Thursday, February 16, 2017

Brooks on Books: Prime Reading Roundup

During my brief stint with Amazon Prime, I tried to take advantage of the Prime Reading program. As with many other aspects of the ever-expanding Prime, it's kind of annoying to navigate and figure out, so I won't try to explain, but many of the cheaper books and Kindle Singles in the Kindle library are available for free reading to Prime members (not to be confused with the Kindle Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited, which...ah, I'm not getting into all that).

Here are some quick thoughts on what I read:

A Spy's Guide to Thinking by John Braddock:  A short read from an intelligence agent who uses a personal incident--being accosted by someone trying to steal his phone while he's out in the field--as a foundation to discuss ways of thinking, touching on game theory and methods of analysis. It's a compelling piece of writing that leaves you wanting more. I might have been disappointed had I paid a full Kindle price, but I really enjoyed it.

Churchill in the Trenches by Peter Apps: In this Kindle Single, a former defense correspondent for Reuters traces the World War I experience of Winston Churchill, who returned to the Army and went to the literal trenches in Belgium after experiencing political defeat. It's an illuminating, focused look at a low point in the man's life, supplemented with accounts from contemporaries and correspondence between Churchill and wife Clementine.

The Spirit of '76: From Politics to Technology, the Year America Went Rock & Roll by David Browne: I was disappointed with this Kindle Single and was glad I hadn't paid for it. Browne is a veteran entertainment journalist who knows his stuff (despite making the gaffe of identifying decathlete Bruce Jenner as a swimmer, an error pointed out by several Amazon reviewers but now corrected), but this is a basic account of the pop culture of 1976 without much insight. It's a quick read of an interesting year, but I don't think Browne really gets across his premise.

Ken Burns: The Kindle Single Interview by Tom Roston: This is a worthwhile and revealing longish interview from 2014, and Burns comes off well here. He covers his storytelling/filmmaking philosophies and also shares revealing details of his personal history that shaped him. Highly recommended for Burns fans. NOTE: The Errol Morris Kindle Single Interview is good, too.

The Rolling Stones Discover America by Michael Lydon: There are parts early on in this "Singles Classic" that make you think, uh-oh, this is gonna be an overwritten slog. Lydon seems to be straining at times to be literary, but this is overall an excellent account of the Stones' ill-fated 1969 tour that culminated in disaster at Altamont.  Embedded with the Stones organization (even then it was a machine, as Lydon illuminates), he takes advantage of the access to provide fascinating details of an explosive act at the heights. He even writes about the access itself and how its extent on a given day affects him. It's a self-aware but piercing look at not just the Rolling Stones, but at the nature of fame and the culture of the era. It's short by book standards but a must read if you're into this sort of thing, and it is well worth the $1.99 price for non-Prime members.

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