Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

A Doubter’s Almanac: A Novel

Written by: Ethan Canin

Narrated by: David Aaron Baker



“A Doubter’s Almanac” is a 21st century classic. 

Though some may argue otherwise, Ethan Canin writes about a universal truth; i.e. “women are the sun; men are the moon”.  Canin catalyzes one’s doubt and ambivalence about life’s meaning in a story about moral transgression, addiction, guilt, and redemption.

The story begins with details of a person with a superior intellect, and an amoral life.  He is Milo Andret, a mathematician blessed with the ability to understand complex spatial relationships, even as they change shape. 

Milo is never lost in a physical wilderness but is trapped in a space reserved only for himself.  In some ways, Milo reminds one of Ivan Karamazov (Dostoevsky’s protagonist in “Brothers Karamazov”), a rationalist that denies God because of the irrationality of faith and the cruelty of life.

Canin’s character, Milo. is a boy narcissist who matures into a misogynistic adult and dies as a repentant grandfather.  Canin reveals the nature of geniuses who exploit their superiority.

Milo, like Ivan in “Brothers Karamazov”, treats others as superficial human beings who only have relevance in respect to what they can do for him.  Milo is a self-absorbed genius that begins as a naïve young boy looking for recognition from others for a superiority that he only vaguely sees in himself. 

Milo is a boy narcissist who matures into a misogynistic adult and dies as a repentant grandfather.  Canin reveals the nature of geniuses who exploit their superiority.  They will alienate others.  Some will lie to win praise.  They are awarded for presumed new discoveries that are beyond the reasoning ability of their peers.

Genius is shown to have a short productive life.  Canin describes geniuses as God’s spies because they have momentary insight to the laws of nature.  However, God designs human brains to deteriorate early in their lives.  Once past the age of 30, God’s spies are blinded by mental deterioration. 

Milo crosses that threshold just before discovering a mathematical proof that has escaped human understanding.  Canin’s story suggests Milo fudges the truth of his mathematical proof by purposefully ignoring a false calculation.


Milo, like Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, knows he has made a mistake, and punishes himself with alcohol, anti-social behavior, and misogyny.

Consciously, Milo attempts to redeem himself by teaching his son to become a mathematics topologist like himself.  His son and daughter have inherited Milo’s ability to understand complex spatial relationships.  However, Milo’s son also inherited his father’s addictive behavior. 

Milo’s son turns to mind altering drugs just as his father turned to alcohol.  They choose addiction to escape the pressure of their innate genius.  Because of Milo’s misogyny, he discounts the nurturing role of his wife and innate ability of his daughter.

All who surround Milo are sycophantic because of his mathematics reputation.  Milo knows his reputation is founded partly on a lie.  He wishes to redeem himself with a new discovery but has lost his cutting edge genius.  Milo is plunged deeper into misery by the realization that scientific discovery is an endless creation of new questions.  One great mathematics proof only leads to another question and the search for another proof.  Milo drinks himself to death, and his son is heading in the same direction.

Milo’s son abandons his mathematics career to become a financial Quant for an investment firm.  He becomes a multi-millionaire before the age of twenty by arbitraging stock and commodities by hedging price movements in the market.  The deterioration of his father’s health draws him back into the orbit of his father’s life.

The last two-thirds of Canin’s book is a dissection of Milo’s life and the future of Milo’s wife, two children, and two grandchildren.  Milos is divorced by his wife after years of psychological abuse.  His son returns to be with Milo to understand why Milo became the father and person he had become.  Milo’s daughter and wife are estranged but eventually come back to see Milo in his last years of life.

The final scenes of Milo’s life are a summation of Canin’s view of human nature.  Death is a Sisyphean struggle for Milo.  The beginning of his life is symbolized by a long chain he carves out of a single piece of wood when a boy.  It is a beginning recognition of his genius.  It is later revealed in an interview with a mathematics professor that becomes Milo’s champion and mentor in college.  This chain becomes the lynchpin of Milo’s life.  The professor recognizes topographic genius in Milo’s ability to create a perfect chain out of one piece of wood.


MILO’S CARVED WOODEN CHAIN-This chain becomes the lynchpin of Milo’s life.

The chain’s linkage with seminal events in Milo’s life re-occurs when it is offered by him to his first love.  She recognizes the chain as a proof of his genius.  However, she refuses to take the chain as a gift.  His first love leaves him; partly for another man, but primarily because of her youth and the wish to experience the adventure of life.

The chain reappears at the end of Milo’s life.  The most important people in his life are present; e.g. an early mathematics competitor of Milo’s who marries Milo’s first love, his first love, his wife, his son, his daughter, and two grandchildren.  A confrontation occurs.  One of the links in the chain is chipped when the chain is thrown, by the daughter, at the husband of Milo’s first love.  Milo’s former mathematics competitor explains to the assembled group that Milo is the failure he predicted he would be when they were young.

