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American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane [Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Walter Isaacson , Cotter Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Audio CD: 6 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio; Unabridged edition (24 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442304073
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442304079
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 14.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,112,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and of Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.

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3.0 out of 5 stars re 23 Aug 2013
By Star
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is all right for a quick go through, but won't come back for a second read, it is okay.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A revealing mosaic of what might be described as modern American liberalism 28 Dec 2009
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
In a career that has spanned more than a generation and has taken him from his early days as a city hall beat reporter in his native New Orleans to the pinnacle of American journalism as managing editor of Time magazine and then Chairman and CEO of CNN, Walter Isaacson has occupied a unique vantage point from which to observe this period of American history. Along the way, he has found time to produce critically-praised and popular biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Now in AMERICAN SKETCHES, Isaacson collects some 40 examples of his writing, from personal essays to reviews to pieces culled from Time that, taken together, construct a revealing mosaic of what might be described as modern American liberalism.

Anything but a dewy-eyed idealist (he jokes that his fellow liberals "are congenitally more comfortable humming the theme of All Things Considered than the theme of Crossfire"), Isaacson is insistent that liberal values, such as the free exchange of ideas, pluralism and rational, evidence-based decision making, are crucial to America's well-being. Above all, he concludes that "the need to calibrate a proper balance among opposing principles is evident in every issue we face today, from abortion to health-care reform to affirmative action."

A sizable cross section of the book is devoted to writings on his three biographical subjects, each subtly disclosing a different aspect of this worldview. He lauds Benjamin Franklin as a paragon of the American virtue of compromise, even going so far as to find a healthy dose of that quality embodied in our current president. For anyone who hasn't read Isaacson's exhaustive biography of Albert Einstein, the six pieces here, including ones discussing Einstein's view of God, his indirect but critical role in the development of the atomic bomb, and the essay introducing him as Time's "Man of the Century" make a persuasive case for his unabashed admiration of the brilliant scientist and humanist. Though he's quick to spotlight Henry Kissinger's faults, Isaacson's pragmatic outlook on American foreign policy comes through in his grudging admiration for the former secretary of state's brand of realpolitik.

Whether it's new media or biotech, Isaacson is an enthusiast about emerging technologies, and among the five pieces in a section entitled "The Age of Technology," he offers a substantial, balanced appraisal of Bill Gates along with a profile of his equally tough-minded competitor, Andrew Grove of Intel. Although he has chosen to present the piece in the section "Journalism," Isaacson argues convincingly and from the point of view of one immersed in the world of print journalism for a new system that will allow online media to evolve from what he believes is a failed advertising model to one based on readers paying modest sums for content --- what he calls "micropayments."

In any volume of this size and diversity, there are bound to be a handful of ill-chosen entries. The pieces on Reagan and Gorbachev have something of a dated feel, like an album of musty photographs dragged out by an elderly relative. Likewise, the transcript of an extended interview with Woody Allen focusing on his relationship with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter and the allegations of sexual abuse Farrow lodged against him (the interview in which Allen famously justified his actions by stating "The heart wants what it wants") strikes a discordant note in the distinguished company of Isaacson's worthier subjects.

But the book concludes stirringly with a passionate group of essays on New Orleans. While he has traveled the world, it's apparent that Isaacson's heart has never strayed far from his hometown, where he has returned some 20 times since Hurricane Katrina. He likens the "easy lethargy" of the city's recovery to culinary specialties like Creole gumbo and Cajun jambalaya, "which involve a variety of ingredients and spices that are blended slowly." And he offers a moving tribute to another one of its native sons, Louis Armstrong (his next biographical subject), who "stands as a rebuke to the great scourge of history and of our world today: the tribalism that pits people of different religions, races, and ethnicities against one another."

In this wide-ranging anthology, Walter Isaacson demonstrates much of what is praiseworthy about American journalism at its best. "Good narrative storytelling," he observes, "can bind us together, provoke shared sentiments, and evoke our common underlying values." If he and other generous and fair-minded journalists like him can make their voices heard above the bedlam of the 24/7 news cycle to inspire the next generation of their profession, that's reason to hope that the survival of the liberal democracy he cherishes will be assured.

--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (mwn52@aol.com)
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Observations on Leadership and Creativity 25 Jan 2010
By charles peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Walter Isaacson is a gifted writer with an excellent worldview. His biographies of Franklin and Einstein are among my favorite books.

