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Darwin8u

A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

Mesa, AZ, United States

ratings
397
REVIEWS
393
FOLLOWING
15
FOLLOWERS
1229
HELPFUL VOTES
7355

  • The Histories

    • UNABRIDGED (28 hrs and 35 mins)
    • By Herodotus
    • Narrated By Bernard Mayes
    Overall
    (262)
    Performance
    (113)
    Story
    (110)

    Herodotus is not only the father of the art and the science of historical writing, but also one of the Western tradition's most compelling storytellers. In tales such as that of Gyges, who murders Candaules, the king of Lydia, and usurps his throne and his marriage bed, thereby bringing on, generations later, war with the Persians, Herodotus laid bare the intricate human entanglements at the core of great historical events.

    Jefferson says: "Fascinating and Well-Read History"
    "Pater historiae: Latin, b/c who gets Greek jokes?"
    Overall
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    Story

    The narration was solid, but not top shelf. The Histories, however, is one of those books where an audiobook helps. Reading Herodotus, one can often get bogged down in the loops of geography, people, history, culture and meandre through miles of esoterica. The audiobook gives you a good pace and force-marches you through to the end. I enjoyed the audiobook, but utilized it more as a tool as I read the Landmark series. That is another aspect where the audiobook helps. When reading one translation and listening to another, similar translation, the reader/listener is often able to glean additional information.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 9 mins)
    • By Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (translator)
    • Narrated By Bruce Locke
    Overall
    (23)
    Performance
    (23)
    Story
    (23)

    The new novel - a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan - from the internationally acclaimed author, his first since IQ84. Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

    Darwin8u says: "Just below the Surface"
    "Just below the Surface"
    Overall
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    Story

    A slow soak in a bath of music, color, friends, loneliness, philosophy, creation and death. Murakami is a genius at writing with emotions swirling beneath the text. He gets the importance of the notes AND the silence of prose; of the unsaid, dreamy place that is both recognized and strange.

    This isn't his most exciting work, but it is clearly not a throw-away either. It brings all the usual suspects to the Murakami table. Murakami writes best when he makes the reader feel like they are just near the surface of wakefulness. He bends the reader into a zone where it feels like a strange contractive tendency of the surface between sleep and wakefulness between musical, lucid dreams and surreal, philosophical nightmares.

    It feels like you are balancing blind on the edge of a train platform; you feel the sound of the train and feel the compression of his words, but don't know if the Murakami train is going to hit you from the left or the right.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • The Decameron

    • UNABRIDGED (30 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Giovanni Boccaccio
    • Narrated By Frederick Davidson
    Overall
    (55)
    Performance
    (24)
    Story
    (24)

    Giovanni Boccaccio, Dante, and Petrarch were the leading lights in a century that is considered the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. The Decameron, or Ten Days' Entertainment, is his most famous work, a collection of stories considered representative of the Middle Ages, as well as a product of the Renaissance.

    Wendy says: "The Decameron???"
    "Everyone is dying: Let's bawdy!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Like 'The Canterbury Tales', 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman', 'The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights', etc., 'The Decameron' is an early masterpiece of European literature. It is one of those books I've previously avoided because I thought it would be stilted and boring. Hells NASTY Bells was I wrong. Boccaccio is funny, flippant, irreverent, libidinous, provocative, inspiring, insulting, crazy and always -- always entertaining.

    100 stories told during the the summer of 1348 as the Black Death is ravaging Florence (and Europe). Ten aristocratic youths take to the country to escape the death, stink and bodies of the City and to hang out and amuse themselves on stories of love and adventure and sex and trickery. Bad priests, evil princes, saints, sinners, and various twists and turns paints a detailed picture of Italy from over 660 years ago that seems just as modern and funky as today. Things have certainly changed, but lords and ladies it is incredible just how many things have stayed the same.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • The Metamorphoses

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Ovid
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    Overall
    (223)
    Performance
    (104)
    Story
    (107)

    An undeniable masterpiece of Western Civilization, The Metamorphoses is a continuous narrative that covers all the Olympian legends, seamlessly moving from one story to another in a splendid panorama of savage beauty, charm, and wit. All of the gods and heroes familiar to us are represented. Such familiar legends as Hercules, Perseus and Medusa, Daedelus and Icarus, Diana and Actaeon, and many others, are breathtakingly recreated.

