Tom Hanks, Ken Burns Team Up for History Series on Audio Book

Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony Pictures/AP

Bryan Cranston narrates the Vietnam War novel "The Things They Carried" for the collaboration's debut offering.

Fresh off of one of the greatest TV series of all time, Bryan Cranston is tackling the greatest American novel of the last thirty years.

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The Breaking Bad star is reading Tim O'Brien's classic 1990 novel for part of a new series of American history audio books done in a partnership between Tom Hanks' Playtone, Ken Burns and

The new audiobook edition of The Things They Carried also includes O'Brien reading his essay "The Vietnam in Me," reflecting on the war twenty years after his return.

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"Playtone has attempted to portray many of the dimensions of that story on screen," said Hanks in a statement.

"Now, thanks to our partnership with Audible and by working with some of the finest actors we have known, we will give voice to the best fiction and nonfiction ever written about America."

Other books in the series include two World War II memoirs that inspired The Pacific mini-series: Helmet for my Pillow by Robert Leckie and With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge.

The readings are done by the two actors who portrayed the men in The Pacific--James Badge Dale doing Leckie and Joseph Mazzello doing Sledge.

Burns selections include Willa Cather's Prairie Trilogy (O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia), Shelby Foote's civil war series and The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan.

The collection can be found here.

Burns told the The Hollywood Reporter that he chose Cather's Prairie trilogy because he thinks its a contender with Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway's best work as one of the great American novels.

He also laments that she has been a somewhat overlooked int the discussion, which he attributes to the the fact that "the academy has been dominated by men" who tended to take her less seriously because of her gender. 

Burns is excited about doing more of these but is coy about what's next ( "That’s a good secret isn't? he jokes).
Still his goal isn't to overwhelm readers. He points out that the essence of good curation is as much about restraint as it is about making choices.
His hope, he says, is in our media saturated where people are checking their Facebook statuses and instagrams every five minutes is that people slow down and take the time to enjoy a some long form content to gain a deeper understanding of some stories.
"I think the way to reclaim this is moderating good books and all of the sudden creating little communities around extraordinary  books between the reader and between the curator  … that is what we are trying to do."
Burns also took time talk about his upcoming projects, including documentaries on the Gettysburg Address, Jackie Robinson and a long history of the Vietnam War. First up is The Address, about Lincoln's most famous speech, which will premiere in the spring. 
He was inspired to do the project by his work with a nearby school for students with learning disabilities. Each year they all have to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address. "Watching these kids struggle with it and overcome it and internalize the meaning is what it's about I just left with a more profound sense" of its importance.