Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World

By: Leo Damrosch

Narrated by David Stifel

Leo Damrosch (American author and professor of Literature at Harvard)

Leo Damrosch’s biography of “Jonathan Swift” illustrates the power of the pen.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745, Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric.)

Jonathan Swift is principally remembered for “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World”, better known as “Gulliver’s Travels”.  What is less known of Swift is that he was and is a revered Irish hero.

Damrosch has written a comprehensive biography of Jonathan Swift’s life.  Damrosch searches for what is known, while expressing reservation about what others speculate about Swift’s life.  Jonathan Swift is recognized as an ordained Anglican priest that reluctantly accepts a position as Deanery of St Patrick’s church in Ireland. 

Swift lives an ironic life.  He was born in Ireland but preferred living in England.  His life reflects humanity’s ambivalence about money, power, and prestige. 

Irony lies in Swift’s desire to become rich, powerful, and respected while skewering the rich, powerful, and respected.

Swift reveres the Anglican Church while he hates the memory of King Henry VIII’s duplicitous murder of Saint Thomas of Canterbury in the 12th century.  Irish Catholics are tolerated rather than accepted as religious equals by Swift.  Swift’s appellation for Irish Catholics is “those Irish”.

England’s leaders grew to fear Swift’s power of the pen. He became a respected, if not rich, Irish cleric. Religious satire was Swift’s sword but it had two edges.

Just as Swift is endearing himself to English leadership, he writes a satiric book about western Christianity.  The book is called “A Tale of a Tub”.  It is widely read by literate England.  Queen Anne considers the book blasphemous because of its parodies about religion and religion’s use and abuse in politics. 

Damrosch believes “A Tale of a Tub” burns Swift’s chance for ever becoming an English Bishop, a well-paying and respected position in the Anglican Church.  Without Royal endorsement, Swift has little chance of promotion in England.

An irony of Swift’s life is that he gained a reputation as a maker and breaker of English’ politicians and noblemen by writing “A Tale of a Tub”; i.e. Damrosch notes several examples of English’ leaders that either solicit mention in Swift’s writing or fear pillory by Swift’s pen.  The good consequence is respect for Swift’s writing skill; the bad consequence is English Royalty’s disdain for Swift’s writing substance and his ultimate lesser-posting in an Anglican Church in Ireland.

In today’s news, Pope Benedict implies deterioration of the church is caused by 1960’s sexual liberation.

Swift embraces religion but denigrates its leadership.  

Irony follows irony in Swift’s life.  Swift is a Tories’ sympathizer that evolves into an Irish hero that decries Tory treatment of Ireland in the early 18th century.  He hated Ireland but became Ireland’s hero.  Swift promotes Ireland’s boycott of British goods when England forbids export of Irish wool to anywhere but England.  Swift decries Irish poverty but suggests poverty is an Irish moral failing. 

The climax of Damrosch’s biography is Swift’s publication of “Gulliver’s Travels”.  Swift’s dissection of societies’ follies is as relevant today as it was in the 18th century.  One might argue that “A Tale of a Tub” is equally important but “Gulliver’s Travels” resonates with all who read for pleasure, politics, or enlightenment; whether young or old.  “A Tale of a Tub” is more relevant to the time of its writing.

There are other biographical details about women in Swift’s life, his stories, and Swift’s idiosyncratic habits but power of the pen is the thematic giant in Damrosch’s book.  Damrosch shows how Swift became a feared satirist by England’s leaders.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

By Helen Simonson

Narrated by Peter Altschuler

Helen Simonson (English author)

“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” is Helen Simonson’s literary debut.  The book begins like a locomotive chugging up hill but ends as a journey well taken.

This is a love story. It is also a story about an age demographic inelegantly described as a “pig in the python”; i.e. baby boomers that are born after the end of WWII (between 1946 and 1964).  Major Pettigrew is a fictional father of a baby boomer. 

Pettigrew believes in an internalized moral code and endeavors to live by it.  Emulation comes from one who sees a person act with reasoned opinions based on lived life.  Denigration comes from “boomers” that see a person trapped in the past and unwilling to change with the times.

Though Major Pettigrew is a retired English military officer, widowed and living in a small town in England, he represents what human’s emulate and denigrate. 

Pettigrew’s adult son is what David Reisman, in “The Lonely Crowd”, calls an “other directed” person that lives by a code based on perceived values of the day.  The code is highly malleable.  It is created by friends, family, business and societal influence.  The son’s conduct changes with his perception of other’s beliefs.  In contrast, the Major lives by an internalized code based on personal life experience. This difference creates conflict. 

One of Simonson’s examples of father/son conflict is in the sale of a matched set of antique guns.

The son wants to sell; the father does not.  The son acts from consciousness of societal norms that value things in dollars and cents.  The father acts from consciousness of what the guns mean to him in life experience.

Simonson creates a love story that makes the same point.  Jasmina Ali comes into Major Pettigrew’s life.  She is a Pakistani widow at age 50, several years younger than the Major.  The son is shocked by his father’s dalliance with a non-English widow.  His son is more concerned about how the village views the relationship than how his father feels. 

Simonson elaborates on this view of love by showing the son engaged to a young American woman that idealizes the English countryside.  She envisions having an idyllic country refuge, away from the city, to emulate English aristocracy.  The American asks the son to co-purchase a cottage near his father.  Major Pettigrew sees that the purchase is based on an image of English nobles oblige; not the substance of a home.

The son compounds “boomer” generation “other directness”. He changes his mind based on what society may think of him. He distances himself from his American fiancé to court an English aristocrat. The aristocrat offers higher social and financial reputation.  Major Pettigrew is mystified by his son’s fickle change of heart.

