Recent Listens: Spies and Warriors

Normally my taste in audiobooks runs to fiction; rarely will I choose a non-fiction listen. This is mainly because I deal with the non-fiction world much of my working day and prefer getting away from that in my off hours. However, two of the books I’ve selected as audiobooks recently were biographies and they were fascinating departures from the norm.

Book jacket for "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World"

Book jacket for “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”

The first title I’d selected was “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,” written by Jack Weatherford and narrated by Jonathan Davis, with an epilogue read by the author. I was drawn to the title because I had recently watched the movie, “Mongol,” an epic tale starring Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, and the storytelling of the film had aroused my curiosity. This book title randomly showed up as a recommendation in my Audible feed (and it really could not have been more random as I’ve chosen nothing similar previously), so I listened to the preview and was hooked.

Fourteen-plus hours later and I had a newfound appreciation for the Great Khan, the Mongol culture, and a period of history from an Asian perspective that I’d heretofore only known from a Eurocentric position.

The description in the listing on Audible (where I’d found the title) refers to it as a revisionist history, but that sounds deceptive and somewhat demeaning. Generally, I’ve thought of something that is referred to as “revisionist history” as being something where a different (wrongheaded) taken on an historical even is put forth, perhaps to whitewash an unpopular but generally accepted set of facts. The words “lunatic fringe” also spring to mind. But perhaps this is my bias because this biographical work does indeed attempt to revise perceptions of the Mongols and Genghis Khan as ruler.

Thanks to the clear, very approachable prose used to recount the details of the era and peoples in question and the equally compelling narration, the book is as entertaining as any work of fiction.

For more information and to preview this audiobook, go to Audible.com.

The other title was recommended to me by a work colleague. This was “Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal,” by Ben MacIntyre and read by Ben Lee. As one might infer from the title, the biography of one certain Eddie Chapman sounds like an implausible yarn, and yet this is one of those cases where the truth is stranger, or certainly more remarkable, than fiction.

Book jacket for "Agent Zigzag"

Book jacket for “Agent Zigzag”

If you’ve not had the fortune to have heard of Eddie Chapman’s exploits, then waste no time in making yourself familiar with his story. A crook of moderate success, with expertise in explosives (safecracking) and hanging out with the wrong sorts, ends up working for the Germans and the British during World War II. To go into any of the details would be to cheat you of an entertaining journey – it has to be read, or in my case, heard, to be believed.

I began listening to this story on a drive with my husband and was surprised when, after arriving at our destination, he indicated that he’d like to continue listening to the story. I’d not expected it to capture his attention, yet within short order he had listened to the entire 11-hour book before I’d had a chance to return to it myself! At regular intervals he’d hint that one unbelievable thing or another would be recounted in the story. As I’m the prolific reader (or listener) in the family, it was particularly interesting that this one should have captured both his imagination and mine so firmly. It is a testament to the entertaining yarn woven by the author, and, of course, to the fantastic character that was Eddie Chapman.

For more information, and to preview this audiobook, go to Audible.com.