Poverty’s Song

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Sing, Unburied, Sing

By: Jesmyn Ward

Narrated by Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chris Chalk, Rutina Wesley

Jesmyn Ward (American Author, associate Professor of English at Tulane University)

Songs about poverty are hard to listen to.  Like Whitehead’s story about “The Underground Railroad”, one wonders “Is this America”?  It is and it is not.

Jesmyn Ward’s song is about an American family.  In one sense, the story is unrelatable because most American families escape dire poverty.  But Ward’s depicted family is poor with the added burden of being a minority of a minority.

Though every family’s story is unique, there are familial lessons to be learned from Ward’s story. On many levels, the story is about troubles of every poor American family.

Poverty amplifies good, bad, and indifference in all families. 

Ward introduces a black family headed by a patriarchal grandfather, a wise and wizened grandmother, a grown daughter, and two grandchildren living under the same roof. The daughter is in a committed relationship to a young white man who is about to be released from prison.  He is the father of the two grandchildren.

The boy grandchild adores his grandfather.  The girl grandchild adores her brother.  Both children are ambivalent about their mother because of her self-absorption and inability to comfort either of them.  As her grandmother explains, it is not that her daughter does not love her children. She just does not know how to express her love.

The grandmother is nearing death with regrets about her daughter’s inability to comfort her children and raise them with the values she and the grandfather live by.

The grief of her daughter when her mother dies is palpable. It is a grief borne of self-pity but also of deep love for what her mother knew and tried to teach her.

Life seems bleak.  The only ray of light comes from the grandson who copes with the indifference of his mother, and fear of a father he barely knows.  This ray of light comes from stories told, and examples set by his black grandfather.

This grim story describes a poverty trap made in America.  The father who is being released from jail is estranged from his family because of his relationship with a black family.  He is damaged by his experience in jail and the irony of being the son of a bigot. 

The downward spiral of this father’s life and his companion appear set in motion.  The mother of his children loves and depends on him, but their destiny is bleak.  Ward ends her story with the grandmother’s death, and the parents leaving the children with their black grandfather. 

One presumes the boy will grow to manhood with the moral compass of his black grandfather, but the fate of the daughter seems as bleak as her parents.  Without the guidance of a loving mother or grandmother, it seems the daughter is destined to remain in poverty.

Being black is a struggle not understood by white America.  Even with a powerfully good moral compass, a young black boy-man or girl-woman bares the burden of being black in a world of white authority.

This is a beautifully written book of a tragedy, made and remade in America.

COVID19, (From the Strip to the City of Las Vegas to Sammy Davis Jr. Park.)

As many know, the City of Las Vegas is different from the Las Vegas Strip. The City is the city. The Strip is outside the city but in the same county, connected by extensions of north/south streets.


During the pandemic, some take a walk through the city. With Covid19, some residents visit the park.

Like the Strip in Clark County, Fremont Street is deserted. (The distance from the Strip to Fremont Street is 5.4 miles.)

Not far from the City is Sammy Davis Jr. Park. Sammy Davis Jr. Park is 3.2 miles from Fremont Street.

Las Vegas is a destination city for the world. How long it will remain a capital of entertainment is solely based on belief in personal safety. Las Vegas is the capital of the gambling industry in America but few want to risk their lives on Covid19 in April of 2020.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Midnight Line

By: Lee Child

Narrated by Dick Hill

Lee Child (British Author of the Jack Reacher novels.)

Let Lee Child entertain you. 

“The Midnight Line” is Child’s latest chapter of the Jack Reacher series.  This is the first Lee Child novel for this reviewer.  Reacher is put at risk by a drug dealer who tells a hit man to be on the lookout for “big foot” or the “hulk”.

Child suggests 6′ 4″ Lawrence Dallaglio (Retired English Rugby Player) is the image of who he thought of as Jack Reacher.

Having seen a Jack Reacher movie, one understands why many Reacher fans are disappointed with Tom Cruise’s billing. The diminutive 5′ 7″ Tom Cruise does not fit Child’s characterization, but Cruise became Reacher in a film from Child’s book, “One Shot”.

In two senses, Lee Child is a spartan writer.  He writes short, clear, precise sentences, and creates a Herculean “spartan like” character.  “The Midnight Line” is a guilty entertainment for mystery and action addicts.