The uproar from the mathematics competitor’s declamation reinforces two themes in Canin’s story.  One, science proofs are at best leaders to future unknowns or, at worst, false starts that are dead-end mistakes.  In either case, a genius, let alone an average seeker, never achieves a satisfying conclusion.  In searching for the unknown, life is wasted.  Second, all the genius or average seeker can do is “never give up”.

Canin has written a good story; expertly narrated by David Baker.  It is a tribute to the seekers of proof about the nature of existence.  The nature of existence seems beyond the grasp of the human mind but Canin implies neither men nor women should ever give up.

What Canin’s hero confirms is that women are the sun and men are the moon.  Nature and nurture make us who we are but the principal source of our power is the sun.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Consciousness and the BrainCONSCIOUSNESS AND THE BRAIN

Written by: Stanislas Dehaene

Narrated by: David Drummond


Stanislas Dehaene argues that consciousness is a measurable state of mind.  He speculates that a measurable artifact will be found to quantify consciousness.  Dehaene believes consciousness is within the grasp of science and technology.  He suggests mapping of brain consciousness may produce standardized principles of artificial intelligence.  Dehaene explains that brain mapping is far from complete but its potential for defining consciousness is experimentally testable.

Dehaene explains current science experiments show that elements of consciousness can be identified and measured.  Specific electro/chemical signals from different parts of the brain are being mapped.  With the use of electroencephalographs, documented patient experience, and the use of brain probes, repeatable electro/chemical signals are identifiable.  Physical and mental performances have been repeated in controlled experiments by using identified electro/chemical signals.  Specific electro/chemical bursts between dendrites and axons in the human brain have been shown to create thoughts and actions.


What Dehaene explains is that brain function is highly complex.  Physical and mental activity involve different parts of the brain.  Some thoughts are subconscious or pre-conscious and obscured; others are conscious and re-callable.  An element of consciousness is periodicity; i.e. how long a stimulus is maintained.  Anything less than 1/3rd of a second is noted but is obscured from the conscious mind.  However, subconscious activity does have a measurable effect on cognitive function.  The complexity of memory involves many parts of the brain that are interconnected by electro/chemical signals between neural dendrites and axons.

The complexity of memory involves many parts of the brain that are interconnected by electro/chemical signals between neural dendrites and axons.

DANIEL KAHNEMAN tells story of a fireman that senses a collapse of a building because of a subconscious experience of many similar catastrophic events.  The fireman orders his team out of a building without clearly understanding why.

Some subconscious functions are evident in what might be classified as instinct.  For example, the story of a fireman that senses a collapse of a building because of a subconscious experience of many similar catastrophic events.  The fireman orders his team out of a building without clearly understanding why.

Dehaene believes quantum computing opens a door to artificial intelligence that can replicate consciousness.  He implies the myriad signals that come from different parts of the brain will eventually be mapped.  Dehaene infers brain mapping offers a framework for consciousness that can be created in a computer program.

brave new worldIn a world based on probabilities rather than Newtonian cause and effect, artificial intelligence offers a “Brave New World”.  Is that a good or bad thing?  Will A.I. be a Huxley redux or revision?


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Consolation of PhilosophyTHE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY

Written by: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

Narrated by: David Rintoul


This translation of “The Consolation of Philosophy” impresses all who listen to it because of the beauty of Boethius’s writing and Rintoul’s narration.  Though one may either agree or disagree with Boethius’s religious philosophy, the juxtaposition of his poetry with chapters of Socratic dialog are a pleasure to hear.

Boethius is born into a rich aristocratic Roman family and achieves high office and continued wealth, even when Rome is conquered by a Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great. In the beginning of Theodoric’s reign, Boethius is a court favorite but in 524 AD, he is arrested and imprisoned for (according to Bothius’s writings) defending the poor and powerless from the new Roman Ostrogothic government.  During Bothius’s imprisonment, just before his execution, he writes and completes “The Consolation of Philosophy”.

One may think of Bothius’s book from two perspectives.  One, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a treatise to justify God.  Two, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a rationalization for mistreatment by others; i.e. “others” defined as both God and Mammon.


Boethius is visited by a vision of the “Lady of Philosophy” in his cell.  The “Lady” has been Bothius’s companion since childhood.  She sees Bothius shedding tears over his plight and asks why he laments his station in life after having so dutifully followed in the steps of the great philosophers of antiquity.  As the “Lady” recounts Plato’s and Aristotle’s teachings, she berates Bothius for his lamentation over loss of wealth, power, and prestige.  In a Socratic dialog, the “Lady” recounts the folly of those who covet worldly ephemera when “happiness” has always been the goal of human life.  Bothius begins to recollect the teachings of Plato and Aristotle that explain wealth, power, and prestige are fleeting values in life and never the source of happiness because of the constant fear of loss and the insatiable lust for more.