The climax of this story is skewed toward an appreciation of the “inner directed” nature of Major Pettigrew.  Major Pettigrew acts with courage and conviction to save a life, though it costs one of his beloved personal possessions.  He also rescues his paramour from the refuse of English and Pakistani prejudice.  Pettigrew makes his “…Last Stand”.

In 1950, David Reisman writes in “The Lonely Crowd” that “other directness” is a symptom of a civilization’s incipient decline.


Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

White Tiger

By Aravind Adiga

Narrated by John Lee

ARAVIND ADIGA, INDO-AUSTRAILIAN AUTHOR, Winner of the Booker Prize in 2008 for “White Tiger”.

“White Tiger” pictures the chasm between haves and have-nots. It reminds one of “Native Son”.  Like “Native Son”, “White Tiger” speaks about the ugly consequence of discrimination and poverty. 

A big difference between “White Tiger” and “Native Son” is in the tragi-comic rendition of “White Tiger” on Netflix. One wonders if “White Tiger” is meant to be satire or a reflection on a flaw of capitalist self-interest. Maybe both.

A visiting dignitary from China is given a note by a former Indian servant who describes his entrepreneurial success in India.  The servant tells the story of his rise from the second lowest caste in India to successful entrepreneur. He is from a lower caste of the poor, but now he is rich.

The caste system remains strong in India. Having traveled there in 2018, our tourist guide notes his family is from the warrior class.


In speaking of his daughter, he explains that though he has limited control over whom she marries, his biggest concern is that she marry within her class. Caste ancestry still binds and defines much of India’s culture.

In “White Tiger”, Balram is the main character. Balram is an uneducated but clever observer of society. He is acutely aware of his position in life. 

Balram is destined to be a breaker of social convention. 

In India (and around the world) changing sociopolitical ideals, collapsing religious belief, deteriorating family ties, and human nature’s “good and evil” amplify the chasm between rich and poor.  

An irony of Balram’s story is that it is between two countries that have different political philosophies; i.e. one, democratic; the other communist. Their socioeconomic maladies are similar.  Both countries have dense populations, high industrial growth, and consequential environmental degradation. The common thread is China‘s and India’s drive toward capitalism.  

Balram considers himself a social entrepreneur who becomes a successful capitalist by breaking social convention. His broken convention is murder.

As the Indian servant’s story progresses, Richard Wright’s “Native Son”  and Adiga’s “White Tiger” metaphorically meet. Both carry out wanton murders of sociologically ignorant human beings. 

Bigger Thomas (the main character in “Native Son”) and Balram are one side of a capitalist’s coin, minted by poor education, poverty, and discrimination.  Their capitalist reality corrupts thought and action.

“White Tiger”, like “Native Son”, is a world warning about the consequence of the growing chasm between rich and poor; i.e. as long as societies believe that “a rising tide lifts all boats”, discontent and hostile action of the poor is the main thing that will rise.

Lack of prudent regulation of capitalism leads to the worst in human nature. Even though “prudent” is in the eyes of the beholder, ignoring the poor is a monumental failure of any society, whether capitalist or communist. Equality of education and opportunity are capitalism’s saving grace but grace is not natural to man; i.e. prudent regulation of human nature is required.

“White Tiger” is a credible warning of the danger of unbridled capitalism.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Jane Eyre
By Charlotte Bronte
Narrated by Lucy Scott


The story of “Jane Eyre” is an example of someone who relies on reason and moral certainty to believe and act on what is right, and to live decently. “Jane Eyre” replays the tautology of “life is not fair; i.e., it just is”.

In this era of “click bait” media, we can easily lose our way. The difference between a lie and truth is harder to recognize when bombarded by viral postings on the internet. We need to remind ourselves-there is no correlation between popularity and truth.

The author, Charlotte Bronte, captures life’s joy and hardship. The story emphasizes the importance of having a moral “inner compass” to guide one to choose between right and wrong. By making right choices, fulfillment comes from working through good and bad things in life.

Jane is an orphaned girl raised by an uncaring Aunt that feels burdened by her filial obligation. The orphaned girl directly confronts her Aunt’s resentment. To escape further confrontation and embarrassment, the Aunt boards Jane Eyre in an indigent’s school.

Jane Eyre is formally educated.  She becomes a teacher at the school. Later, she is hired by a wealthy landowner to tutor a young girl that is alleged to be the landowner’s illegitimate daughter. The wealthy landowner is revealed as a man with too many secrets who covets Jane Eyre’s mind and body. Jane Eyre, driven by her inner compass, flees to endure new hardship and temptation.

At the end, Jane Eyre returns to merry the wealthy landowner. She finds him blind, chastened, and older, but still in love with the Jane Eyre he had hired as his daughter’s tutor.

An ever present refrain in “Jane Eyre” is that all life decisions and actions have consequences. The many themes that run through Charlotte Bronte’s book are what make it a classic.

Every listener will identify with some part of Charlotte Bronte’s story. The audio version of “Jane Eyre” is a tribute to Charlotte Bronte’s story telling skill.

In the 21st century, an inner moral compass is needed to offset the blizzard of falsehood disseminated by a largely unregulated internet. Social media hides behind a distorted understanding of the meaning of free speech. Free speech in America has always been conditionally defined.

Peter Thiel (Trump supporter who believes fact checking of Facebook postings is an attack on the Constitutional Right of free speech.)

Unregulated free speech spreads hatred. People are seduced into believing truth is defined by social media’ clicks. Notoriety is as important as popularity or truth.

The next mass murder or school shooting lays at the doorstep of unregulated free speech.