Jack Reacher is a loner.  Reacher is a combat veteran with an investigator’s curiosity.  He is a West Point graduate who left the military after 11 years.   He is a former major in the Military Police. He lives in the moment.  He travels the roads of America without a suitcase and often without a ticket to ride.  He hitchhikes.  He wears one set of clothes until he needs a new set.  He discards the old and buys new. 

The story begins with a tiny ring that Reacher happens to see in a pawn shop.  The ring is from a former cadet at West Point.  From there, the listener hitches a ride with Reacher to South Dakota and Wyoming.

Reacher is a phenom.  Not only because he is big but because he forgets nothing and sees everything.  With remembering and seeing, he intuits what is going to happen next. Whether in a fight or personal crises, Reacher assesses details and sees the future.

Lee Child places Reacher in a story of addictive drug manufacturing, illegal distribution, and human destruction. 

The author’s dialog is short and to the point.  Reacher is almost supernatural but just believable enough that a listener identifies with his heroics.  Child adds mystery to his characters.  His terse sentences makes listeners want to know more. 

“The Midnight Line” is partly about a missing person (a twin of a beautiful woman).  The missing person is a former graduate of West Point that has pawned her ring. Reacher knows something is wrong because he knows how difficult and psychologically rewarding it is to graduate from West Point.

The missing person is involved in an interstate illegal drug trade for reasons that are not clear until the end of Child’s story.  It’s a good guy, bad guy story with twists. 

A listener learns something about the illicit drug business in the United States. How and why it works.  Particularly how it feeds off a culture that insists all human pain must be medicinally treated.  And, how an injured veteran of war, with a distinguished service record, can become an addict.

In the end, “The Midnight Line” is an entertainment.  However, it also says something about addiction–its causes, its consequences, and the amoral businesses that serve it. 


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Good Economics for Hard Times (Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems)

By: Abhijit V. Banerjee, Esther Duflo

Narrated by James Lurie

Abhijit Banerjee’s and Esther Duflo’s book, “Good Economics…”, seems like a play book for Bernie Sander’s, and Andrew Yang’s campaigns for President.  It is not, but much of what they write resonates with their campaigns.

These two authors are professors of economics at MIT.  They received a Nobel Prize in 2019 for their work on an “…experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. Both are obviously well respected for their research and economics acumen.  Professor Barnerjee  is a research affiliate of Innovations for Poverty Action. Professor Duflo specializes in Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics.  Their credentials speak for themselves.

Sadly, this is a somewhat ponderous work for a layman interested in the future of American prosperity.  In the face of supporters of Reaganomics and today’s Trumpist’ “trickle down” economics, a listener hopes for a definitive answer to inequality, rising poverty, and homelessness in the United States.

Banerjee and Duflo note that a rising tide does not lift all boats.  “Trickle down” economics do not work. 

Banerjee and Duflo cite several studies that suggest there might be a solution, but the scope and conclusions of the studies seem ill-suited for the largest economy in the world.  The authors’ conclusions are based on small social experiments that show mixed results.

On the one hand, self-interest and freedom have made America’s standard of living among the highest in the world.  On the other hand, it seems self-interest and freedom mitigate against fairness in the American economy. 

The problem is self-interest and freedom have brought out the worst in human nature—greed.  Greed has left middle class and poor Americans poorer than they were in the 1960 s and 70 s. 

Banerjee and Duflo cite studies of the Reagan years that show wealth became more concentrated with tax cuts for the rich. 

Human nature gets in the way of understanding what lower income Americans need to survive Covid19. For the President of the United States to say “It is what it is..” reflects on our lack of empathy for a loved-ones’ death caused by the pandemic.

The Senate drinks from the same trough when they argue the economy is getting better. Over 1,000,000 Americans remain unemployed. It is getting better for whom? Certainly not for restaurant workers, small business owners who closed their doors, or the nurses and teachers who are compelled to go to work despite the risks of a deadly virus. (That is not to mention the children who are going back to congested class rooms with potentially catastrophic consequence for their families and others.)

Trump and the Republican party continue to believe the wealthy will reinvest their wealth to benefit the poor and middle class with jobs. 