BOETHIUS’ LADY OF PHILOSOPHY (In a Socratic dialog, the “Lady” recounts the folly of those who covet worldly ephemera when “happiness” has always been the goal of human life.)

The “Lady” reminds Boethius of the omniscience of God. 

The “Lady” reminds Boethius of the omniscience of God.  He knows all, sees all, and loves all.  Both good and evil are part of earthly life and it is only those who choose moderation in all things good that will find earthly happiness.  Bothius creates a Socratic dialog between himself and the “Lady” to question how God allows evil to exist, and whether man can have free will when God is omniscient and knows each human being follows a known path in life.  Bothius asks “…is there not chance in every person’s life that leads them in one direction or another?”

Boethius implies these questions are answered to his satisfaction.  He accepts God as omniscient.  Every listener will have their own opinion after completing Bothius’s story.  To some, the answers are the machinations of a man who rationalizes his bereft state; to others, the answers are a guide to life in this world.

In any case, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a literary work of art.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the BrainSpark

Written by: John J. Ratey, MD

Narrated by: Walter Dixon


Crash dieting and the brain compete for control of one’s established weight.  Doctor John Ratey acknowledges that your first crash diet will undoubtedly help lose weight.  However, when weight is regained, the same diet will not be equally successful.  The brain automatically triggers weight conservation with a second crash diet because it signals body starvation.  The third, fourth; etc. crash diet will be increasingly unsuccessful.  Ratey’s point is that weight loss success requires cooperation from the brain.  Ratey suggests he key to that cooperation is exercise.

Ratey is not suggesting we become athletes but that some exercise regimen, whether walking, riding a bike, or climbing stairs will offer numerous benefits for weight maintenance, mental function, and psychological health.

Ratey is not suggesting we become athletes but that some exercise regimen, whether walking, riding a bike, or climbing stairs will offer numerous benefits for weight maintenance, mental function, and psychological health.  Ratey does not discount the importance of a healthy diet but food binges, foggy thinking, and states of depression or anxiety can be scientifically ameliorated by exercise.  Ratey goes so far as to suggest exercise is medicine for health.


An inference from Ratey’s research is that obsession over body image interferes with human health.  As history shows, the svelte image of modern models is a reversal of what was considered beauty in earlier centuries.  The substance of health is a combination of proper diet and exercise.  In most cases, Ratey implies body weight and health will stabilize with that combination.  Ratey acknowledges genetics and medical maladies may interfere with that conclusion.

Part of one’s frustration with Ratey’s conclusion is dependence on what is called a proper diet.  It seems with each new study; some approved foods slip to the bottom of the good food pyramid, while some formerly disapproved foods move up the pyramid; i.e. cholate for example.


EXERCISEThe overriding value of Ratey’s book is the conclusion that exercise is a key to mood, memory, and learning.  Numerous control experiments support Ratey’s argument.

Exercise seems more for the brain than the body.  Every day should be an exercise day.  Exercise does not have to be a fixed regimen but walking, rather than driving, to the store when it is only three blocks away is a beginning.  Replacing TV time with household chores is another form of exercise.  Keep moving.  Ratey suggests “Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain.”


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A young Black Man’s Education

Written by: Mychal Denzel Smith

Narrated by: Kevin R. Free


Mychal Smith’s book is difficult to listen to for a white liberal; i.e. the difficulty is more because of what Smith sees than what he does not see.  The necessary truth of what Smith sees is that being black, female, homosexual, or any color but white disadvantages citizens who live, work, and love in America.  Smith correctly notes that Barrack Obama did not change that truth.  But, for a liberal, Smith’s criticism of Obama is heart-rending.

No singular person will ever unwind history’s discrimination. That Obama is black and became the first black president of the United States proves being human is the best one can be.

Smith’s expectation is superhuman.  No singular person will ever unwind history’s discrimination.  Obama is an extraordinary human being by any standard of measurement.  That Obama is black and became the first black president of the United States proves being human is the best one can be.  Martin Luther King’s “arc of justice” still bends toward freedom and equal opportunity for all; despite the world’s, let alone Obama’s, failings.

The nature of humankind is an evolutionary work in progress.  Sadly, evolution is a chancy proposition that moves human nature both backward and forward.  Maybe, humanity will never get to a state of freedom and equal opportunity, but Obama’s “audacity of hope” is better than anger, and fear.

MALCOLM X (1925-1965)
MALCOLM X (1925-1965, Malcolm X’s life experience and intelligence led him to believe all people are human beings.)

Smith cites Malcolm X as his ideal of black resistance but fails to note that Mr. Little evolved to believe separate but equal is a fiction.  Malcolm X broke from the Nation of Islam because of its belief in Black separatism and superiority.  Malcolm X’s life experience and intelligence led him to believe all people are human beings.


