I don't think this is the best Aeneid on audiobook -- if you have to choose, get the Charlton Griffin one -- but it's not bad. The translation is wonderful: pithy, hard-hitting, and tough; it's worth having this one to get Fagles' take on Virgil, if nothing else. But the performance, though I liked it, is definitely not to everyone's taste. Simon Callow (or the producer?) decided to do it as if it were a one-man stage show, rather than a studio reading. If you've ever seen Callow doing Charles Dickens, you get the idea: it's a very broad performance.
On the other hand, Aeneas needs a boost. As epic heroes go, he's a pill and a half: dutiful to a fault, self-righteous and self-justifying ("well, I never actually used the word MARRIAGE, did I?"). Virgil takes received wisdom and the Grandeur that was Rome at face value, where Homer delightfully subverts everything he touches.
What a pleasure it was to listen to this old story again. When I was a kid, I read it at least once a year, till I was in high school and "put away childish things." Dietz's easy-going story-telling style is perfectly suited to this book: you might just as easily be listening to tales of Lake Wobegon. He never quite loses the sense of innocence and child-like wonder that surrounds the story, but he captures the darker moments as well.
And dark moments there are. The plot, such as it is, hinges on a murder in the graveyard, guilt, courage, and fear. Later, the man who committed the murder is overheard planning to kill the Widow Douglas as well - committing other outrages in the process. Tom and Becky are lost in the cave, facing a very real possibility of starving to death in the darkness.
But Twain somehow manages to keep things in the realm of fairy tale; he was apparently storing up his harshest satire for the sequel.
There are many wonderful readers of Twain on Audible - I'm not sure you can really go wrong with any of them. But Dietz's rendition of this story is one of the best.
It's true, as others have said here, that this is mainly a history of the WESTERN world. There's a bit about India and China, mostly in the context of religious history (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism); but it's mostly about the Mediterranean and western and northern Europe. But if you go into it knowing what it is, it's a gem of a book, presenting the history of those areas of the world in a lucid, engaging, and graceful manner. It's particularly useful in emphasizing aspects of European history that many other short histories of the world gloss over or rush through.
Ralph Cosham is the perfect narrator for this, so much so that I kept confusing him in my mind with the author.
A note about that religious history: in the context of an already short book, Gombrich's discussion of non-Western religious traditions is by no means skimpy: it's an outline, but a relaxed and anecdotal outline, and it shows a decidedly sympathetic and open mind.
Great Expectations and a Tale of Two Cities are examples of a master working at his peak. Both books are compelling, thought provoking and stand the test of time.
Great Expectations is populated by some of Dickens' most memorable characters. The spinster Miss Havisham, the convict Magwitch, the lawyer Jaggers and his clerk Wemmick with his "Aged Parent" and the beautiful Estella. Even though some language is out of popular usage, the study of social class and values both real and perceived is still compelling today.
A Tale of Two Cities, one of two historical novels by Dickens (the other the less compelling Barnaby Rudge), is both sweeping in scope and strangely clausterphobic in setting. Dickens story is set during the French Revolution and is a cautionary tale for the English to correct the social injustices present in mid 19th century England before the poor rise to stage a similar revolution for social justice in England. According to recent surveys, A Tale of Two Cities is the most popular book of all time with over 200 million copies sold.
The narration by the late Frank Mueller is stunning. I love both of these books and prefer to hear Mueller's compelling narration rather than read them myself. Just to hear Frank Mueller read these classics is worth the price.