I listen to lots of audiobooks. I like to do two things at once, because why focus and do one thing well when you can be slightly distracted and do two things to a mediocre level.Thanks to this sabotaging of future success I can now share with you a number of super good audiobook recommendations! Hooray! Books read by deep voiced Americans!
1)The Secret Life – Andrew O’Hagan : Ethically Uncertain Gonzo escapades
Journalist and novelist Andrew O’Hagan released this collection of three long form essays back in 2017. The pieces cover O’Hagan’s time as an unsuccessful ghostwriter with Julian Assange, as an unsuccessful official biography of abortive Satoshi Nakamoto Craig Wright, and successful creation of a fake online personality.
The stories are brilliantly retold, and are just complex enough to hold your interest and clearly written enough to be followed while you walk to work of go for a run or just sit on the bog and stare into space. O’Hagan has some excellent insights and turns of phrase and his long form pieces as a well structured as a satisfying novel.
Some of his ethical choices, in what he reveals and who he associates with, are uncomfortable. His treatment of Assange while the latter was under investigation for sexual violence seem at best over-indulgent and at worst an abdication of responsibility. I am also told, but cannot confirm myself, that he misunderstands some crucial elements of bitcoin in the Satoshi Story.
Despite these hang-ups The Secret Life is a compellingly written and narrated collection, and I heartily recommend it.
2) Bad Blood – John Carreyou – White Collar Skulduggery and Journalistic shenanigans
Bad Blood is an account of the strange rise and fascinating fall of the medical tech company Theranos. Theranos claimed to possess revolutionary blood testing technology, that would allow mobile blood testing and almost instantaneous results.
Founded by the Steve-Jobs acolyte Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos was briefly worth billions, and attracted support and funding from major public figures including HEnry Kissinger, George P Shultz and Rupert Murdoch. The company collapsed in 2016 when reporting by The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyou revealed that nearly all of the companies claims were wholesale lies, and it’s huge net-worth maintained by a regime of misconduct, fraud and legalised intimidation.
Bad Blood is an account of the company’s life written by Carreyou himself. The chapters leading up to his own involvement are fantastic and contain many wonderful vignettes of life inside a company that often resembled an authoritarian fiefdom. The chapters about Carreyou’s investigation are a good account of how invesitgate journalism happens, but in the conclusion I would’ve liked to have seen a bit less about him and a bit more about the fates of the various protagonists of his story.
This is a fantastic audiobook regardless, and one I found it almost impossible to stop listening to. I give it two thumbs up, and a-okay and an official Yippee!
3) Beowulf – Seamus Heaney: Soothingly Irish voiced rendition of the old English epic
Beowulf by Seamus Heaney is just over an hour long but is well worth the audible credit it cost me. This version of Heaney’s translation is voiced by the great man himself. Heaney had one of the best voices for poetry I have ever heard. His Irish lilt was balanced out by the northern harshness of county Derry. The effect created is bardic; you feel like you’re being told the old tale over a fire. It’s like a form of fun interior cosplay, and I hope you give yourself the pleasure of an hour or two in the company of the greatest Irish poet of his generation.
4) Fear and Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe: Intense football hatreds and insightful historical analysis of 20th century Spain
Fear and Loathing in La Liga is a history of the most famous rivalry in world football; the clasico of Real Madrid and Barcelona. English expat Sid Lowe tells a fiercely contested story fairly and in a genuinely compelling way. It’s very hard to tell the story of a sport without running into the verbose mistake of recounting whole sections of matches. Lowe focuses on what matters and makes a long story consistently listenable.
The most impressive aspect of Lowe’s book is the historical analysis. The author holds a PhD in 20th century Spanish history, and his account of el clasico is also a history of the tragedies and ironies of Spain in the last 100 years. He quite brilliantly dismantles and re-contextualizes the political myths of both clubs, and his section on football under Francoism is as good as account of public life under fascism as you can find outside of fiction.
If you like history, or the kicking of the balls around the pitches, check out Fear and Loathing in La Liga.
5) Reappraisals: Essays on the forgotten 20th century – Tony Judt: Occasionally infuriating and sometimes amazing essays on the 20th century
I have listened to this book more than any other, almost as much as the others combined. Tony Judt’s collection of essays on various aspects of the 20th century (Isreal/Palestine, US foreign policy, political novelists, public commemoration and history) have held my attention for dozens of hours.
This is partly because I hate some of these essays. The late Tony Judt sometimes wrote in a patronizing and ignorant manner about topics he knew little. His hagiographical account of the life of Arthur Koestler is one of the worst and most unjustifiably judgmental pieces of writing I have ever come across.
It is also because some of these essays are masterpieces. Judt wrote as clearly and as compellingly as any historian of recent decades. He was capable of brilliant analysis and historiographical dissection. The essays on French Memory, the fall of France and Albert Camus are great additions to Judt’s area of early specialty. His critical reviews of works by and about Henry Kissinger and John Lewis Gaddis are some of the best historical hatchet jobs you can find.
I recommend Reappraisals not because it is a perfect book, but because it is one I find I can’t stop reading and thinking about and often getting mad at.