In being human, there is good and bad in every race, color, and creed. None of this denies Smith’s recognition of the questionable murder of Trayvon Martin, or the Jena Six debacle in Jena, Louisiana where a white high school student is beaten by five black teenagers.  Both incidents are riven with racial hatred, lack of justice, and human failing.

Smith gravitates to violent lyrics to say the anger of rap artists appeals to his inner frustration.  Smith recounts the considered statements of Kanye West when President Bush fails to conscientiously respond to the Katrina disaster in New Orleans.  (West suggested Bush did not care about black people.)  Ironically, Kanya West appears to support President-Elect Donald Trump who was sued for discrimination under the fair housing laws of the United States.

Ironically, Kanye West appears to support President-Elect Donald Trump who was sued for discrimination under the fair housing laws of the United States.

There are many incidents that Smith recognizes as the failure of white America to treat minorities fairly.  At the same time, Smith is introspective in acknowledging some of his own human failings.  He writes of his fears, his desire to be a great writer, and his earlier life failure to understand how important women’s rights are in the black community.  He writes of his father’s concern over his sexuality and how gender discrimination has some of the same hatred, lack of justice, and human failing as black discrimination.

Listening to Mychal Denzel Smith is difficult because his observations explain why he, if not most, black Americans are disgusted with white America.  It makes a white person feel guilty because white Americans are the majority; and, as a majority, white (particularly male) America has the bulk of the country’s money, power, and prestige.  Until all people are humans first, there seems little reason to believe there is much hope for the “arc of justice” to bend toward freedom and equal opportunity for all.

PRISONHope is not enough for black American’s suffering today.  That is Mychal Smith’s message–too many blacks are being murdered; too many blacks are denied equal opportunity; too many blacks are jailed, and too many black families are broken.

What Smith fails to fairly acknowledge is who is at fault.  All of us share the blame.  Human beings must recognize the humanity of all human beings.  If evolution is not the answer, then human will (in a Nietzschean sense) must come to America’s aid.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Human Action (A Treatise on Economics)

Written by: Ludwig von Mises

Narrated by: Jeff Riggenbach


America is on the threshold of the largest tax change since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.  If past is prologue, trickle down economics will not work, the deficit will rise, and the poorest will  be victimized.  The genesis of the delusion of trickle down economics comes from interpretations of a modern Machiavelli.

Ludwig von Mises is a twentieth century Machiavelli.  This near 48-hour audio book details a theory of economics that will offend modern liberals, expose weakness of libertarians, and vilify the new American President’s nationalist policies.  The venality of treating government as a business is a mistake of monumental proportion.

Approaching von Mises as a devil incarnate is unfair.  His beliefs are pilloried by today’s liberals as loudly as aristocrats and rulers vilified Machiavelli in the 16th century.  Like Machiavelli, von Mises looks at the world as it is; not as it ought to be.  His observations cut at modern liberal, as well as anarchic, views of highly regarded liberals like Ralph Nader, Martin Luther King, Norm Chomsky, and alleged conservatives-like President Trump.

In von Mises book, Roosevelt’s New Deal is vilified.  Additionally, von Mises vociferously disagrees with the liberal John Maynard Keynes’s


economic interventionist creed. Ironically, Donald Trump may be the most interventionist President since FDR with a scatter brained economic plan that von Mises would equally vilify.

Von Mises observations have historical credibility.  What they do not have is social conscience.  In fact, he suggests social conscience is a fiction perpetrated by populists to distort the value of capitalist economies.  Like Machiavelli, von Mises observes the nature of human beings, and recognizes their inherent irrationality and moral weakness.  Von Mises illustrates numerous examples of human irrationality; beginning with market consumption, and ending with entrepreneurial ambition.  Donald Trump exemplifies von Mises argument that humans are irrational, greedy, power-hungry, and vain.  For President Trump to believe taxing imports by 20% makes Mexico pay for a useless five-billion-dollar wall is absurd.  The American consumer will pay for that wall in increased cost of Mexican produce and manufactured goods.TRUMP AND FREE TRADE

Von Mises criticizes famous economists like David Ricardo for introducing politics into economics.  Von Mises argues that the drive for money, power, and prestige are inherent in an entrepreneurial capitalist system.  Von Mises argues that government officials who profess social conscience distort free enterprise by picking winners and losers.  When politicians pass legislation that aids one entrepreneur over another, it distorts the driving force of capitalist economies.  He equally vilifies government leaders who impose tariffs on international trade.  Von Mises explains that the fallacy of government leaders who pass favoring legislation is that the real mover of the economy is the consumer; not the producer.