Job creation benefited the rich after Reagan’s tax cuts.  Wages of workers did not increase but the stock market rose, corporate executive salaries skyrocketed, and dividends to stockholders increased. Workers in the middle class and the poor were left behind.  Banerjee and Duflo argue that tax cuts for the rich are unfair and they exacerbate the gap between the rich and poor. 

The rich get richer; the middle class lives paycheck to paycheck, and the poor remain poor.

Both Banerjee and Duflo infer there is a path to economic equality, or at least fairness.  They argue for incentivizing corporate interests for the common good, disincentivizing executive compensation, modifying the federal tax structure, and subsidizing employment for the unemployed (or those who are soon to become unemployed because of technology).  They argue that taxes should be increased to create public works programs that benefit the general welfare of the nation. 

Banerjee and Duflo go on to suggest a guaranteed basic income (like that proposed by Andrew Yang) should be considered.

Banerjee and Duflo go on to explain how technology reduces jobs.

They argue that America needs to realign their employment objectives.  Service jobs are outgrowing manufacturing jobs. 

Environmental concerns reduce jobs. 

Through a combination of public works projects and improved public services (childcare, elder care, environmental clean-up; etc.) the unemployed, and soon to be unemployed, should be bolstered by a basic minimum wage and retrained to take 21st century jobs. 

A guaranteed basic income is to mitigate the hardship of retraining and leaving areas of the nation that cannot sustain economic growth.

Banerjee and Duflo argue that most Americans associate jobs with identity and self-respect.  Without a job, Americans lose a part of their identity and self-respect.  With a guaranteed basic income, the unemployed will continue to seek employment because of their need for self-respect.  As they become employed, their guaranteed basic income could be reduced in proportion to their rising income.

Without income, people are fearful of leaving the areas they have lived in for most of their lives; e.g. a coal camp in Virginia. 

The authors cite studies that show economic improvement correlates with worker mobility.

There is a great deal to commend Banerjee and Duflo’s ideas. 

Whether the American government is willing to act as a change agent is unlikely without perception of a clear and present danger.  Political change comes with perceived threat.  The current administration’s discounting of environmental threat to the world does not bode well for change. 

Believing in a “rising tide theory” of economics continues to distort the truth of qualified freedom and unregulated self-interest. Freedom has always been qualified in America. The intent of the founding fathers is to provide freedom for those who do no harm to their neighbors. Unregulated self-interest harms our neighbors.

Banerjee and Duflo offer an economic plan to America, but it is founded on sociological studies that are often small in scope. When the economic theories are tested on broader scales, the conclusions are mixed. Though belief in a guaranteed basic income makes sense in light of the studies shown by Banerjee and Duflo, the impact on American innovation remains unknown. On the other hand, the many jobs the government could create–from public works, to environmental clean-up, to elder care, to medical care, and housing for the homeless–are widely needed in America.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Assad or We Burn the Country

By: Sam Dagher

Narrated by Gary Tiedemann

Sam Dagher (Author, senior correspondent for the Wall Street Journal)

Humanity is at war with itself.  Sam Dagher’s examination of Syria and the Assad government exposes the depth of humanities self-immolation.  Bashar Assad’s atrocities in Syria represent the indecency of power and money in the hands of autocratic leaders.  Autocrats are never exactly alike but each is corrupted by money and power.

Bashar Hafez al-Assad (Syrian President since 2000, son of Hafez al-Assad)

Hafez al-Assad (Syrian President 1971-2000.)

For Syria’s atrocities, every country in the world is guilty.  All are guilty because of apathy, support, or complicity. Dagher spares no one.  America, Russia, Turkey, France, Great Britain, Iran, Syrian generals, and indigenous Syrian leaders are complicit in the slaughter of innocents.


Hafez first son is groomed to takeover after Hafez’s death. Bassel was a Syrian engineer, colonel, and heir apparent but he dies in a car crash before Hafez’s death.

Seated are Hafez and his wife Anisa Makhlouf. From left to right in the back row are Maher, Bashar, Bassel, Majid, and Bushra.

Dagher paints a picture of a feckless son of Syria’s deceased brutal dictator.  Bashar al-Asaad assumes power as President of Syria after the death of his father. He is characterized by Dagher as an effete leader with poor leadership skill who inherits a job for which he is ill qualified. (Bashar graduated from medical school in 1988 and worked as a doctor in the Syrian army. He had little military training.)  

