd acts and brewed illegal beer on the Facebook campus (accidentally flooding Zuckerberg’s desk), lived on a sailboat, raced sport cars on the 101, and enthusiastically pursued the life of an overpaid Silicon Valley wastrel.
Now, this gleeful contrarian unravels the chaotic evolution of social media and online marketing and reveals how it is invading our lives and shaping our future. Weighing in on everything from startups and credit derivatives to Big Brother and data tracking, social media monetization and digital “privacy,” García Martínez shares his scathing observations and outrageous antics, taking us on a humorous, subversive tour of the fascinatingly insular tech industry. Chaos Monkeys lays bare the hijinks, trade secrets, and power plays of the visionaries, grunts, sociopaths, opportunists, accidental tourists, and money cowboys who are revolutionizing our world. The question is, will we survive?
I’m of two minds, when it comes to this book. An easy comparison can be made to Accidental Billionaires, but it’s not always a favourable one. Martinez offers a lot more detail — technical and business — than appeared in Mezrich’s book on the founding of Facebook. This is frequently a good thing, and the author describes a lot of it in accessible prose (not always, though, and sometimes it goes on for longer than it should). At the same time, there were a good number of passages/sections of Chaos Monkeys that came across as though told by a “Tech Bro”. I’m not sure if this was the result of the narrator’s delivery, or Martinez’s text, but it was kind of irritating. It felt like the author protested too much, and was trying so very hard to come across as a cool dude, when instead he came across like a bit of a douche. The fact that it wasn’t constant also makes me think it was a calculated attempt to appeal to a broader audience. (I could be wrong — I know nothing about Martinez except what’s in this book). A good read for people interested in learning more about Silicon Valley and tech entrepreneurship.
Chaos Monkeys on Audible
Randall Munroe, WHAT IF? (HMH/John Murray)
From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask
Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have an enormous, dedicated following, as do his deeply researched answers to his fans’ strangest questions. The queries he receives range from merely odd to downright diabolical: • What if I took a swim in a spent-nuclear-fuel pool? • Could you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? • What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City? • Are fire tornadoes possible?
His responses are masterpieces of clarity and wit, gleefully and accurately explaining everything from the relativistic effects of a baseball pitched at near the speed of light to the many horrible ways you could die while building a periodic table out of all the actual elements. The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? is an informative feast for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.
We have this and Munroe’s other book (Thing Explainer) in print, but I was travelling this past weekend and, after finishing Ahead of the Curve (above), I thought I’d give the What If? audiobook a try — like a great many other people, I am a huge fan of xkcd. It’s brilliantly narrated by Will Wheaton, quite fascinating, and is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. I think, despite Wheaton’s great performance, I may need to read this one again on paper — I worry that I missed some things, and not only because the audiobook (obviously) doesn’t have the illustrations. I was particularly fascinated by the chapter on radioactive decay… (Not sure why — it just stuck out for me.) On the whole, I’d certainly recommend What If? — but maybe buy both the print and audio editions for the full experience?
What If? on Audible
Nick Offerman, PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE (Penguin)
When it comes to growing a robust mustache, masticating red meat, building a chair, or wooing a woman, who better to educate you than the always charming, always manly Nick Offerman, best known as Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson? Combining his trademark comic voice and very real expertise in carpentry, Paddle Your Own Canoe features tales from Offerman’s childhood (born, literally, in the middle of an Illinois cornfield) to his theater days in Chicago to the, frankly, magnificent seduction of his wife, Megan Mullally. Offerman also shares his hard-bitten battle strategies in the arenas of manliness, love, styles, and religion, and invaluable advice on getting the utmost pleasure out of woodworking, assorted meats, outdoor recreations, and other palatable entrees.
I recently watched the whole of Parks & Recreation with Alyssa, and we completely fell in love with it. And so, as is normal for me, I decided to see which of the cast members had written books — it turns out Nick Offerman has two! So, I started with the first. If you are familiar with Offerman’s character in Parks & Rec, then you will have a good idea of the tone and style of this book. Unlike Ron Swanson, though, Offerman is quite liberal. So, imagine if Ron Swanson was a Democrat, and you’ll get what Paddle Your Own Canoe is about. It’s hilarious, too. Offerman’s delivery is superb, and his story is interesting — he covers his journey into acting, his continued passion for carpentry and making stuff for yourself, his clear adoration of his wife and frequent professional partner, and his obvious fondness for his colleagues. This is a great audiobook on pretty much every level — the performance and production are great, and the book is entertaining and endearing. It’ll certainly make you like Offerman even more than you probably already do. Very highly recommended. I’ll be listening to Gumption next.
Paddle Your Own Canoe on Audible
Richard Porter, AND ON THAT BOMBSHELL (Orion)
I was Top Gear’s script editor for 13 years and all 22 series. I basically used to check spelling and think of stupid gags about The Stig. I also got to hang around with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. It didn’t feel like something you should get paid for.
From the disastrous pilot show of 2002 to the sudden and unexpected ending in 2015, working on Top Gear was quite a rollercoaster ride. We crossed continents, we made space ships, we bobbed across the world’s busiest shipping lane in a pick-up truck. We also got chased by an angry mob, repeatedly sparked fury in newspapers, and almost killed one of our presenters.
I realised that I had quite a few stories to tell from behind the scenes on the show. I remembered whose daft idea it was to get a dog. I recalled the willfully stupid way in which we decorated our horrible office. I had a sudden flashback to the time a Bolivian drug lord threatened to kill us.
I decided I should write down some of these stories. So I have. I hope you like them.
And now, a quote from James May: ‘Richard Porter has asked me to “write a quote” for his new book about the ancient history of Top Gear. But this is a ridiculous request. How can one “write a quote”? Surely, by definition, a quote must be extracted from a greater body of writing, for the purpose of illustrating or supporting a point in an unrelated work. I cannot “write a quote” any more than I could “film an out-take”. Porter, like Athens, has lost his marbles.’ – James May
I picked this up on a whim one day, and I’m glad to say I rather enjoyed it. I’m somewhat familiar with the Top Gear story already, but Porter’s perspective on the TG years was a welcome one — normally, one gets the star’s (or “talent’s”) perspective on shows and movies, as opposed to a producer’s. And on that Bombshell is entertaining, well-performed, and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It was nice to learn more behind-the-scenes information and anecdotes from making the specials (in particular) and the show in general. Porter’s story is well-presented, and often self-deprecating. Recommended for any fan of the TV show, and anyone who is missing the hijinks of Clarkson, May and Hammond before their new Amazon show, The Grand Tour, begins.
And on that Bombshell is published by Orion.
And on that Bombshell on Audible
Amy Schumer, THE GIRL WITH THE LOWER BACK TATTOO (Gallery)
“Amy’s got your back. She’s in your corner. She’s an honesty bomb. And she’s coming for you.” — Actress Tilda Swinton and Trainwreck co-star
The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor. Now, Amy Schumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.
In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is — a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.
Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friend — an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably — but only because it’s over.
I’m not as familiar with Schumer’s work as I would like. The first thing of hers that I saw was Trainwreck, which I thought was very good (my favourite joke is a small one at the end, which had me laughing longer than anyone else in the cinema…). In this memoir, Schumer gives us a very honest, often-hilarious account of her life so far — focusing on her work, the entertainment/comedy industry in general, and her personal stories of life and love. It’s not as shocking as some people have suggested — rather, it is (sometimes brutally) honest. Schumer is self-deprecating, but it doesn’t come across as a schtick as it does for some celebrities. The author’s narration is excellent (as expected), and the production clear. I very much enjoyed this memoir. Highly recommended.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo on Audible