Von Mises believes labor has a choice.  They can work for low wages or remain idle.  The fallacy of that argument is the inherent unfairness of not having enough income to live creates revolutionary discontent.

The logical extension of von Mises’ theory is that any government planning or action that affects an entrepreneur’s willingness to take a risk to produce product, or service a customer’s perceived needs, is bad for society.  To von Mises, efforts to organize labor is an interference with capitalist entrepreneurs because labor is not taking a risk. Von Mises argues that labor costs will find its own level by being an automated tool of the entrepreneur; subject to hunger and deprivation if they choose not to participate.  Von Mises point is that the entrepreneur will pay what he/she must to have labor available, but no more than what the end-product consumer is willing to pay.  Von Mises believes labor has a choice.  They can work for low wages or remain idle.  The fallacy of that argument is the inherent unfairness of not having enough income to live creates revolutionary discontent.

UNION MOVEMENTUnions offer a vehicle for leveling the power between businesses and labor.  To not allow unionization is tantamount to favoring businesses that are no longer competitive but are today recognized as an economic equivalent of individuals.  Not to give unions a place “at the table” is morally, ethically, and economically unfair; particularly in industries that are no longer entrepreneurial.

Another von Mises’ observational theory is that government policy should have no role in subsidizing new inventions, new drugs, the ecology of the world, or the elimination of slavery because such policies interfere with pure capitalism. This reinforces absurdist arguments of libertarians.


American creativity has historically been benefited by government subsidization of technological advances.  (President Putin noted in a 60 Minutes’ interview that creativity is his most admired quality in the American economy.) The speed of improvements in health, education, and welfare historically increased with government subsidization of drug research, public education, and the energy industry.

THE CIVIL WARThe fallacy of von Mises’ theory lies in the framework of theorists.  It ignores human existence by hiding behind the unquantifiable nature of society.  One may argue that America’s Civil War had nothing to do with the elimination of slavery.  (Von Mises suggests that slavery was abolished because it became too expensive; not because it was morally and ethically reprehensible.)  One may argue that Roosevelt’s New Deal was a failure.  One may argue that the Marshall Plan after WWII rewarded failed nations.  One may argue that George Bush’s and Barrack Obama’s decisions to bail out the American economy interfered with pure capitalism. History suggests von Mises is wrong.  Government intervention can be good as well as bad.  (Bush unilaterally agreed to lend $17.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to General Motors and Chrysler, of which $13.4 billion was to be extended immediately.)

Von Mises lived into the 1970 s.  How could he ignore the moral and ethical iniquity of slavery, the value of the Marshall Plan, government subsidization of the American banking system, financial incentives for the energy industry, and the billions spent to advance technological inventions?  Those are good examples of government intervention.  On the other hand, building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. and levying a 20% import tax is a bad government intervention.TRUMP'S WALL 2

American capitalism works because of the checks and balances written in the Constitution.  Von Mises theory is based on valid observations but social conscience, whether statistically measurable or not, must be a part of decisions that affect the lives of millions.  Mistakes will be made, and have been made, but economic statistics cannot be substituted for pragmatism.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance

Written by: Jonathan Evison

Narrated by: Susan Boyce

Johnathan Evison (Author)

This is a story for those who have reached a certain age.  Though written by a man, it is narrated by a woman.  In some respects, that is a weakness.  Having been written by a man, it may distort the measure of a woman’s life.  However, Jonathan Evison offers an excellent representation of what life and death looks like to a man.  The mistakes some men make in life are legion, both as a parent and husband.


Evison speculates on an afterlife that says humans either die into nothingness or go to a place of peace and reconciliation.  Those are the only options in Evison’s story. 

The options are extreme but can be ameliorated by a gate keeper’s decisions about life’s led.  However, if you violate rules for a personal appearance to those left behind, you are doomed to the first extremity, nothingness.  Evison’s husband’ and father’ character chooses to violate the rules; in part because of his many guilt’s for living a selfish life.  It seems a penance he must pay to his wife, mistress, and children.

What makes Evison’s story good is the truth of what foolish, selfish men do in their lives.  Though life is ephemeral; either temporal or spiritual, many mistakes are made, both moral and ethical.


Harvey Weinstein charged with rape and sexual misconduct on May 25th 2018.


There is the horrid obsession of men with little girls described in Nabokov’s “Lolita”.  There is the vacuous life of Richard Ford’s main character in “The Sportswriter”. 

There is Russell Banks’ depiction of a morally bankrupt man/boy who prostitutes himself in “Lost Memory of Skin”.

Putting aside these extreme examples, Evison tells a story of the more common variety of male transgressions.  His observations ring true to listeners of a certain age.


Most men will see themselves in aspects of Evison’s story; not the extremes of Nabokov, Ford, and Banks but less than what a moral person should be.