Dagher suggests Bashar inherits money and power with the sole purpose of aggrandizing himself and his family.  Political, military, and economic wealth and power are bequeathed to Assad family members. Syrian money and power rest with relatives ranging from distant cousins to the President.

Dagher notes that Bashar uses his power and position to order imprisonment, torture, and murder of anyone opposing him. Dagher suggests Bashar sleeps with any woman he wants (married or not). In the mean time, he, his wife, and family live in isolated luxury. 

Bashar al-Assad Palace (aka Shaab Palce overlooking Damascus)

With Bashar’s inherited money, power, and position, he rewards his family, bribes his generals, arrests, tortures, and murders his opposition. To complete Dagher’s picture, he notes Bashar fawns on world leaders who socially or militarily support his rule.  

Dagher reports on Bashar’s murder of Syrians.  Bashar is shown as a vengeful leader playing one faction against another to maintain his power and position. 

Religion is used as a tool to hide Bashar’s intent to remain in power.  Bashar paints himself as a protector of Christians from Muslim fanatics when his real motive is to cover brutal treatment of Muslim believers.

Bashar is shown to hide behind terrorism preached by Dash (aka ISIS) to justify gassing of his own people.  Dagher shows Bashar’s duplicity when he encourages Russian and Iranian intervention when his own people will not defend his regime.  Every country, including America, has their own agenda in the Syrian war.  Syrian war victims are fertilizer for Bashar’s ambition.

There are many complicit stories about America in Dagher’s exposure of Assad’s cruelty.  President Obama’s red-line statement about use of poison gas with no response from America; President Trump’s support of Russian intervention in a war that uses chlorine bombs to kill Syrian people; Turkey’s support of Bashar in return for repatriation of Kurdish territory; Iran’s intervention in Syria to put down Dash in return for political support from Bashar. Abu Bakr al-Baghdady-once a compatriot of Bashar and then the leader of Dash (Isis).

Dagher paints a frightening picture of Bashar and his wife.  It is a picture of self-delusion that endorses murder of their own people.  Bashar and his wife live in luxury while the Syrian people are murdered and starved.  Dagher contrasts Bashar’s wife’s placation of Syrian mothers with Syrian army atrocities. It reminds one of the French Revolution when Louis the XVI, and Marie Antoinette live in luxury while the public starves.

Asma al-Assad is the First Lady of Syria.  Born and raised in London, a graduate in computer science and French literature from King’s College.

Asma supports her husband’s atrocity.  She sees it as a justified means to modernize Syria.  A cynic would suggest her justification has more to do with Assad wealth and privilege than modernization.

Raslan’s faces trial in Koblenz as the first court proceeding against a senior member of the Assad regime. Raslan is one of two Syrians being tried for crimes against humanity. How long before Assad has to face the same fate?

The tragedy of Syria is graphically portrayed in the new television series “Transplant”.

On the one hand it tells the story of highly talented Syrians who are compelled to leave their home country. On the other, it reflects on the hardship faced by immigrants in the U.S. that are struggling to reestablish their lives.

Humanity is at war with itself.  There seems no end to violence in the world.  What is the solution?  Neither real-politic nor “let it be” answer the question.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

American Carnage (On the front-line of the Republican Civil War and the rise of President Trump)

By: Tim Alberta

Narrated by Jason Culp

Tim Alberta (Author, Politico reporter, contributor to the National Review, National Journal, and Wall Street Journal.)

Alberta welcomes reader/listeners to a grudge match in American Carnage

Alberta details the rise of President Trump. 

Alberta has credential as a conservative considering the publications for which he writes.  In his analysis of the rise of Trump, he details Republican discontent with the idea of a Trump nomination.  Many Republicans object to Trump’s rise.  However, their objections are overcome by the truth of the public’s disgust with the direction of American government. 

In the best light, the rise of Trump punches American government in the face; in its worst light, it denigrates the institution of Democracy.

As one finishes Alberta’s analysis of Trump’s rise to the Presidency, both American views seem correct. 

Some Americans will be offended by Alberta’s book. 

Americans might argue Alberta impugns the reputation of the “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” President.  In their minds, government deserves a punch in the face.  Trump gives voice to many American workers. Particularly, Americans who have been marginalized by corporate America.