    J. J. Kuzma says: "Desert Island Download"
    "Cha-cha-cha-Changes"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Ovid -- the David Bowie of Latin literature. I chewed on this book of myth-poems the entire time I was tramping around Rome. I was looking for the right words to describe my feelings about it. It isn't that I didn't like it. It is an unequivocal masterpiece. I'm amazed by it. I see Ovid's genes in everything (paintings, sculptures, poems and prose). He is both modern and classic, reverent and wicked, lovely and obscene all at once. It is just hard to wrestle him down. To pin my thoughts about 'the Metamorphoses' into words. Structure really fails me.

    That I guess is the sign for me of a book's depth or success with me. It makes me wish I could read it in the original form. I'm not satisfied with Dante in English. I want him in Italian. I'm not satisfied with Ovid in English. I want to experience his poetry, his playfulness, his wit in Latin.

    I still prefer the poetry of Homer and Dante, but Ovid isn't embarrassed by the company of the greats; so not Zeus or Neptune, but maybe Apollo.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Jacob Burckhardt
    • Narrated By Geoffrey Howard
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (34)
    Performance
    (9)
    Story
    (8)

    In this landmark study of Italy from the 14th through the early 16th centuries, Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt chronicles the rise of Florence and Venice as powerful city-states, the breakup of the medieval worldview that came with the rediscovery of Greek and Roman culture, and the new emphasis on the role of the individual. All these, Burckhardt explains, went hand in hand with the explorations of science and the more naturalistic depiction of the world in art and literature.

    Henry says: "A Learned Book from 150 Years Ago"
    "A nest as beautiful as the bird(s) it bore"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Often, when writing about the Renaissance there is tendency among experts/writers/historians to focus on the well-plumed bird and ignore the nest. Burckhardt spends nearly 400 pages carefully detailing the Tuscan nest of the Renaissance that embraced, protected, and incubated the great Italian artists of the Rinascimento (Giotto to Michelangelo, etc).

    Burckhardt first describes the state in Italy and carefully describes the rise of the despots, the energy of the republics, and the push and the pull of the papacy. He builds on this, describing the development of the individual, Italy's relationship with its Classical past. Finally, Burckhardt details the science, society and religion of Italy during those impressive years between 1350 and 1550.

    I think Daniel J. Boorstin summarized it best when he said Burckhardt "offered a classic portrait of the men and institutions that gave the era its characters and made it the mother of modern European civilization."

    Like Gibbon's fantastic 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' it is tempting to gloss over how drastically the craft of history was changed by this book. Burckhardt wasn't interested in a stale or utilitarian history. He wanted a nest that was just as beautiful as the bird it bore.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • The Stalin Epigram: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 27 mins)
    • By Robert Littell
    • Narrated By John Lee, Anne Flosnik
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (69)
    Performance
    (17)
    Story
    (17)

    The Stalin Epigram is a masterful rendering of the life of Osip Mandelstam, one of Russia's greatest poets of the 20th century. His heroic protest against the Stalin regime---particularly his outspoken criticism of the collectivization that drove millions of Russian peasants to starvation---finally reached its apex in 1934. When he composed a searing indictment of Stalin in a 16-line poem, secretly passed from person to person through recitation, the poet was arrested.

    Brian says: "A reaction, not a review: Brilliant"
    "An Espionage Artist Smuggling Art into his Oeuvre"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    'The Stalin Epigram' is unlike any Littell novel I've read. It is sad, beautiful, complex. It is a writer not playing with words to earn a living, or to impress, or to get laid, or to sell one stupid book. It is a lonely poet casting a stone into a cave, writing a love note to a dead lover, or telling Stalin to take a flying leap. It is art and art is always a little mad.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • The Chill

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 23 mins)
    • By Ross MacDonald
    • Narrated By Tom Parker
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (38)
    Performance
    (21)
    Story
    (21)

    Lew Archer knew he shouldn't have taken the case, but Alex Kincaid seemed so desperate. Kincaid's loving new bride, Dolly, had just inexplicably walked out on him, leaving Kincaid more than a little fearful for her sanity and her safety. So Archer reluctantly agreed to help Kincaid find his wife.

