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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Love Letter to America, 18 May 2006
By 
Mr. Nc Shackley "NatShack" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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When I left England to live in the United States for one year last August, there was only one book I took with me - Alistair Cooke's 'Letter From America'. What else could I have taken? Cooke saw into America like no other Brit (or no other non-American, for that matter).

Starting at the mid 1940s, the book winds its way through post-war America nearly right up until the authors death in 2004, picking out the best of his weekly broadcasts. The subject matters range from politics, history, current affairs, entertainment and topics from the New England fall, jazz, Robert Kennedy's assassination (which he witnessed first-hand) and the O.J Simpson trial.

But it is not the subject matter that makes this book so special (for we already know about most of them anyway) it is none other than Cooke's insight and writing style. The articles flow like the finest novel or poem (which is probably attributed to Cooke's background in theatre). Each time you come back to read the book again it feels as though you are receiving the opinions of a familiar friend, and not some distant journalist.

There are drawbacks. Cooke was often criticised, and quite rightly so, for ignoring the darker side of the American dream. The other possible drawback, depending on your viewpoint, is that Cooke was a committed conservative, particularly in the latter half of his career. Many of the final articles from the late 90's and early 00's lament the current position of America and (what he saw as) the sliding standards of journalism. Maybe, but you also can't help feel that by this point he was slightly out of touch.

These minor quibbles, however, cannot undermine Cooke's overall achievement of helping us better understand this important nation, which could more accurately be described as love letters to America.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this and you'll be wanting more.., 26 April 2006
By 
G. Wake "gregwake" (Newcastle, UK) - See all my reviews
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I have been listening to Alastair Cooke's broadcasts for many years, always finding something rewarding in them: a reference to an age before I was born, a different view point about an issue or something everyone else appeared to have missed. Cooke brought the ordinary into the major world events, showed the human side to many a major story and gave others the chance to see a perspective only obtainable through many years of hard work and intelligent inquiry. This book only contains a tiny number of the vast quantities of Letters from America but they are worthwhile letters; reading these samples of nearly sixty years of broadcasting provides a special insight into many issues, historical events and people largely forgotten or interpreted differently by a modern audience. Much of the most interesting content of the book is simply that of an old man explaining how the world changed in his lifetime: Cooke tells of the constants that he believed would last forever that new generations have never even heard of. It's worth reading for that warning alone. Regardless of the fading of the world Cooke knew his letters are both timeless reflections on people's nature and historically important records of a not so distant past. Some of the letters are included in the BBC audio CD collection but most are not so even if you have those recordings this book is still a worthwhile read. It's a different kind of America to that seen on the TV and movie theatre screens.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful; Touching; Wise, 29 Dec 2006
By 
Philip Mayo - See all my reviews
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"A post mortem collection of the famous "Letter from America" series written and broadcast on the BBC over a staggering period of 58 years and 2,869 broadcasts. His last broadcast was made in Feb 2004, after which he retired. He died the following month in his 96th year.

