Susan Jacoby is deeply concerned about the dumbing-down of our country and does a splendid job of explicating that worry in The Age of American Unreason, ably read by Cassandra Campbell. Witty, spirited Jacoby analyzes the state of our cultural state, looking at our educational system, at our unmindfulness and low level of curiosity, at the dissemination of news and the all-pervasive influence of infotainment. Jacoby's conclusions are distressing; I can only hope her plea for "cultural conservationists" like herself to do something to ameliorate what she sees as a "powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism" will not fall on deaf ears.

In The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, offers an informed, timely take on the new global landscape, a landscape quite different from what we've known. Though not proclaiming the total decline of America, he details the rise of everyone else and an emerging international system that's "defined and directed from many places by many people." How we fare in this brave new world will depend on how our leaders create a global strategy, build coalitions, share power and take on challenges and opportunities. Mr. Zakaria reads.

Looking for un-put-downable suspense, guaranteed to give you chills during the dog days of August? Then Child 44, Tom Rob Smith's dazzling debut novel, enhanced by Dennis Boutsikaris' race-paced, authentically accented performance, is it. We're back in the dark, paranoid years of postwar Soviet Russia: a time when fear and deprivation are the stuff of everyday life and just a speck of suspected disloyalty can mean deportation to the gulag and death. Leo Demidov, a war hero and idealistic MGB operative, is following orders and doing well when little fissures of doubt begin to shake his patriotic resolve. Then his world is cracked open when he's asked to denounce his beautiful wife. Removed to a frozen corner of the Urals for standing by her, Leo uncovers a series of murders, all children, all killed with the same M.O. Serial killers don't exist in Stalin's "workers paradise," but Leo pursues his undercover investigation. As Leo hunts the killer, the MGB hunt Leo, investigator becomes fugitive and the pulse-pounding excitement ratchets up in this transporting thriller-diller.

Listen up, listen in, know them better. Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, both read by Barack Obama, are included in The Essential Barack Obama and John McCain reads his memoir, Faith of My Fathers, written with Mark Salter.

To call David Sheff's Beautiful Boy harrowing may be the understatement of the season. His pain, anguish and roiling torment as his beloved, bright, talented teenage son, Nick, descends into addiction communicates itself so viscerally that it seeps into your thoughts and stays with you. Again and again you pull for Nick to make it through rehab, to kick his insidious, lethal meth habit, to be that "beautiful boy" once more. But this is a true story, not happy-ending fiction. Sheff and his wife and their two charming younger children go through their own hell watching Nick as he goes through his - lying, stealing, letting his body become wrecked and wasted, losing everything. Sheff writes with amazing candor as he wrestles with reality, discovering that he cannot make his son stop using, that parental protection has agonizing limits, that there may not be a silver lining in the interminable cloud of addiction despair. Anthony Heald narrates, poignantly capturing Sheff's highs and lows. Powerful, engaging, instructive.

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