    G. stone says: "good entree to the Hard Boiled"
    "Ross MacDonald is the high king of hard-boiled"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Ross Macdonald might write Chandleresque noir as good or better than Chandler. Some of the lines from 'The Chill' were so sharp they could cut a day into dark chocolate, bite-sized hours. 'The Chill' had a pretty good twist at the end. The only downside to the novel was it almost needed an overcoat with extra pockets for all the characters. By the end, I needed a small pocket book to keep all femme fatales and dead women straight.

    Like most Macdonald novels, the dénouement of 'the Chill' seems to snake into your pants, squirm and bite you before you are quite ready for the book to end. That is one thing about Macdonald: he ties up ALL the snakes at the end.

    There is a popular trope (often attributed to Brian Eno) that the Velvet Underground's first album only sold 30,000 copies during its first five years but that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” I think the same thing can be said about Macdonald. He was one of those writers who probably sold less than his talent deserved, but whose influence on the modern-day detective novel is practically unsurpassed. He was a writer's writer, the professor of pulp, the high king of hard-boiled, the prophet of classic myths retold as California crime fiction. He was a god and you bet you ass every single word was a sacred creation.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Lives of the Artists, Volume One

    • UNABRIDGED (18 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Giorgio Vasari
    • Narrated By Nadia May
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (45)
    Performance
    (14)
    Story
    (15)

    Georgio Vasari's original vision of the arts was to see the artist as divinely inspired. He describes the lives of 45 artists, including Giotto, Brunelleschi, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian, with striking immediacy conveyed through character sketches, anecdotes, and detailed recording of conversations.

    Gregory says: "Interest to the artist, as well as the historian"
    "An encyclopedic “Garden of Delights”"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I normally don't gravitate towards abridged books (sorry folks on Audible, but this IS abridged), but Vasari's 'The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects' is a book that needs to be: 1) read by art history experts in its entirety (2000+ pages), 2) picked through periodically, like an encyclopedic “Garden of Delights”, 3) read abridged, in a version that focuses on the Renaissance's best (Vasari was interested in distinguishing the better from the good and the best from the better). My time here is limited. I only have so much time for the good. In my brief life here I want to hang with the Gods not with the minor prophets. I want Michelangelo not Niccolò Soggi. Sorry Niccolò.

    The Penguin Classics/George Bull translation, was a great audio version. It had all the Teenage Ninja Mutant Renaissance artists, but still provided plenty of architects, sculptures and painters that I was either completely uninformed about or lacked much knowledge. Vasari has a natural narrative momentum, even if he does sometimes lose his narrative genius when he's consumed with listing and describing all of an artists works. It is a fine balancing act, to try and describe the artists' life, work, and importance and make the essay complete, without making the piece a laundry list of oil and marble.

    One final note. This is one of those books that seems destined to become an amazing hypertext book or app. There were times while reading it I wished I was reading a digital copy that would provide links to pictures, blue prints, smoothly rotating statues, etc. What I wanted was a through the looking-glass, artist's version of 'The Elements' app by Theodore Gray. I want a multiverse of art, history, maps and blueprints. I want to fall into a hypertext of Renaissance Florence and Rome. Audiobooks or paper just fail to do justice to this beautiful subject.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  • The Galton Case: A Lew Archer Mystery

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Ross Macdonald
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (47)
    Performance
    (27)
    Story
    (27)

    Almost 20 years have passed since Anthony Galton disappeared, along with a suspiciously streetwise bride and several thousand dollars of his family’s fortune. Now Anthony’s aging and very rich mother wants him back and has hired Lew Archer to find him. What turns up is a headless skeleton, a boy who claims to be Galton’s son, and a con game whose stakes are so high that someone is still willing to kill for them.

