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.
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.
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.
Flo Gibson is not my favorite narrator but she is consistent and once one gets used to her voice, the story takes over and must carry the day. Just play the sample and find out if you can make allowances. It is harder to review standards such as "Little Women". Who hasn't read, seen, heard or watched some version of this story? I have yet to see a movie adaptation better than the usual chopped-up Hollywood muddles. This seems to me to be a story about taking responsibility for oneself. When adversity pummeled the March family, they did not turn to some government agency, blame others or whine about unfairness. They devised solutions, worked hard, made good decisions and accepted responsibility. No job was beneath them. The March girls with their foibles and follies, were serious creatures and members of an admirable family who had the traits of direct descendents of New England transcendentalists including Louisa May Alcott. I had forgotten how much of this story took place in Scotland, England, France, Germany, Italy and a few other European countries including one important proposal. I started taking note of off-beat proposals years ago probably beginning with Mr. Collins' and Mr. Darcy's memorable forays into the marriage market. Laurie's off hand proposal to Amy in the little boat on the lake was excellent. Professor Bhaer's proposal to Jo while both were ankle deep in mud, in the pouring rain, was classic. Oh yes, did Meg need a proposal? I think not. What would this story look like if written today? I do not presume to know but one can speculate and I am pained to report from the evidence on bookstore shelves, the result would not be an elevation of Western Civilization. For other really good families on the home front five-star stories, check out "Rilla of Inglesides" by Lucy Maude Montgomery and "Cheerfulness Breaks In" by Angella Thirkell.