Men who cheat on their wives.  Men who use work as an excuse for family neglect.  Men who fail to take responsibility for helping raise their children.  Men who demean their wives because they undervalue their contribution to life’s fulfillment.  Men who neglect their wives because of self-absorption.


Evison notes many faults in the lives of women in his story but having been written by a man, his objectivity is suspect.  On the other hand, women do cheat on their husbands.  Women do neglect their children.  Women do drink out of boredom with house work and social isolation.  Women do demean their husbands because they undervalue their contribution to life’s fulfillment.  Women do neglect their husbands because of self-absorption.

Joe Biden (Candidate for President of the United States.)

Evison touches every human being’s faults in “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance”.  No one is exempt from human failing. 

Being of a certain age makes Evison’s story enlightening and entertaining.  Enlightening because a listener knows they are not alone.  Entertaining because a listener will enjoy Evison’s perspective on life’s journey.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog


Written by: Anthony Horowitz 

Narrated by: Samantha Bond, Allan Corduner


Anthony Horowitz offers a mystery within a mystery.  Anthony Horowitz successfully suspends imagination and compels listeners to know “who done it” in two intertwined mysteries.  As an added benefit, Horowitz offers insight to the writing profession. He explains the genre of mystery with a fictional editor who manages a curmudgeonly, difficult, and successful mystery writer.  The writer commits suicide or is murdered while writing his last book, MAGPIE MURDERS.WRITERS WHO WRITE EVERY DAY

An audio-book listener is drawn into the story of MAGPIE MURDERS but finds the last chapter is missing.   The listener’s imagination is suspended.  Who is the killer?  Horowitz’s fictional editor trails the mystery of the last chapter.  While trailing the last chapter, she investigates the suicide or murder of the writer.


Somewhat frustratingly, the listener wants to know who the MAGPIE MURDERS’ killer is.  Was the last chapter completed?  And then, the listener is drawn into the fictional editor’s mystery of whether the writer purposefully committed suicide or was shoved off a balcony.



Great American Bestsellers
Parenthetically, Horowitz explains why writing can be frustrating for financially rewarded authors.  Bestsellers are a reflection of commercial success; not literary quality or contribution.

At times, MAGPIE MURDERS has too many words.  The distracting part of Horowitz’s book is the fictional editor’s digressive readings of other writer’s poorly written stories that show the difference between good and bad writing.  Parenthetically, Horowitz explains why writing can be frustrating for financially rewarded authors.  Bestsellers are a reflection of commercial success; not necessarily literary quality or contribution.  What holds the story together is the listener’s captured desire to know who killed whom.  Who is the MAGPIE MURDERS’ murderer?  Is there a murderer of the mystery writer?

The audio-book director’s decision to have two narrators, one a woman; the other a man, helps make the experience of the book more understandable.  The intertwining mysteries are clearly delineated by the change in narrators.  Both mysteries maintain the listener’s interest in Horowitz’s book.  The MAGPIE MURDERS is a primer for good writers and an entertainment for mystery fans.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Invisible Man 

Written by: Ralph Ellison 

Narrated by: Joe Morton



Few books capture the complexity of discrimination and its societal consequence. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is one of the few.  To re-read/listen to Ellison’s book, it seems a biography of its author. 

Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  He attends Tuskegee Institute, a black university in Alabama.  He fails to graduate and moves to New York.  He becomes a spokesman and propagandist for the communist party before WWII.  He eschews communism after the war while living in New York.  He becomes acquainted with other writers (like Richard Wright) who expose discrimination and its abomination.  In these details, one sees Ellison as the “Invisible Man”.



The intensity and credibility of Ellison’s story is magnified by Joe Morton’s skill as an actor.  Every line reflects an understanding of discrimination and its relevant emotions.  In reading “Invisible Man” much of what Ellison wrote is missed.  Morton offers clarity and visibility to the “Invisible Man”.

In outline, this story follows the path of Ellison’s life.  The hero is expelled from college in his Junior year and moves to New York.  The reason for his expulsion is an aspect of discrimination and its consequence. 

A rich white financial supporter of the university is being shown around by Ellison’s “Invisible Man”. 

Through a series of incidents, the white supporter becomes embroiled in the reality of human poverty in a black community.  His immersion exposes an incestuous relationship with an inference that incest is not limited to the poor; i.e. that it reflects on his personal white life.

The white university benefactor appears overwhelmed by a realization of evil’s equality among men.  A rich white man’s evil is no different from a poor black man’s evil.  He asks the “Invisible Man” to get him a shot of liquor. 

Because they are far from town, the only place for a drink is a seedy bar in the neighborhood.  In trying to please the university’s patron, the “Invisible Man” inadvertently embroils the rich man in a bar fight.  No one is killed but the experience illustrates how discrimination relegates parts of society to a life of poverty, anxiety, and despair.

