Friday, February 6, 2015

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- via Hollywood

If you're a non-fiction fan, you probably already know that university presses are a treasure trove for readers of history, film studies, literary criticism, etc. While a few academic publishers such as Oxford University Press and University of California Press have been targeting general audiences for many years, now many university presses are slapping colorful covers on their books and toning down the academese to appeal to a wider audience.

Just when I was starting to take this bounty for granted, here comes a new development -- audiobook editions. I was able to preview this book, Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life (University of North Carolina Press), as an audiobook, courtesy of AudioBook JukeBox (the NetGalley of audiobooks) and Blackstone Audio. It's available to buy from all the usual sources:, iTunes, and others as an audio download or as an MP3 CD. AudioBook JukeBox sent me a download via the HighTail app which I was not able to get to work, but I was able to listen to the book on the Scribd audio app (with my subscription). The Scribd audio app is not as slick as's audio app, but it's good enough to do the job.

And the book? Splendid. A fine history of the connection between Hollywood and Washington D.C. Not only did that relationship start long before JFK, it began almost as soon as Hollywood did. Hollywood got into politics in the 1920s with California governors' races, but by the presidency of Californian Herbert Hoover, Hollywood was fully involved in national politics.

Author Kathryn Cramer Brownell takes us from those early days up to the Reagan years, and the Clintons, barely mentioning the Carter/Ford race, the Bushes, or Obama. The emphasis is on the war years of FDR and then of Kennedy and Nixon. While I hadn't really thought of Nixon as having been particularly Hollywood-connected, he had plenty of Hollywood supporters and as a native Californian was also well aware that Hollywood could help (or hurt) him and lobbied accordingly.

The downsides of listening to rather than reading this book were that, especially during the section on World War II, the alphabet soup of abbreviations and acronyms was hard to keep track of without a scorecard, and that I didn't have access to the bibliography as I would in the print book. On the plus side, the narration by Pam Ward was clear and easy to listen to for long stretches.

An excellent look at American political history as well as what I hope will be the beginning of a trend in academic press audio publishing. 

Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life
by Kathryn Cramer Brownell
Narrated by Pam Ward
11 hours 35 minutes unabridged
University of North Carolina Press 2014
audiobook published by Blackstone Audio 2014

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