We Interrupt This Broadcast: The Events That Stopped Our Lives…from the Hindenburg Explosion to the Virginia Tech Shooting, by Joe Garner, makes for a good introduction to some of the defining news stories of the past 70 years. From the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 to the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, concise articles provide basic information on each event. A generous selection of photographs are included as well.
The real hook is the inclusion of three CDs featuring audio taken from the original radio broadcasts. Narrator Bill Kurtis reads what amounts to condensed versions of the book's articles, punctuated by excerpts of the breaking news. Not intended as a comprehensive account, a good job is done by giving a sort of Cliffs Notes version of major news stories.
Famous celebrity deaths, such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and John Lennon, are covered. Milestones in the space program are discussed, like the moon landing and Challenger disaster. Important wartime events are included, ranging from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the on-going war in Iraq.
These well-researched articles are not based on obscure occurences, to say the least. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of historical events will likely be familiar with most, if not all, of the events presented.
The writing is non-biased, even when dealing with hot button political topics. The 2000 presidential election, for example, is given a decent factual overview without inserting partisan opinion. Highly debated decisions such as the bombing of Hiroshima or Operation Iraqi Freedom are similarly put forth in a factual manner.
When dealing with recent controversial stories, such as Hurricane Katrina, rather than arguing a specific point of view the author wisely tiptoes around issues. "Many commentators felt that racial bias played a role… in the creation of the conditions that left New Orleans unable to deal with the disaster," states Garner.
This was a smart move because it leaves the reader to further investigate and draw their own conclusions based on the more in-depth analysis that is available elsewhere. The writings found here are not meant as critiques, but rather as straightforward, fact-based journalism.
Don't expect the three CDs to be packed to the gills with audio. In fact, at an average of 50 minutes per disc, they could have been comfortably slimmed down to two discs. After a short introduction, each of the 46 stories is given its own track. The individual tracks run from two to six minutes. I'm not convinced the audiobook style was the best format to use. Once you've read the text, hearing it again on the CDs – albeit reworded – is sort of superfluous.
My disappointment came from not hearing longer segments of original broadcast audio. That may have had to do with limited availability or perhaps licensing issues, but a bit more from the actual radio announcements would have had a nice "audio verite" effect. Some of these sound bites are fairly readily available on-line with a minimal amount of searching, especially as the chronology gets into recent decades. The same can be said for the information in the articles. But I don't want to overstate those points. This book and CD set remains useful for rounding up lots of solid background information in one convenient place.
Carrying a cover price of $49.95, this hardcover edition is somewhat overpriced. We Interrupt This Broadcast is the kind of coffee table book that's better off snagged at a discount after doing some bargain hunting. With the holidays approaching I would say don't hesitate if you see it at a good price. It is fun to listen to the news reporters of decades past. I would especially recommend the book to parents of high school, or even junior high, students. The CDs greatly enhance the experience of learning about, as the title states, "the events that stopped our lives."