MacCullough has managed to present a long, and exhaustively complex story in an interesting and clearly understandable manner. He treats his subject matter respectfully, focusing strictly on the historical record and not taking a religious stand. Walter Dixon, the narrator, does a good job as well reading clearly and briskly, not getting bogged down in sometimes hugely complicated text.
I personally tend to find Professor Ferguson's political leanings distasteful and don't necessarily agree with his ultimate conclusions but this is a good book. Ferguson's overview of the institutional strengths that allowed Western Europe to pull ahead of China, India and the Middle East is valid, insightful and thoroughly entertaining. I appreciated the wealth of interesting anecdotes from obscure nooks and corners of history that made this a superb piece of narrative history. As a review of post-Medieval Western Civ, this is a must-read.
As I said earlier I'm not exactly a fan of Ferguson's ideological leanings but this is besides the point- at times Ferguson's smug self-satisfaction with the glories of Western Civ can grate a bit (speaking as an Asian listener) but I have to admit that he's fair in his assessment of how la mission civilisatrice often went horribly wrong, notably in the part of his narrative that concerns German colonial atrocities against the Herero. I do note, however that he steers well clear of any analysis of the British Empire in this section but I suppose he couldn't put his nostalgia aside. Fair enough- in all other respects a generally balanced text.
The narration. Dear god, the narration. Ferguson has a pleasant speaking voice and he uses it well...but for some reason he decided to do the accents for all the bits of quoted text. This, in itself, isn't necessarily a problem- Nadia May does a great job with the accents in The Guns of August- but Ferguson can't do accents to save his life! French, Russians and Germans get read out in what devolves into a strangely blended Jamaican patois. And when he quote from East Asian sources he does so in a hilarious Charlie Chan-esque 'me so solly' accent. It funny the first few times but quickly becomes jarring.
India really comes alive in this reading- a magnificent performance that more than does justice to Kipling's masterpiece.
Barbara Demick sheds new light on the secretive North Korean state by exploring the personal lives of defectors. While she covers a number of gripping tales in an excellent journalistic style, this audiobook is sadly let down by an awful reading performance. Ms White, the narrator, reads slowly and hesitantly in a terribly melodramatic manner. At times she seems to be halting, on the verge of tears. In the end, she fails to do justice to the gripping material she's reading, turning a series of fascinating stories into a long slog, draining the listeners' energy. This audiobook is still well worth the listen but it could have been so much better.
I have no complaints about the actual text- interesting subject matter and the text is on the whole well written. Unfortunately, the well-written prose and fascinating facts are robbed of any interest by the turgid and monotonous narration. I found myself getting frustrated at how boring this otherwise excellent book was being made simply by a poor choice of narrator.
At a bit over four hours, this is a short introduction to the First World War but it's surprisingly comprehensive, giving an excellent and well-rounded view of almost every facet of the Great War. Particularly interesting was the opening chapter on the complex chain of circumstances leading up to the war- listening to it one gets the impression that at the end of the long 19th Century everyone in Europe was trapped in a strange web of politics and economics making the war almost inevitable. Well narrated and easy to follow.
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