The season's best audio books are a joy to hear

By Katherine A. Powers
Sunday, June 20, 2010


A Life of Henry Aaron

By Howard Bryant

Abridged, Random House Audio, 8 CDs, 9 ½ hours, $35, download, $28

Unabridged, Books on Tape, 17 CDs, 21 ¾ hours, $50; download, $42

Dominic Hoffman delivers hours of absorbing baseball and American history in his narration of Howard Bryant's outstanding biography of the reserved, misjudged, prickly man who, among other formidable accomplishments, broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record. This is a big book, long and wide, and it is well worth springing for the unabridged version, which retains all the detail of the countless tributary stories. They move through the business of baseball, the role of the press and race relations in the United States, especially in the crucial decades of the 1950s and '60s. The book is deeply insightful about Aaron the man and the obstacles, including death threats, that he grimly surmounted. Hoffman has a grave, matte-finished voice and reads in a measured, deliberate manner, distinguishing between the work's extensive quotations and its narrative text through skillful pacing and inflection. While this is a book for listeners who are interested in baseball, it encompasses far, far more than simply the game.


How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory

By Ben Macintyre

Unabridged, 11 ½ hours

Random House Audio, 9 CDs, $35, download, $28

John Lee's cultivated, Celtic-tinged voice, in turns quizzical, wry and matter-of-fact, is well-matched with this mordantly funny account of an extraordinary episode in World War II: the launching of a corpse kitted out as an officer carrying fake top-secret papers to mislead the Nazis about Allied war plans. Made famous by the movie (and book) "The Man Who Never Was," the scheme was likely put forward by Ian Fleming and involved plotting, character and setting that might have been elements in a novel. Lee's past performances reading Patrick O'Brian, Alexandre Dumas and Macintyre's own brilliant "Agent Zigzag" extend this gifted reader's tradition of exhilarating derring-do.

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