Some classic books are enjoyable just because they are brilliantly written and tell a fascinating story. Some are interesting because they tell us as much about the time in which they were written as they do about themselves. This is in the second category.
I love a good science fiction work. But I'm beginning to suspect that Verne is not my style. There are very large sections of this book which become effectively a shopping list of the names of species. This is OK when it is a name or two but when you wake up and realise that you have been listening to a list of different fish species for the last few minutes it gets a bit frustrating. And then when it carries on for what must translate into several pages of text it just gets annoying. Now when the book was published this probably made great reading because much of the natural world was just being codified. However, once you've seen a David attenborough documentary or two it becomes necessary to grit your teeth and bear up to get through it. There are also many passages that consist primarily of the mathematical formulae necessary to build a submarine which, again, might show the author as being a clever man but kind of limit his appeal as a narrative story teller.
But that is in fact what makes the work interesting. Not because it IS interesting but because it WAS interesting. It gives some idea of the thirst and desire that the late 19th Century had for all this stuff. It shows that in the absence of the National Geographic Channel there was a mass market that wanted to find out how stuff works and what they could do with it. So this book is really a cross between the Great Exhibition and The Public Aquarium at London Zoo. Its a museum piece. It should be read not because its a great story (its OK but no better) or because its great writing (always difficult to judge in a traslation) but because its a barometer of its time and probably a pretty good one at that.
The narration is good. Clear and with no excessive characteristion. There is an introduction by Ray Bradbury which contrasts this work with Moby Dick and draws comparisons. Not sure that it added much for me but it might be a bonus if you have to write an exam paper anytime.
Basically if your interestedin the history of science or literature you should read this. If not, then maybe not.
I could not help visualising a scene in the office of Haggard's publisher where the publisher is saying
"Can't you do King Solomon's Mines 2 - The Return or something like that. That I can sell."
"All the same old stereotypes?" asks Haggard
"Of course. Oh - do you think you can fit a cowardly and stupid Frenchman in there as well. Everybody likes a cowardly Frenchman. Oooh Ooooh - I know - make him a chef"
"Not a problem" says Haggard as he gets up to leave.
And that's what he did. Same old stiff upper lip nationalism. Same set piece action scenes. Same over elaborate pointless descriptions with bizzare irrelevant details which go on and on and on.
Narration carefully chosen to be as pompous as the writing. And I usually like this stuff!!!!
My previous experiences of reading Wyndham have been in his "childrens" novels which I loved as a child and now love as a man. This is written on a more adult scale and despite the fact that time has overtake some of the ideas in the book there are others which remain absolutely plausible today. The story is well written, well narrated and thoroughly enjoyable.
I worked with a bloke once who quoted this work endlessly. I'd never read it and never quite understood what he was talking about. So this was one of the first books I signed up for after signing up of Audible (several years ago). And I've just got round to writing this review.
I listen to this 4 or 5 times a year. It makes me laugh out loud every time. The fact that it is narrated by Douglas Adams is a real bonus. The man is a real loss. Not only was he clever and witty and a talented writer but he knew about performance as well. The science isn't bad either.
So if you have a teenager who you want to make curious about how the universe works get them to listen to this to start them off and then make them read the rest of the series on paper. Paper. Not kindle - paper! Then let them listen to Douglas Adams doing those as well. And if you don't have a teenager and you are interested enough to be reading this review then do the same thing yourself and start by buying this book. Today.
I probably misunderstood the ambitions of this title. I think I was hoping for more insight into Goodall's work with primates than this title sets out to give. Basically I was hoping for chimps featuring Jane Goodall and what you get is Jane Goodall featuring chimps. As an inspirational story for children it's probably great but as science or natural history less so. I'm afraid that I also find it offputting when scientists make reference to supernatural beliefs in their writings. Personal prejudice. I'm stacked full of them.
So basically this was interesting but not what I was hoping for when I purchased it. Goodall is a competent narrator as well.
Another classic that I have been seeking on audio to add to my library for a while. This one because I had read it as a boy and enjoyed it greatly and wanted to add it to my rotating library of repeat listens. It makes it to that list very very easily.
The basic story is probably fairly well known. Group of boys. Desert Island. Add some time and wait for chaos to reign. I remembered that much from my boyhood read but there are layers here that I didn't get as a spotty teen.
And I'm coming to the conclusion that this is what makes a great book great.
Every time you read it it makes you think about some element of it differently and see some feature in a new light. Ostensibly this is a book about how small boys will happily become savages if left without authority. It is also wider, deeper and longer than that if you pause the recoding every now and then and let your mind wander over a scene for a few minutes and think about whatever else it throws into your head. Bit like tasting a good wine where you can (I'm told - cheap plonk man myself) start to seperate out individual notes from the flavour. "I'm getting - the beginnings of religion - the draw of superstition - mans inhumanity to man.........."