Some say American Democracy needs reform because Americans are being left behind by their political leaders. 

Others will laud Alberta’s exposure of what some say is the worst American President in history. 

Trump is characterized as a “showman” with no moral center who panders to the ugliest instincts of humankind. Democracy will be the judge of Trump’s performance in November 2020.

Government’s punch in the face is detailed by Alberta with inappropriate remarks Trump makes about immigrants, women, and minorities.  Trump manages to conflate loss of jobs with false accusations and self-serving actions.

  • President Donald Trump falsely claimed that the Obama administration was responsible for slowing diagnostics testing, CNN reported. 
  • However, an aide for a Republican senator said Trump’s claim is inaccurate.
  • The Trump administration however, has cut funding for several agencies responsible for battling the current corona-virus outbreak. 

Arguably, American government does deserve a punch in the face.  However, even if true, Democracy remains the best form of government in the world.

Alberta implies Trump’s punch to government fails to address the real causes of job loss. Creating a trade war has not, and will not, increase American manufacturing. 

Contrary to Trump’s belief that the balance of trade will improve with increased trade sanctions, America’s balance of trade has worsened. Other countries are exporting more while America is exporting less.

Reality suggests re-education of workers are what America needs; not trade-wars, and border walls. 

Trump’s ubiquitous tweets offer titillation and news coverage without providing solutions. Technology is displacing manufacturing which means job skills must be changed.  Alberta, in detailing Trump’s rise, shows Trump is more show than go.

In 2008, loss of homes from unscrupulous lenders hurt working Americans who could not fight back. They lost their jobs and could not pay their mortgages.  Countrywide Financial became the face of lenders accused of misleading marketing to sell mortgages to people who could not afford them.

Angelo Mozillo (Former Chairman of the Board and of Countrywide.)

One might argue Obama, Bush, and their administrations manage to keep American out of a deep depression but at the same time–banks and corporate America were bailed out at the expense of most Americans. 

In the 2016 election, Trump capitalizes on worker discontent while Democrats ignore their grievances as something in the past that will be changed in the future.  To every person who lost their home or job, the future is now.

Hillary Clinton and most Democrats, in the previous election, failed to understand how working middle class and lower income Americans felt let down by their government.    One might argue many Trump votes were simply anti-Clinton votes.  Ironically, that will be the plan of some voters in the next election, but it will be anti-Trump.

Hillary Clinton (American politician, diplomat, lawyer, writer, and public speaker, former New York Senator and U.S. Secretary of State.)

Hillary Clinton may have been the most capable of the candidates for the Presidency in 2016, but her negatives outweighed her positives in the minds of the electorate.  Clinton, as with all the world’s women, had to deal with gender discrimination.

Today, the Republican party is unquestionably standing behind Donald Trump.  He might even be re-elected.  But Alberta illustrates there are Republicans (like Cindy McCain, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Jeff Flake, John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Tim Scott, Bob Corker to name a few) who decry many of Trump’s racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic comments.  These Republicans will not disappear.  Their time may not be 2020 but they will carry water in future elections.

Whatever happens in 2020, Democracy will prevail.  Tim Alberta offers many facts that illustrate the resilience of American Democracy.  There are, and always will be, good people on both sides of the political aisle in America.  One hesitates to use that phrase in view of Trump’s ugly remark about the South Carolina conflict between white supremacists and the public.

History shows the Democrats will rise again; and so will Republicans. That is the strength and weakness of Democracy in America.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Lincoln in the Bardo

By: George Saunders

Narrated by Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, George Saunders, Carrie Brownstein, Miranda July, Lena Dunham, and others

GEORGE SAUNDERS (American writer, winner of many awards including Booker Prize and National Bood Award for Fiction.)

The New York Times gives high praise to George Saunders’ book, “Tenth of December”. There are reviewers that disagree with Kakutani’ and Cowles’ laudatory comments about Saunders’ book of short stories but once a listener steps on the cracked ice of “Tenth of December’s” last story, he/she becomes a Saunders’ fan.

Saunders seduces a listener with simple phrasing–pulling one into a story and then ambushing the unwary with crystal clear insight to human foibles, self-delusions, and false dependencies. Saunders sees that measuring one’s success by possessions defines you as an inanity, an empty symbol of humanity. What we do; not just what we think is what we become.