It is simply staggering to consider the prolificacy and quality of these Letters which were faithfully produced against such an unforgiving deadline over so many years. All the more incredible it is to consider that this work constitutes just a fraction of the man's overall output,in many fields. I have the impression that this must have come relatively easy to him, otherwise it would have taken over his life. Fluent writing followed by fluent recording for broadcast. And the repetition honed his style. Indeed, I seem to recall an interview he gave in his latter years in which he said that as the years went by he would often arrive at recording studio with no written notes at all and only a vague idea as to what he was going to talk about that week. A virtuosos at work in any field inspires our awe and respect and Alistair Cooke is the virtuoso of the warm, enchanting essay which usually finds a new way, a new angle from which to consider things. I am now an even more serious fan and would recommend this collection to all who might enjoy the company of a thoughtful, wise and entertaining man for a brief while.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unputdownable summary of the 20th Century, 24 May 2006
By 
Caterkiller (Darlington, UK) - See all my reviews
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To be blunt: Alistair Cooke's writing is of the highest quality. It surpasses most fiction and non-fiction writings in these terms. The key characteristic of "Letters from America" is that they were meant to be read aloud and so adopt a more authoratative tone than most published writings. Cooke's America is fascinating; it shows what has been forgotten as well as documenting the present. Past luminaries such as HL Mencken, who is now largely forgotten, are described in detail under the assumption that their memory would live forever. The one criticism is that Cooke covers the news with too light a touch. At least in this collection, the civil rights movement, the attrocities of the Johnson and Nixon administrations in Vietnam and Cambodia are only briefly referred to. Apart from that his writing on summers in Long Island, the death of the Kennedies and Clintongate are an absolute pleasure.
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55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good buy - but with a caveat!, 26 Nov 2004
By 
Mr. N. Morgan "Green Knight" (High Wycombe, UK) - See all my reviews
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Ah! That voice! Alistair Cooke had the voice that could be listened to for hours on end i.e. a sort-of cool, mellow, slow-burning voice. In fact he was one of the few people I've ever heard who could spend 15 minutes telling you almost nothing - and yet make it sound interesting!
The collection includes letters broadcast from the late 40s right through to the last few he wrote... but there's a caveat: and that is, that a lot of the letters are not the ORIGINAL recordings, but they were re-recorded (by Cooke himself of course) I would guess sometime during the late 80s/early 90s.
The collection loses one star for this... shame on you BBC! I know the original recordings still exist as a fair few of these letters were broadcast just after his death earlier this year in the BBC's "Letter From America - A Celebration" series, so why the original recordings weren't used I don't know. The sound quality was considered too poor I suppose. To me this does detract from the enjoyment as I would have liked to have heard again how his voice sounded all those years ago (I remember several of the 1960s letters that are featured very well).
But don't let this put you off buying the set, it's still a very good "listen" and it IS the voice of the man himself!
The collection also contains a bonus: Alistair Cooke at the BBC. I haven't listened to this yet, but it's contents look promising.
Recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Iconic, 17 April 2009
Sadly, many of the great icons of broadcasting in the twentieth century are slipping away from us, but at least we have their broadcasts and their work to remember them by, and to remind us of how great great broadcasting can actually be. This book collects together transcripts of many of Mr Cooke's finest broadcast from throughout his long career and is never less than fascinating.
His observation and comment on American life and culture, and his poetic tributes to some of the great lives he wrote about are always erudite, always eloquent and always thought-provoking. Too many topics are covered than could be adequately mentioned here, but there is insight into life in the USA during very troubled times - civil rights marches, vietnam, assassinations, the WTC attacks and much, much more - as well as in happier times. His tributes to those he himself admired are beautifully told - I particularly enjoyed the Robert Frost piece - and his sense of history and our place within it - the thirtieth anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination piece springs to mind - is extremely impressive.
Let us not forget that Cooke himself was in the Ambassador Hotel on that fateful night in 1968 and the book includes his account which is so vivid and personal that it remains one of the finest pieces of writing on the subject that I have ever read.
His pieces about places are also astonishingly vivid. Personal tales of San Francisco and Boston, New England and Vermont give you a stunning sense of time and place that the travel guides somehow fail to match and are weaved expertly into his broader topics of discussion.
A great read. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FIRST CLASS DELIVERY, 11 July 2010
By 
Mr. D. L. Rees "LEE DAVID" (DORSET) - See all my reviews
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Here are 102 of the 2869 letters for over fifty years presented by Alistair Cooke until weeks of his death at the grand old age of 95.

For millions of listeners these letters represented a weekly particular pleasure, his voice always friendly and conversational. His incisive insight put news into perpective, the immense learning never paraded but a great wealth of detail helping to illuminate. Here was a true master of his craft, commentating on the ever evolving facets of American life.

Thanks to the book we can again enjoy the wonderfully evocative descriptions of the Fall in New England, Christmas in Vermont. Searingly there are once more the dramas of President Kennedy assassinated and five years later his brother Robert shot (Cooke was present). There are reminders of the prolonged agony of Vietnam, concern about the growing prevalence of drugs, the fear caused by the Los Angeles riots, the shock and horror of 9/11. (Curiously none of the many letters about Watergate is included until one delivered on the twenty fifth anniversary of the scandal which saw Nixon quit in disgrace.)

Of particular interest are the tributes to the famous, especially as Cooke seemed to know most of them and could provide personal anecdotes. (In fact it was he who helped create a "showbiz morgue", the stockpiling of worthy tributes for publication instantly a death was announced.) Also appreciated is his turning the spotlight on people who might otherwise be forgotten: John McLaren, creator of San Francisco City Park; Central Park's designer Frederick Law Olmsted; Mary Lasher and her gift to Park Avenue -its stunning gardens.

Much surprises. It was he who introduced Leonard Bernstein to Handel's Messiah. "Trick or Treat?" is not an American invention, but was brought there by Irish immigrants. Apparently there is hardly a prominent politician with a genuine love of music - exceptions being President Carter and Prime Minister Heath.

For many reasons, this is a collection to savour - as were the Letters when they first appeared, with that distinctive voice further to enhance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Inspiration, 13 April 2010
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Wishing to take a break from just listening to music, I was looking for something different to load onto my MP3 player. There are a lot of audio books out there but they are often a bit of a let down because the person reading the book does not inspire the listener. I have found a few people whose audio titles provide an insight into history, politics, or science which I find very interesting and the way they deliver the `stories' brings inspiration. Alistair Cook is one of them and I just wish there were more of his `Letters from America' available on audio. You can however listen to more on the BBC website archive.

If you are interested the others are Spike Milligan / War diaries, Tony Benn / Diaries, & Dr Karl / Great Moments in Science)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfection, 18 Sep 2008
This review is from: Letter from America (Penguin Celebrations) (Paperback)
Its not too much of an exageration to say that this book is an oversight of 20th century usa. Alistair Cooke's letter is something i came too only a few years before his death and this book goes through from the 40s right until his last letter.

The quality of writing is superb of a man at the cutting edge of history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Alistair Cooke fan since the 1950s is delighted, 4 April 2009
By 
Wilson Barrie "wilsobad" (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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Having listened to A. Cooke, bought his book America, this collection
completes my pleasure at this genius's style, language and poetry.
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Letter from America (Penguin Celebrations)
Letter from America (Penguin Celebrations) by Alistair Cooke (Paperback - 6 Sep 2007)
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