Upon returning to the University, the patron tells the “Invisible Man” to have the President of the school come see him in his room.  Dutifully, the “Invisible Man” calls the University President and is condemned by him for showing the patron a part of town that shows what it is like to be black in America. All the student had done was what the benefactor asked him to do.


EVERYWHERE IN CHAINS (A respected black leader (this University President) is saying—if you want to get ahead, you must hide who you are, play by a white man’s rules, and interpret everything a white person says to mean you don’t matter; and act appropriately to reinforce a white man’s stereotype of “Negroes”.)

The University President expels the “Invisible Man” for a mistake he believes he did not make.  The President disagrees.  He tells the “Invisible Man” he made a horrible mistake. 

The University President explains that he should have “shucked and jived” to steer the patron away from the reality of being black in the south. 

The President is telling the Black student he must “play the game”.  This is a statement about the complexity and disastrous effects of discrimination.  Not only white America stereotypes Black America, some Blacks reinforce it.

The “Invisible Man” accepts the expulsion and understands the President’s reasons for expelling him.  He asks the President for letters of recommendation to rich patrons he knows in New York.  The “Invisible Man” plans to get a job in New York that will allow him to come back to the school after a year of exile.  The President agrees and writes several letters, seals them, and tells the “Invisible Man” not to open them.

In New York, all but one letter is delivered to offices of potential white employers.  No job interviews are offered.  With a last letter in hand, the “Invisible Man” insists on seeing the white patron that the letter is addressed to.  He is interviewed by the son of the business owner who offers to show the letter to him. 

The letter is a condemnation of the “Invisible Man” by the Black University President who had no intention of ever allowing him to return to the University.

With no job, no prospects, and dwindling savings, the “Invisible Man” realizes he is screwed; i.e. not only white America denies his existence, but Blacks in power accept cultural rules and screw him as royally as white America.

Dr. Bledsoe, the black University President is saying: “Play the game, but play it your own way, my boy.  Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”

Both black leaders in power and whites deny equality of opportunity.  There seems nowhere to turn.  That is, until Ellison’s story tells of an eviction of a black family in Harlem. With that eviction story, the “Invisible Man” becomes visible. 

Relying on his education and previous speech-making experience, the “Invisible Man” addresses a crowd around the dispossessed family and sparks a riot in Harlem. Members of “The Brotherhood” are in the audience.  The leader of “The Brotherhood” is impressed by the “Invisible Man’s” ability to motivate the crowd.  The leader offers him a job.  At first, it seems like the dawning of a new life, an opportunity to prosper while doing good for himself and the community.  In the end, it is just another game. Another authority figure telling the invisible man to “shuck and jive”. The only reality is “playing the game” by someone else’s rules.


COMMUNISM IN THE USA (The game is the “science” of collectivism; i.e. what is important is not the individual but the collective.  Whomever does not play the game by the rules is to be sacrificed.  He/she is either ostracized, or murdered, if the rules of the collective are disobeyed.  If the collective is challenged by a minority, the minority is sacrificed.  The suicide, or murder of an individual is of no consequence except as it benefits or hurts the collective.)

When riots break out in Harlem, the “Invisible Man” expects “The Brotherhood” to be supportive of the plight of the poor and dispossessed but what he finds is that “The Brotherhood” is happy to see the destruction because it advances their collective objective; i.e. the destruction of the State and its replacement by “The Brotherhood”.  They care nothing for the black community.

Ellison cogently reflects on his life to explain that the individual is of supreme importance, i.e., not the collective, not white culture, not black culture, but only the individual within the whole of humanity. 

Majority rule is as tyrannical as minority rule when it discounts individual freedom.  Blacks playing the game by rules of white culture, or any collective, is as harmful to minorities as slavery.

Choosing to become invisible is not a solution for discrimination but it is a symptom of the American apathetic and un-involved.  Ellison suggests his “Invisible Man” is only in hibernation and will soon awaken to become an involved individual.  2020 may yet prove Ellison was right.


If there is a “Cromwell” in Trump’s administration, he/she should appraise King Henry and his emphasis on loyalty of class.  King Henry, like Trump, seems to care little about commoners; except as they benefit his wealth, power, and prestige.

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant

Thomas Cromwell by Tracy Borman

Written by: Tracy Borman

Narrated by: Julian Elfer





While Hilary Mantel wets American appetites for Thomas Cromwell with “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”, Tracy Borman offers a more British perspective.

“Thomas Cromwell” is shown by Mantel and Borman to be a commoner with an uncommon intelligence.  He rises from a blacksmith’s son to become among the most powerful government administrator of the 16th century.  Cromwell is the consummate power behind the throne of King Henry VIII.  He manages to reform the Roman Catholic church in England, the power of aristocratic government, and the wealth of the British throne; all the while placating a volatile and often shallow King.