Like “Tenth of December”, George Saunders surprises with a new way of looking at ourselves– where we have been, and where we are going.  Lincoln in the Bardo reflects on a Tibetan Buddhist belief in a “…state of existence between death and rebirth”. 

A host of humanity is represented by voices of famous and not-so-famous actors.  They assume the roles of rich, poor, educated, and unschooled Americans living and dying during the Civil War.  The two major characters are Willie (Lincoln’s dying son) and the great man himself.  The ugliness of discrimination, the desire for freedom, and the trials of living are embodied in Saunders’ netherworld.

Willie Lincoln (Third son of Abraham Lincoln.

As Willie nears death from typhoid fever, listeners are introduced to a Bardo civilization. 


It is a community of disparate characters who believe they are alive but must, for unknown reason, return to their “sick boxes” (graves) every night.

In the beginning of the story, we are introduced to the idea of a sick box when a man in his forties marries a woman of 18.  It seems unclear why such a marriage should take place. But the reader/listener hears a confession of the groom that he would be a companion, rather than a conjugal partner, of his new wife.  As their relationship progresses, the young woman expresses her desire to consummate the marriage.  On the day of the intended consummation, the husband is struck dead by a falling beam.

Saunders leaves the story of the struck groom and introduces many voices that reflect on the mood and experience of America during the Civil War.  You hear from people who lived lives as slaves, merchants, politicians, miscreants, preachers, prostitutes, and soldiers.  Some are rich; some are poor.  All exist in the Bardo.  A common understanding among these characters is that they are alive but constrained from acting on the natural world around them. 

In one sense, many of these people remind one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” in which hell is described as eternal life with other people you cannot stand.  However, the Bardo is not hell. 

The Bardo seems a place between heaven and hell.  Something is keeping people from leaving the Bardo.  Willie is the key to the door by which one may leave. 

As history records, Willie dies.  Willie is the first to tell those in the Bardo that he, as well as they, are dead.  Willie found he was dead by entering his father’s mind.  After dying, Willie hears of his death in the grief of his father.  Willie explains the truth to all those who did not know they were dead. 

Those who live in the Bardo cannot leave until they recognize they are dead.  In that recognition, they can leave but they do not know whether it will be to heaven, hell, or (in the Hindu sense) some form of reincarnation.

The beauty of Saunders creativity is expressed by his creation of a nether world of lives who have an ability to occupy the minds of those still living.  The occupation of the living is more as receiver than transmitter of information.  It offers a literary tool for reading the mind of historic figures. It also presents the idea of lost historic figures, friends, or family influencing the living.

Lincoln and his wife are devastated by Willie’s death.  Lincoln is consumed by early failures of the Civil War which occupy his mind as Willie nears death.

However, Lincoln’s desire for unifying the country is unbent by the tragedy of his son’s passing.  In a return to the cemetery, Lincoln is riven with remorse over the death of Willie. Willie enters Lincoln’s living body and realizes his father is grieving for him. Willie realizes he is dead.

The consequence of being a receiver in the Bardo, rather than transmitter of action or information. is that those in the nether world cannot reliably change the livings’ thoughts or actions.  There is a hint in Saunders’ story that there is a chance of a Bardo resident changing a living person’s mind, but it is only a slim chance. This is made clear by a Mulatto woman who has been beaten, raped, and murdered by many men. She desires revenge and chooses to remain in the Bardo to accomplish that end.

Living in the Bardo is not necessarily unpleasant because it is like living in the world except you must return to your sick box every night.  The possibility of affecting the real world’s direction, though slim, still offers some appeal to Bardo residents. 

Some flee the idea of knowing they are dead because of the choice that must be made once they acknowledge their death.  All who acknowledge their death must weigh the risk of heaven, hell, or (in Hindu belief) reincarnation.  If they choose to stay in the Bardo the only negative is having to return to their sick box every night.  Otherwise, life in the Bardo is like living in the world except for a limited effect you have on the world you have left.

Many ideas are exercised in Saunders’ creative story.  An insight plainly explained by Saunders is in many quotes produced from other books about Lincoln.  Saunders shows how facts of history change based on a writer’s perception of histories events, places, and people. 

