There are two basic ways to write history books. You can do your own research, or you can read a lot of other historians' books and compile what they wrote into a textbook, ideally by integrating all the other works into one consistent theory. This book is the latter, but without the integration.
It seems to have been compiled from sources written at different times, because some of it is current on medieval research, while parts are outdated. For instance, it seems more to describe modern than ancient or medieval Christianity while seeming to defend the religion more than to analyze it. Later, the authors have no problem rejecting Islamic religious tradition to write that history. This inconsistency is present in other areas than religion, but it's harder to illustrate. For instance, the authors take at face value the stories of the wicked Merovingian kings while more objectively analysing Emperor Justinian's biographer.
Overall I'd say this is a bad history book. Parts are outdated, parts are poorly researched, and parts seem to be written with only a slight knowledge of the subject, as if the writer were paraphrasing other textbooks.
I gave it three stars instead of two because of its range. It tells the history of Rome, Europe, Byzantium, Russia, Eastern Europe, and the bare basics of Islamic history, and while it tells them wrong sometimes, many books don't even attempt that.
The narrator is another story. He is so dramatic it's almost farcical at times, and he even makes otherwise mundane passages seem controversial with the emphasis he puts into them, as when he describes Jesus as having "iron." He's almost as funny as the narrator of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Just don't take him too seriously and try to see past his tone to the text beyond.
This is not really a history book. It contains so few actual facts and dates, but is full of rambling generalizations. There is a passage that takes 2 hours to read about the history of Christianity, and yet it gives no sources and only two or three dates. This is certainly not a history; it is little more than opinion; indeed had it been written by a well-known theologian as a general discussion of his ideas and how he feels about other peoples' ideas, then that would be fine.
And another annoyance is the way every quotation is delivered with a daft echo effect.
If you want a basic history of the middle ages, I found "A Survey of the Middle Ages" far superior.
Can't/won't really talk about the content. Don't know much about the period - wanted to learn so got the book. I'm sure I learned something.
But, good lord! Every time there was a quote they ran the reader through an echo-y reverb machine. In the first chapter I thought it was some throwback to movies about God from the 50s or 60s or whenever it was, when they tried to make God's voice mystical or lofty or otherworldly or whatever. But this wasn't only for God's voice! Every single time there was a quote in the book, no matter who from, it received the same treatment! I felt like I was being treated like I was six years old. It was awful, annoying, insulting, and just plain STRANGE! Please, may I never encounter this again.
I love listening in the car on the way to work. I like history and stuff.
The music over the narration was off putting, I couldn't listen any more. A very poor choice on my half and the readers accent. I was expect life in the middle ages and all I got was Gregorian chanting or akin to.
Scholarship aside, and I found the content of the book by and large interesting, I could simply not get over the naration, which I found hideous. Every sentence is spoken with bombastic gravitas in an comically Churchillian style. Furthermore, the producers employed tawdry "special effects" for every primary quote, drenching Charlton Griffin's voice with entirely unecessary reverb. The first time he read a passage from the Bible, I thought it was somewhat amusing, but after the third or fourth quote I found the cheap theatrics distracting to the point of infuriating. Regarding the "bias" many listeners found in the book, it's worth keeping in mind that the authors (Crane Brinton for example) were products of Oxford in the 1920s, and thus reflect the best and worst of British imperial scholarship...
The narrator was very good and for the most part I found this book quite informative. However, dispite the more than 18 hours of this book, it didn't really cover any particular era of history in much detail. There is enough here to give one a general idea of the foundations of modern western countries and social customs. The authors did succeed in making me more curious about european history. If that was their intent, they have done a marvalous job. There was enough detail that it left me with a much better understanding of the foundations of western culture, and for that, I consider it time well spent.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The audio book points out that we have modern preconceptions of the English, Germans, and the French. The book suggest that our preconceptions are formed by the historical development for each country into a nation-state and factors such as the separation of powers between the kings, barons and peasants formed how each country will develop slightly different from each other.
I had bought this audio book over five years ago before I listened to it. My bad. It's a very listenable book. It does read like a text book and throws a lot of dates and peoples names at you, but I enjoy a well written and narrated text book.
I love history.
The audiobook version of this kind must necessarily suffer from the inaccessibility of names, places and technical terminology. So, I'd say no.
No, too boring, and will likely put them to sleep.
Absolutely, the deep low masculine voice is ill suited to historical narratives.
The book is useful as far as being a beginner's guide to medieval history is concerned, it does not go into detail, just jumping from one theme to another, so those interested in particular themes can do further research. It also suffers from the all too often a problem of Eurocentrism, the thousand year between the Fall of Western Roman Empire 472 a,d and the fall of Eastern Roman Empire in 1454 in China is between Tang and Ming Dynasty. a lot of things happened there too. In short, it's a folly to try to squeeze a thousand years in a 18 hour history book.
This book is good in that it has a lot of information. It turns out that my understanding of the Middle Ages going into the book was fairly shallow. Part of the way through the book, my knowledge is certainly greater.
However, it is very hard to listen to this book. Dates, names and places come flying at you so fast that I doubt I am catching half of what is being said. The reader does a fine job, it is simply that the facts are packed in so densly as to be hard to follow. I feel as though I should listen to the book multiple times in order to get everything. The problem with that solution is that this is the first book to which I have listed that I put aside half way through to listen to something else. I have picked it back up, but doubt I will make it to the end before laying it aside again. I very much enjoy listening to historical books. But listening to this tells me that I do not enjoy listening to text books.
So if you simply want a bunch of history class-like facts, then this book can be great. It has an endless supply. But if you work better with books that tell history is a more-or-less chronilogical, story fashion, then you would probably struggle through this book as much as I have.
Listening to a sample audio is a good idea, in order to get a taste of the narrator's style. If it doesn't put you to sleep, then you will enjoy the audiobook. The very long introduction is focused on the actual absence of a time period that could be defined as "middle ages". The pace picks up a bit in the following chapters, but I do find that I can take it in small doses only, before I drift off. Much like a university lecture, good but monotonous.