This book is a collection of first rate essays and articles covering an array of American political and creative leaders as well as some thoughts on journalism and its future. The essays were written over a span of several decades, so in addition to the actual essays, each contains a foreword by the author to put it into current perspective.

All of the essays are good, but some are more interesting than others. Isaacson is clearly infatuated with Einstein, so Einstein gets more than his share of coverage in this collection. Very interesting and deserving material though.

My favorite was the piece on Bill Gates. Longer than most, it gives the reader a real feel for who Gates is and how he is wired. The essay addresses his many incredible strengths as well as some of his flaws. The eulogy for George Plimpton was also especially good.

I was particularly interested in the book's introduction in which the author explains his own background and how he got from New Orleans to Harvard to the editorship of Time and Chairmanship of CNN. Good stuff!!
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What A Great Listen! 25 Nov 2009
By Boone Chu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Cotter Smith brings these unabridged Walter Isaacson essays to life. Ronald Reagan, Ben Franklin, Bill Gates,Woody Allen, Henry Kissinger, Clintons, Mikhail Gorbachev, and of course Albert Einstein (his pick for person of the century for surprising reasons!). It would be a great audiobook for just these essays. But Isaacson takes us through his journalistic journey from small town reporter to CEO of CNN and managing editor of Time magazine. What a wonderful trek through the current history of America and his final thoughts on where journalism and the internet intersect will make you pause and reflect. This is a perfect "around town" audiobook as each essay and reflection is in very manageable listening chapters (but you definitely will want more of each). My audiobook listening "posse" will be craving this puppy.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A compilation of essays on American leadership and influence 3 Jan 2010
By Robert Tucker - Published on Amazon.com
Not knowing much about this book but having read Walter Isaacon's marvelous biography of Benjamin Franklin, I purchased this out of interest in the topic: American leadership and historical events. American Sketches is a kind of tapestry of successful people, their lives, their contributions, their idiosyncrasies, and their role in shaping our country and our culture. Told in a series of journalistic style essays, the book has a simmering energy and grace that makes each chapter both independent and connected to an overriding theme of optimism, progress, and tolerance.

The people he examines include Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Clinton, John Adams, Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, Colin Powell, Ronald Reagan, George Plimpton, and many others. Asides about Walker Percy, Gorbachev, Henry Grunwald, and different political figures add to an already fascinating book, a book that demonstrates the power of American ingenuity, tenacity, and intellect. Each essay contains a pearl of wisdom blended with great perception and historical information on the person being discussed. This makes for a reading experience that feels like relaxed story-telling but is inadvertently and vastly educational. Since it is all factual and biographical, American Sketches is a study in personal excellence, charisma, and individual charm. As the book comes to a close, we read an inspiring series of articles on Louisiana and its commitment to overcoming the tragedy of Katrina. One of most entertaining chapters is the transcript of the Woody Allen interview.

The writing style is journalistic by experienced editor and author Walter Isaacson, a master of the genre and an ideal choice for a book of this type. His prose is accessible without being folksy, concise without excessive truncation, yet intellectual without falling into the bourgeoisie trappings of elitism. The book has stylized writing that remains informative and energetic regardless of the topic. Most importantly is the remarkable ability to teach without sounding preachy and to inform without being pedantic. Embracing the historical lessons of the past and recognizing the amazing advances of the technological world of today, the author weaves a broad philosophical spirit through the achievements of individuals.

Readers need to know that some of the information within the book is available from other sources--biographies, Time magazine--and that there is some redundancy particularly in the Einstein chapters. In addition, the emphases on tolerance and general acceptance could be interpreted by some as being somewhat liberal, making a few readers categorize the book as a liberal expression of the current political media.

Aside from these possible criticisms, it is an entertaining read highly recommended for anyone interested in American leadership, personality dissection of famous people, and the contributions that make our lives complete today. Regrettably the book is rather brief and avoids an indepth look at the leaders being portrayed. Yet this very quality makes it a nice overview of our country's history and the leaders that have made a difference. His reminder near the end of the book serves as good practice for everyone: "And because there are still a few streets to cross, remember to hold hands and look both ways."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK OF AMERICAN THINKERS 17 Jan 2010
By S. SILBERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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