In Saunder’s creative mind, there is life after death in the Bardo. He opens a door to heaven, hell, or reincarnation.  On the other hand, Saunders may be wrong. Death may just be death. 


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Washington: A Life
By Ron Chernow

Narrated by Scott Brick

Ronald Chernow (American writer, journalist, historian, and biographer, Pulitzer Prize winer.)

Fans of Ron Chernow, other reviewers, most readers, and the Pulitzer Prize panel of judges, obviously disagree with this review; not that Chernow would care.

Chernow is a respected biographer.  He has written biographies of J.P. Morgan, The Warburgs, John D. Rockefeller, Alexander Hamilton, and now “Washington: A Life”, a 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography.

In spite of its Pulitzer standing, some phrasing in “Washington A Life” is amateurish. 

Describing a person as one with “intelligent eyes” lacks clarity and concreteness.  What do “intelligent eyes” look like? 

In fairness, Chernow writes better descriptive phrases in “Washington…” but any phrasing unworthy of a Pulitzer Prize winning book should be edited out.

Much of what Chernow writes is a recitation of facts with little of the color of its era.

Unquestionably, “Washington: A Life” is a well-researched biography of a pivotal hero in America’s history. but it suffers from a common failing of more memorable biographies.    Every fact may be documented but motive is obscure because motive is wrapped in a social and human context that is missing. 

Like the Pulitzer Prize winning history of Cleopatra, Chernow slips into cliché, or a “just the facts” phrasing characteristic of a Dragnet TV detective.

When Chernow strays from the facts, he sounds like an apologist for Washington. Chernow misses the essence of Washington’s rationalization of slavery’s contradiction of humanity.

Washington is plainly a slave holder, albeit less punitive than Harriet Beecher Stowe’s fictional Simon Legree.  But, like Legree, Washington treats his slaves as property to be bought, and sold, and when they escape, tracked down, and punished. 

Chernow writes “Washington rarely whipped his slaves and tried to keep slave families together”.  That makes Washington better than Simon Legree but Washington does not stand above that era’s generally accepted and wrong-headed social mores.  Washington’s “warts” are blurred in Chernow’s biography.

Chernow’s characterization of Washington’s dalliance with Sally Fairfax (a married woman) as a non-sexual infatuation stretches credulity.  Part of Chernow’s evidence is Martha Washington’s acceptance of Sally Fairfax as a personal friend rather than former paramour of George Washington.

Chernow spends a great deal of time explaining how Washington led a life of image that is difficult to penetrate.  As Chernow clearly explains, Washington assiduously represses emotions that boil beneath his facial expression; i.e. Washington could easily don a mask to hide romantic indiscretion.

Putting these negative comments aside, Chernow provides a lot of facts about Washington’s life that are not generally known.  Information about America’s great revolution makes Chernow’s near-1000 page book worth listening to, but far from understanding America’s first President. 

Like Schiff’s biography of “Cleopatra”, a reader/listener does learn a great deal about documented facts of a great historical figure.  But Washington, like Cleopatra to this reviewer, remains a mystery. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda (American composer, lyricist, rapper, singer, actor, playwright, and producer of Broadway Musicals In the Heights and Hamilton)

Chernow needs another Lin-Manuel Miranda to contextualize his uninspiring biography of Washington.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Darkness at Noon

By Arthur Koestler

Narrated by Frank Muller

Arthur Koestler (1904-1983, Author)

Though Stalin is never named in “Darkness at Noon”, Stalin is the “one” that encapsulates a vision of Communism that demands submission by the individual to the collective. 

When a young communist refuses to distribute Stalinist Party’ literature that ignores Nazi attacks on local Communist’ cells, he is expelled from the Party.

In real life, Koestler joined the Communist Party in Germany in 1931.  His resignation from the Party in 1938 is a likely motivation for writing “Darkness at Noon”.

Koestler’s hero is a young communist leader that disagrees with his Russian controller and is expelled from the Party in the 1930s.  The substance of the disagreement is the heart of the story.

The central character of “Darkness at Noon” is Nicholas Rubashov. Rubashov enforces Stalinist’ Communist belief in the collective, but he has doubts. Rubashov is the apparatchik who is ordered to expel a young German’ Communist because he looks at Russian Communism as a personal rather than collective savior.