    Darwin8u says: "Dances down the same streets as Hammett & Chandler"
    "Dances down the same streets as Hammett & Chandler"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Ross Macdonald definitely dances down the same literary streets as Hammett and Chandler. This hardboiled detective novel, the 8th in the Lew Archer series, feels like it was written in one continuous sitting (that is a good thing).

    'The Galton Case' has a naked narrative intensity that is well-supported by its witty dialogue and California Noir setting. Macdonald is one of those authors who is so spare and bare that it is hard NOT to be impressed by the clean, minimalist architecture of his writing. If Proust was edited by Hemingway, liked bad girls (well OK, sometimes Proust liked bad girls) and wrote hardboiled novels, he'd be Ross Macdonald.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Young Philby: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Robert Littell
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (32)
    Performance
    (28)
    Story
    (28)

    Best-selling novelist Robert Littell employs all his considerable skills in telling the story of Kim Philby through the eyes of more than 20 true-life characters. When Kim Philby fled to Moscow in 1963, he became the most infamous double agent in history. A member of Britain's intelligence service since World War II, he had risen to become their chief officer in Washington, D.C. after the war. The exposure of other members of the group of double agents known as the Cambridge Five led to the revelation that he had been working for Russia for even longer than he had been part of MI6.

    connie says: "Maybe get this one in print"
    ""Ahistorical" Espionage Fiction"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    It has been awhile since I've read Robert Littell. This wasn't one of his best novels (*** 1/2), but it was still fascinating. At its core, 'Young Philby' is an ahistorical, fictionalized telling of the early life and background of Kim Philby, the most famous of the Cambridge Five.

    Littell's fictionalized account imagines the possibility that Philby was actually more than just a double agent. I would tell you more, but then I would have to kill you. Anyway, 'Young Philby' was well-written, well-developed, and nuanced enough to make Littell's argument credible.

    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • The Last Magazine: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By Michael Hastings
    • Narrated By Ramiz Monsef
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (19)
    Performance
    (19)
    Story
    (18)

    The year is 2002. Weekly news magazines dominate the political agenda in New York and Washington. A young journalist named Michael M. Hastings is an intern at The Magazine, wet behind the ears, the only one in the office who has actually read his coworkers' books. He will stop at nothing to turn his internship into a full-time position and has figured out just who to impress: Nishant Patel, the international editor, and Sanders Berman, managing editor - both vying for the job of editor-in-chief.

    Darwin8u says: "CURRENT and ENERGY that is hard to contain"
    "CURRENT and ENERGY that is hard to contain"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    One of my big regrets over the last couple years is that I never met Michael Hastings. He wrote some of the "great" long-form journalism pieces for Rolling Stone Magazine during the last decade ('The Runaway General' & 'Bowe Bergdahl: America's Last Prisoner of War'). Hastings' genius was a combination of gonzo passion with the ability to laser-in on stories months or years before they became news.

    'The Last Magazine' gives us an energized, barely fictionalized, account of Michael Hastings' time at Newsweek. There is Nishant Patel & Sanders Berman (read Fareed Zakaria & Jon Meacham). There is sex. There is hackery. There's plenty of politics and porn, transvestites & bottom feeders. There are even twin narrators. Two sides of Michael Hastings. There is Michael Hastings the naive intern and A. E. Peoria the jaded combat vet who seems to have an inevitable destiny with self-destruction.

    Like most unpublished novels discovered only after their famous authors have died, 'The Last Magazine' is a hot mess. There are parts that are repetitive, segments that go on too long, underdeveloped ideas, etc., but there is also a current and energy that is hard to contain. 'The Last Magazine' is raw and it is FUNNY.

    One of my favorite tropes is Michael Hastings' dance on the fourth wall. In the beginning of the novel he details how many words he thinks the novel will be, the book's dangers, its pitfalls, etc. Hastings the author (not the narrator) reappears again and again to apologize for going too slow or too fast or for writing too much. This voice is difficult to pull off, but Hastings manages it with grace and doesn't typically overstay -- Hastings the author and the magician knows how to both make a scene and make a dramatic exit.

    14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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