That said , if all you want is a good book with a good story well told and well read then this will do that for you too. Just that there is more there if you want it.
Martin Jarvis does an excellent job on the narration.
I have been looking for this on audio for a while. I live near Selborne and have visited Gilbert White's house several times and that always helps to make a work more interesting. Also this work has been quoted as an influence by several respected naturalists and scientists so I wanted to see what the fuss was about.
My concern was that a 220+ year old book by a country parson talking about swallows and spiders might not be that rivetting or translate well to audio. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
From the first few words it is a complete joy to listen to. The narrator manages to give the perfect feel to the work and the words themselves are beautifully written and sound like they could have been produced yesterday.There is very little archane langauge and the pace is crisp and clear. The book is actually a series of different letters written over a period of time so each one forms a discreet package and none of them dwells too long on any one subject. The observations in the letters are not just natural history but also give a facinating glimpse of life , human and animal, in the English countryside in the 18th century.
The narration is clear and measured and the production is very good. There is a tiny introduction by the narrator which sets the scene nicely without getting in the way of the work.
This book has all the things which annoy me about supposed "great" literature.
It is excessively poetic. (Not a fan of poetry).
It is wordy for the sake of it. (Big fan of directness).
There is relatively little direct narrative. (I like a plain and simple central thread).
Its full of clever devices. (Like my English not mucked about with)
But it is magnificent! I'm pretty sure that I didn't properly follow a lot of it but it doesn't matter. Some of the words made no sense but the sounded beautiful. Some of the scenes were meaningless to me but they were magic to listen to. The whole thing was a joy to listen to.
One of the other reviewers suggest that you should be familiar with this book in print before listening to this but I disagree. I suspect that if I had tried to read this from paper I would have made it t about page 12 before throwing it out of a window. It was made to be read out loud and if there is a better version available than this I'm not sure I would be able to cope with it.
Jim Norton gives each character just enough depth to make him distinguishable wthout creating any cartoon Irishmen in the process. There are a few sections read in a female voice. (Marcella Riordan - who should get a narrators credit). Double handed narration can be clumsy but this is perfectly judged. Overall - an excellent listen.
Twain is one of my favourite fiction writers. All his talents are also there in full strength in this non-fiction work.
Telling the story of a journey through the Mediteranean and the "Holy" land by a group of Americans it is laced with all the humour, irreverance and intelligence that I love in his work. As a travel book it gives just enough flavour of the countries and places it visits to be relevant and contains some interesting historic details that were the currency of the day. I came away with a clearer picture of the reach of the Turkish (Ottoman?) empire than I had before and a better notion of some of the scale of the geography.
But you're not going to enjoy this for geography or history. You're going to enjoy it if you're interested in people and intelligent and witty comment on their behaviour. That is what Twain did best and this is one of his best.
Grover Gardner does an excellent job of the narration. Just the right level of old man growl to fit the words perfectly.
I know there should be apostrophes in the "Hitchens"es in the title. But Audible wouldn't give me space and I couldn't bring myself to call him Hitch. Because I don't know him well enough and very sadly I now never will. So I chose bad punctuation over disrespect.
If you love Hitchen's writing, which I do. And love his speaking, which I do. Then you will love this work. The biography of a clever, witty and educated man spoken by himself is always going to be an interesting read and this is. The only downside is that I had to keep stopping it because it made me sad to realise that the supply of thought from this man has been cut short.
If you don't like Hitchens ideas or the way he expresses them then quite frankly you will hate this book with a passion. Good. Real thought is not meant to be easy and real ideas require work. The problem is that the people who will hate this work the most will do so without ever reading it.
Starting from his childhood and dealing openly with his schoolboy experiences , his family and the beginning of his political thinking, Hitchens reveals himself to be a very human set of contradictions. He speaks warmly of favoured authors and people who he touches along the way. There is enough soul searching to be interesting and enough lack of cod psychology to be refreshing. He tells it the way he sees it and explains why he sees it that way.
There is some slightly boring stuff about the literary circle he moved in and literary people he meets. Its interesting enough in small doses but there are sections where it goes on a bit and has a quality of "You probably needed to be there" about it. But at the end of the day that is the man. He is literary to his boots except when he is political.
And the politics is interesting. Always leftist (whatever that means) he shows that his actual politic compass was always pointed at attacking totalitarianism in any of its many forms and that sometimes meant that the lesser of two evils still looked evil from the outside. The passages dealing with his road to US citizenship are fascinating.
There is relatively little about Hitchens high profile contribution to the rationalist atheist movement. If you want to hear Hitchens on religion then buy a copy of "God is not Great". (No - I mean it - buy a copy - he reads that too and its marvellous).
All in all this is a work that I will listen to again and again. As much because it feels just a tiny bit like it gives me the privilege of spending a little time with a careful thinker who I shall never meet.
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