Somehow Roger Penrose has a reputation as an explainer of cutting-edge scientific ideas to the lay public. This is the first of his books that I have read, and I am disappointed.
A major technical problem with the audiobook is the constant references to a PDF of diagrams which makes the discussion impossible to follow while driving or working in the garden.
But beyond that, the author steps way back and teaches us the physics of Entropy in tedious detail. I suspect it is a cover for the fact that he, and no one else, really understands time at all! Perhaps they think that if they can make us fall asleep listening to the finer points of entropy, we will believe that our great scientists must really understand this. But I believe that if they understood time, they would be able to explain it.
When he talks about the universe and cosmology, he takes something of great beauty and deep mystery, and somehow makes it boring and dry. It is like the entomologist who would rather keep a collection of dead insects under glass than watch the creatures living in the wild. All the beauty and wonder are sucked out of it.
It is as if the subject of cosmology has had all the mystical lifeblood drained out of it, and its dead remains were pressed into the pages of this book. Buried deep in this pile of ashes is the suggestion that the universe goes through great cycles of expansion and contraction. Doesn't that sound marvelous? So why does it sound so boring in the pages of this book?
The author doesn't seem to like his subject much, and he quarrels with all of his colleagues. By applying statistical likelihoods to the Jesus story, he pretty much concluded that it was all extremely unlikely. Which is not surprising in the least.
A good historian would try to explain how Christianity managed to overtake the Roman Empire, when it's central documents were so spurious. Perhaps there were other forces at play? We'll never find out with Bayes's Theorem. It takes a historian, not a mathematician, to shed light on (and maybe explain) the rise of Christianity.
The books seems to be an atheist's attempt at arguing Christianity into non-existence. What I learned instead was that the early Christians must not have cared very much about the historical accuracy of their scriptures, because they could have easily gotten to the bottom of the historical Jesus in the first few centuries, while the Empire was still intact and memories were fresh. Early Christians didn't seem to care about that. There must have been something else going on, and I doubt very much that the spread of the religion was due to the charisma or marketing talents of the Palestinian peasants who were Jesus' followers & apostles.
I did learn a few new things, like Judas Iscariot is probably not a name, but rather a type of person-- a Sicarii Jew, or ancient Jewish assassin, such as the Maccabees. And in that sense, Jesus could be a stand-in for the Temple that was destroyed by the Romans, who were incited by Jewish insurgents. In other words, the insurgents betrayed the temple when they incited the Romans to destroy it.
Maybe if you are an Atheist and you want to be reassured about your wisdom, you will like this book.
I can read some pretty stultifying history-- I eat Gibbon for breakfast-- but this book takes the gold medal. Do I really need to know where John of Gaunt was between August and September of 1369; given that we have NO IDEA what he did there? Or what the (spurious) modern-day value of every single payment made to Chaucer's wife is? The book amounts to a raw distillation of every fact and detail that can be found in the archives on Katherine, her husband, in-laws and children. The fact is, Katherine left behind very little biographical data, but instead of telling us about the interesting events of her more well-documented contemporaries and descendants, we are subjected to every iota of extant information about this obscure personage. I'm sure the source material would make much more exciting reading!
Did I read the same book as these other reviewers? The narrator was so bad that it would be hard to imagine a book good enough that he couldn't ruin it. This was nowhere near good enough to do that. The characters are annoying, each time they nearly get killed I started cheering for the bad guys. The plot started developing on the stale old lines-- kid born to destiny/discovers secret powers-- and then I just gave up. It ended up being more of a waste of time than of money.
The first and worst problem is the narration. If there was any appeal to this story, it was smothered by the dull delivery by the narrator.
The author's attempt at creating suspense failed-- I never really cared whether the characters suffered or got killed, and took no joy in their successes.
Worst of all, the "mystery" that they are bound to discover ends up being totally prosaic and even the characters don't seem to care a whole lot by the time they figure it out.
I think a spirited narration can sometimes save a mediocre book, but this one had no such salvation.
If you need help falling asleep, then maybe this book is a good choice. The narrator apparently felt the same because he pretty much rushes through the book and clearly doesn't know what he's reading.
The material is extremely dated-- huge advances have been made since the author wrote this in 1975, and he did not bother to re-write it in the 1990s. Instead he just tagged on a catch-up chapter at the end. And who will still be awake by the end of this audiobook?
Try Fabric of the Cosmos for something better on this subject matter.
If they had called it "Music Appreciation" and not claimed to cover "Western Civilization", I would not have bought it, but it would have been honest. Listen to the section on Renaiscance music and then the jump to Baroque-- you hear an incredible change in tonality, instrumentation, and style, yet no one bothers to explain how this happened. If you cannot explain transitions as blatant as that, you are not writing history.
Furthermore, until reaching the 20th century, apparently the only music that existed was the classical form. There is no mention of folk music except when a composer condescends to use a folk theme in his "serious" music. I don't think interviews with conductors are the best way to convey history...
The narrator does such a bad job of fake French, Italian and Spanish accents that I could not get past it and enjoy the stories. He really made a mess out of a good book. Avoid this narrator!
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