Rubashov is characterized as one of the original participants in the 1917 revolution. As he ages, his blind acceptance of Stalin’s Communist belief in the collective waivers.  Rubashov is imprisoned and ordered to sign a confession.  The interrogators, Ivanov and Gletkin, are responsible for getting a signed confession from Rubashov. 

Ivanov, who is a former acquaintance and civil war comrade of Rubashov’s, offers an opportunity for Rubashov to redeem himself. Ivanov suggests that Rubashov confess to a lesser charge to justify incarceration for five years with a chance to return to political power. 

Rubashov initially says “no” but Ivanov’s “plea bargain” approach works and Rubashov signs a confession. 

However, Ivanov is later removed from power and Gletkin takes charge of Rubashov’s case.  Gletkin argues Ivanov’s approach is a mistake.  Gletkin insists on a complete confession of guilt; i.e. no redemption, only execution.

Much evidence is brought before Rubashov.  The evidence is weak but Rubashov becomes convinced through sleep deprivation, and a clever manipulation of Rubashov’s logic, that he must be executed. Rubashov’s personal feelings of guilt come from his denial of collective good. He reasons–the way he has been judged is the way he has lived his life; therefor his life should be forfeit for the cause; in the interest of the many over the few.

Gletkin might be characterized as a mindless Neanderthal because of his belief in torture, but one of many of his clever manipulations suggests he is diabolically clever.

Gletkin suggests Rubashov was given a watch when he was 7 or 8, which Rubshov acknowledges is probably correct.  Gletkin says he did not have a watch until he was a teenager and that he did not know there were 60 minutes in an hour until then.  No one in his social class looked at time in segments; waiting in line was not characterized by time but by results from waiting in line. 

“Darkness at Noon” implies the end result is what is important; not the means and time that one stands in line. This is a quintessential belief of the “true believer” in Stalinist communism.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Treasure Island

By: Robert Louis Stevenson

Narrated by Philip Glenister, Daniel Mays, Catherine Tate, Owen Teale

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894, Author died at Age of 44)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” is a curious piece of literature that resonates with 21st century calumny.  Humans are not perfect.  There is a bit of Stevenson’s “Long John Silver” in everyone.

For those unfamiliar with Stevenson’s tale, “Long John Silver” is a pirate who hoodwinks a young boy, a crew of sailors, a doctor, a professional ship’s Captain, and a few others on a voyage to recapture a treasure.  Silver has the “gift of gab”; salted with a lifetime of experience in getting what he wants.

What strikes one about Silver’s character is his ability to see things as they are and change his behavior to suit the circumstance.  If a lie suits his purpose, he lies.  If the truth suits his purpose, he tells the truth.  What he lacks is morality. 

Silver is a narcissist.  He has an egoistic admiration of himself that includes self-flattery, arrogance, and a sharp tongue that cuts like a blade. When confronted with one whom Silver disagrees, he cajoles, belittles, or verbally (sometimes physically) attacks his opposition.

If disagreeing, belittling, and cajoling fail, a narcissist changes the focus of attention with a manufactured distraction.

Putting aside Silver’s narcissistic amorality, he understands a truth about human beings. Silver represents belief that money, power, and prestige rule the high seas and land.  With the skill of a practiced politician, Silver manipulates events to conform to plan. 

The curious piece of Stevenson’s story is Silver’s prediction that Ben Gunn, a stranded buccaneer on Treasure Island, would be cheated out of a share of the treasure even though he played a major part in the treasure hunters’ success. 

Gunn is an anti-hero who has lost his mind because of his isolation on the island.  Gunn is like a modern-day homeless man abandoned by society.

Silver’s plan is to capture the wealth of a buried treasure.  Though not entirely successful, he captures a share of the booty by co-opting Jim Hawkins, a cabin boy with a yearning for the sea.  In the end, Silver escapes the clutches of British authorities who would have convicted him for mutiny, and possibly, attempted murder.

What Silver points out is that the doctor, ship’s captain, and other survivors of “Treasure Island”, will cheat Gunn of his fair share.  Gunn is given 1000 Sovereigns (English pounds) and the rest (hundreds of thousands per person) is distributed to the surviving voyagers.  Silver infers all human beings are pirates. 

Some pirates wear suits, speak the King’s English, and live in the city; a Pogo version of “We have met the enemy-of-the-people and he is us.”