In the 21st century, one wonders if there is an American equivalent to Thomas Cromwell in President Trump’s administration.  Was it John F. Kelly, his former Chief of Staff?  Whether there is a person behind Trump’s erratic pronouncements, Borman shows that a modern American Cromwell is a mixed blessing.

Borman characterizes King Henry as one who seeks wealth, power, and prestige in every government policy and action. 

Wealth is drawn from confiscation of Roman Catholic Church’ land and wealth.  Power is taken with the King’s appointment as head of a newly formed Church of England.  Prestige is pursued with King Henry’s six marriages–meant to preserve his royal lineage.  It is Borman’s contention that each of these pursuits are largely accomplished through the machination and administration of Thomas Cromwell.

As a commoner, Cromwell is a consummate go-between.  With Cromwell’s personal experience and innate intelligence, he caters to aristocracy while placating, and sometimes aiding English commoners.  Cromwell is tutored by Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry’s former administrator who is also a commoner.  Wolsey is a trusted aide and Roman Church Cardinal who acts as a go-between for the Roman Catholic Church and the King. 

Wolsey sets the table for Cromwell’s rise to power as King Henry becomes disenchanted with Wolsey’s failure to convince the Pope to annul Henry’s first marriage. Though Cromwell does his best to protect Wolsey from the King, Wolsey loses his position, and dies on his way to the Tower of London.


Cromwell hugely increases the wealth and power of King Henry

The King becomes the Catholic Church’s sole leader in England.  With that religious schism, the reformation of Catholicism begins. 

Cromwell cleverly maneuvers his way into the King’s grace by creating a legal justification for the creation of the Church of England. 

On the one hand, Cromwell exhibits the quality of a true believer in denying the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church; on the other, he hugely increases the wealth and power of King Henry.  Henry can have his first marriage annulled.  He marries Anne Boleyn and becomes one of the wealthiest monarchs in the world.  As reward, Cromwell not only becomes wealthy, he is given license to reform English Catholicism.

Cromwell is shown to be enlightened and parochially narrow-minded at the same time.  Cromwell believes the bible should be available to all.  He endorses Tyndales’s New Testament as the first printed edition of the scripture in the English language. Cromwell disavowed Roman Catholic Church indulgences that imply followers may buy their way into heaven.  At the same time, Cromwell believes torture reveals the truth and uses it to convict innocent citizens who justify government policies desired by King Henry.  Anne Boleyn is beheaded based on torture induced confessions and false testimony.  Through Cromwell’s catalogue of lies, King Henry is able to divorce Boleyn and marry for a third time.

However, Borman notes that Cromwell is a protector of women even though he is the perpetrator of injustice to Boleyn.  Borman recounts letters of appeal that acknowledge help given by Cromwell to women abused by men, or left poor by death or divorce of their husbands.


With the death of Henry’s third wife, Cromwell arranges a marriage for the King to a German Princess, Anne of Cleaves.  This becomes, in Borman’s history, the beginning of the end for Cromwell’s tenure as the force behind the throne.  King Henry is no longer young, and his physical being has diminished by less exercise and greater weight. His new queen is not to his liking.  Though there may have been some political value to the marriage, there is no physical attraction.  These negatives are compounded by evidence that Queen Anne had been married before and her former husband is killed to facilitate her marriage to Henry.  Cromwell is alleged to have knowledge of the previous betrothal before Anne’s marriage to Henry.



King Henry becomes enamored with a potential fifth wife, Catherine Howard, who is the niece of the Duke of Norfolk.  The Duke of Norfolk is a bitter enemy of Cromwell.  Though King Henry soon divorces Catherine Howard (she is beheaded for adultery), the Duke of Norfolk begins a campaign to unseat Cromwell from his favored position with the King.  Though not mentioned by Borman, Henry marries for a sixth time but dies before finding cause to pursue a seventh wife.

In Borman’s final assessment, Cromwell is convicted of treason for failing to protect the King from his marriage to Anne of Cleaves.  However, Borman suggests the underlying cause for Cromwell’s demise is that he was a commoner among aristocrats who resented his power.  In an epilogue Borman notes that history has pictured Thomas Cromwell as villain and savior in different eras.  He is a villain for destroying the power of the Roman Catholic Church.  He is a savior for reforming the transgressions of the church.



Borman’s history of Cromwell resonates to some because it reminds one of Trump’s ascension to President of the United States.  Though Trump is no King, he is an aristocrat of wealth surrounded by many billionaires of the same aristocracy.  Trump seems to have some of the same shallow characteristics of King Henry.  If there is a “Cromwell” in Trump’s administration, he/she should appraise King Henry and his emphasis on loyalty of class.  King Henry, like Trump, seems to care little about commoners; except as they benefit his wealth, power, and prestige.

As Mark Twain said–“History doesnt repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”