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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
394
REVIEWS
390
FOLLOWING
14
FOLLOWERS
1175
HELPFUL VOTES
7073

  • The Oresteia

    • ORIGINAL (3 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Aeschylus
    • Narrated By Full Cast
    Overall
    (93)
    Performance
    (44)
    Story
    (43)

    In The Oresteia, Aeschylus dramatizes the myth of the curse on the royal house of Argos. The action begins when King Agamemnon returns victorious from the Trojan War, only to be treacherously slain by his own wife. It ends with the trial of their son, Orestes, who slew his mother to avenge her treachery - a trial with the goddess Athena as judge, the god Apollo as defense attorney, and, as prosecutors, relentless avenging demons called The Furies.

    Tad Davis says: "Great production, Ian Johnston translation"
    "A Dramatic Trilogy for Both GODS and MEN."
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Aeschylus' ability to weave and connect his tragedies seems second nature in today's world of sequels, trilogies, and Star Wars prequels, but Aescheylus' genius existed both in the original form and the brilliant substance of his surviving plays. I can understand how Swinburne could call the Oresteia trilogy the "greatest spiritual work of man." The Oresteia is at once brilliant, creepy, and infinitely tragic (only family dramas can be so damn full of pathos). As I was reading it, I was constantly thinking of the influences the Oresteia had on everyone from Shakespeare (think Lady Macbeth) to our current crop of TV police procedurals.

    8 of 8 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.

    6 of 8 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
    (67)
    Performance
    (16)
    Story
    (16)

    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.

    G. Sabin says: "Starts slow but ultimately gratifying"
    "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.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • The Chill

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 23 mins)
    • By Ross MacDonald
    • Narrated By Tom Parker
    Overall
    (37)
    Performance
    (20)
    Story
    (20)

    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
    (44)
    Performance
    (13)
    Story
    (14)

    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.

    7 of 8 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.

    5 of 7 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
    (30)
    Performance
    (27)
    Story
    (27)

    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.

    Darwin8u says: ""Ahistorical" Espionage Fiction"
    ""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.

    9 of 10 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
    (16)
    Performance
    (16)
    Story
    (15)

    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.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By David Graeber
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (281)
    Performance
    (241)
    Story
    (242)

    Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems - to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods - that is, long before the invention of coins or cash.

    E. J. Ford says: "Stands Economics on Its Head"
    "We are all debtors anyway."
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    A fascinating exploration of debt, money, barter, and the credit systems used by man for thousands of years. Sure it has biases and like 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' is a bit too idealistic, but still -- wow -- an amazing book. While most economic books are still battling over the binary capitalism::socialism salvos, Graeber quietly flips both boats (or if not flips, rocks both boats HARD).

    I mean really, when was the last time my wife let me read to her about social and economic transactions? Answer: Never. She has NEVER, EVER before let me read to her about money or debt or interest rates or the buying and selling of goods. This was an early rule in our marriage. It was practically a sacred cow, a promise made with a flesh-debt. We even broke bread sticks over it (I still have my stale tally). We kept our bargain, till this book, till last night. THAT is how good it is.

    Anyway, go ahead read it in bed. Read it to your wife -- in bed. If you are really equals she will tell you after a few minutes whether she is in your debt, or you are in hers. And, that's OK. We are all debtors anyway.

    12 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • The Dispossessed: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Ursula K. Le Guin
    • Narrated By Don Leslie
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (173)
    Performance
    (129)
    Story
    (131)

    Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.

    Justin says: "The Anti Atlas Shrugged"
    "The ^HIGH^ orbit of what SF can do"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    le Guin's 'The Dispossessed' represents the high orbit of what SF can do. Science Fiction is best, most lasting, most literate, when it is using its conventional form(s) to explore not space but us. When the vehicle of SF is used to ask big questions that are easier bent with binary planets, with grand theories of time and space, etc., we are able to better understand both the limits and the horizons of our species.

    The great SF writers (Asimov, Vonnegut, Heinlein, Dick, Bradbury, etc) have been able to explore political, economic, social, and cultural questions/possibilities using the future, time, and the wide-openness of space. Ursula K. Le Guin belongs firmly in the pantheon of great social SF writers. She will be read far into the future -- not because her writing reflects the future, but because it captures the now so perfectly.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Looking for Alaska

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By John Green
    • Narrated By Jeff Woodman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1113)
    Performance
    (935)
    Story
    (942)

    Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words - and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

    Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another.

    FanB14 says: "Humorous YA for Adults"
    "Emotional Cotton-Candy"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    A good first novel, just not a world-class bildungsroman that I'm going to push to have my daughter read immediately. Don't get me wrong, Green writes good characters and builds tight little novels (I can use the plural 'cause I've now read two). Sometimes, however, I feel a bit like I'm reading a Jennifer Egan MFA project: something clever, funny, tight but although it desperately reaches to matter ... it never quite grabs the matter. The Universe is a finicky bit@h.

    This upsets me, because I really like the YouTube persona that IS John Green. It would be like falling for Mark Twain's personality and finding out he wrote only mediocre novels. My take is John Green is a C writer but an A+ promoter (not a bad thing if you want to make a living selling what you write).

    As a friend of mine (Jacob) on another site said, "It's like emotional cotton candy. Simple and uncomplicated. They can make you cry without making you think, force you to laugh without having to reflect, and it's all so...upsetting to me."

    16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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