Audible listener since the late 1990s. I mostly listen to science fiction, fantasy, history, and science.
This book is brilliantly written, wonderfully read, and is sprinkled with lots of wry humor -- all of which is especially impressive as it is a rather fact-filled history of Ancient Egypt. The overall effect is something like a Bill Bryson book (say, A Short History of Nearly Everything), only more thorough and academic, and with a much lighter authorial touch. Everything is here: the details of archaeological dating, the characters behind the archaeology, and the progression of the long history of Pharonic Egypt. I am not quite done with the book yet, but already am sad that it will be ending.
Dr. Barbara Mertz, who wrote the book, received her PhD in Egyptology at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. She wrote this book in the mid-1960s, though it has been updated, apparently, for this audiobook (though I cannot confirm this is the case). From other reviews of the book, I gather that the material in it still reflects current thinking in the field, though some details may have changed. Interestingly, Dr. Mertz is better known for her fiction, she also writes under the names Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, and she has written many suspense novels as well as the Amelia Peabody, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby series of archeology novels. Her deft touch with words shows in this book, which I highly recommend!
This is a well-done, well-read science book that uses the periodic table as an excuse to wander off into various scientific tangents and stories. Think Bill Bryson or James Burke or similar sorts of scientific and historical storytelling. Many of these stories are really interesting (such as the tale of the boy scout who built his own nuclear reactor in a shed), and there is enough variety to keep anyone interested. I also need to applaud Mr. Kean for sticking very closely to the science, he is careful not to exaggerate where other writers might, and he is quick to call out "pathological science" when he sees it.
The real weakness of this book is that it plays very fast and loose with its premise. It uses the table as an excuse for stories, not as a prime motivator. Once Mr. Kean is done with Mendelev and related stories central to the discovery of new elements, he happily goes on to cover subjects like bubbles, international standards for the kilogram, and other topics; often making some sort of tenuous connection (see, the kilogram was made of iridium!) This is not a flaw in the stories, however, and the book remains interesting throughout. A great science read.
This book was written in the earliest days of the current financial crisis, and completed sometime around May, 2008. As a result, it is both quite prescient about the causes of the current unraveling of the world financial system, and a bit out-of-date as so much has changed in the months since the book was published. If you are looking for something to explain the way that the current financial system was developed for the past three hundred years, and how the roots of the current crash go back deep into the history of finance, this book is an excellent and entertaining guide. It will introduce you to everything from the causes of the 1980s S&L scandals to the birth of investment banks to the inflationary pressures caused by the Spanish conquest of the New World, and demonstrate how these concepts are related to the current financial system. You will learn that crashes have always happened, and likely always will, so the book succeeds well as current commentary.
It is somewhat less successful as history of money, however, since the sections of the book, each named after a different type of financial instrument from insurance to bonds, are not really detailed histories of each topic, but rather a series of vignettes that illuminate a concept in the development of a particular financial instrument. The book focuses on the Rothschild family to explain the history of banking, the rise of Pinochet to explain the role of free markets, and so on. These stories are interesting and important, but they make the book feel more disjointed than a typical linear history. Similarly, the level of detail of the book fluctuates between fairly popular descriptions and very detailed statistics.
Overall, if you are either motivated to learn about the financial system, or you have a general interest in financial history, this is a wonderful book. Those who are less interested in the details, or who expect a complete account of the ascent of money, may be less impressed.