There are very few audiobooks that can hold my attention the way this presentation did. I listen to each four hour section at one go; with a small break in the middle. The history flows and the story moves at such a furious pace that is hard to break away.
Adrienne Mayor delivers a history that dashes along like a best selling novel. The story is absolutely riveting. The biography has an arc that is cinematic, and in a good way. In the right hands I can see this history becoming a Hollywood blockbuster.
Granted some of the biography is speculative, a what if scenario. But Mayor always warns you when hard history ends and where speculation begins. Mayor is ever the helpful tour guide, and Counter-factual History does add depth to a history lacking in primary sources.
Mayor does an excellent job of dealing with the issues of Ancient History in general and how they deal with the subject of the book, Mithradates. The primary sources are lacking and what few have survived suffer from the biases of the Roman authors. Recasting these ancient histories for a modern audience is real minefield for any serious author. Mayor deftly navigates this mine field, and delivers a gem of a narrative for the lucky listener.
A word or two on the actual narration. Overall it is solid. It is a well delivered journeyman performance. The performer never gets carried away. He never laps into monotony either. He lets the story tell itself, getting out of the way of narrative as much as possible. Pacing is spot on. The actual presentation is buttoned down and pitched properly.
This audiobook is a triple threat, if you are lover of ancient history, this is your audiobook. If you are lover of biography, this is your audiobook. Finally if you are a lover of finely crafted literature, of the Novel, this is your audiobook. The audiobook has love, betrayal, murder most foul, slaughter, dark experiments, glittering riches and a central character many times lager than life. And its all true; it is story of real man who lived in a real time, and did real (sometimes awful) things. It is a worthy addition to any listeners collection.
If your looking for a Islam 101, this is a worthy enough listen. It's pretty straight forward and gives the Orthodox history of the religion. Within the limitations of an Apologia the book works. It's fairly obvious that Aslan is trying to make the listener or reader comfortable with Islam, that he will constantly give the benefit of the doubt to his faith.
Where this does not work is in the very beginning of the narrative. The actual history of Islam in the early years is not so cut and dry. A serious student of history should be a little less credulous of the Muslim sources. At the very least Aslan should have done a better job of flagging the biases of the early sources and explained the problems with getting a more rounded view. He started to do that, but then quickly abandoned the effort to give the standard narrative as laid down by the hagiography of relgious authors. A historian, which is what Aslan is attempting to be, should be a little more circumspect and offer contrarian views if possible.
Once out of the early years, Aslan is on firmer ground and does provide a tour de force of Islam and the diversity of the religion. Not only does Aslan explain the diversity but he also goes into the history and practice of the major movements. This brings us to Sufism.
If you have never had any contact with a mystical faith your first brush with the Sufi tradition is going to be confusing. Mystical faiths, Taoism, Buddhism, Hindu tantric practices get very wild and wooly to those of a more literal mind. Words really can not explain a mystical faith, it has to be experience. So unless you are willing to take up with a guru, join a monastery, or take up with the Franciscans or with some Russian Orthodox "Fool for God" it's going to be a hard climb to logic out the faith. Aslan does as well as can be expected with a faith that would rather get on with having an ecstatic union with God than clear cut instructions. Again, it helps if you have delved into Zen Koans or Taoist scripture prior to tackling Sufi efforts.
Leaving the Sufism behind, I have to address the last part of Aslan's book, which may be the weakest part of the effort. To suggest that the present day upheaval in the Islamic world is an analogue for the Christian Reformation is cold comfort indeed. He even mentions, in passing, how nasty that transformation was for Europe. No one with even a passing understanding of the history of Reformation and Counter Reformation could be very sanguine about being collateral damage in the brutal exchange between various forms of Islam. Europe went insane for nearly a century and did not get truly right in the head until Darwin came around, if even then. To have a repeat of that chaos and the damage it entailed is not something that any sane person would want to be a part of. Aslan may be correct in that the Islamic Reformation has already begun but he may not be totally honest about how much blood, sweat and tears will be shed in the effort to realign the faith. I understand why Aslan the individual may want to hope for best, but his insistence on viewing the field with rose tinted glasses really does hurt his message. It is pretty clear that Aslan has an agenda here, and he is flogging it for all its worth. I wish that the book did not end on such a partisan note.
Sidebar: The vocal talent was, for the most part, spot on. It was uncanny in many places with the narrator almost sounding like Aslan himself, or at least a close relative. As with most narrators, it is only when a voice other than the author is being read that we get into trouble. It's jarring to have shift in voice and accent, I doubt that Aslan would be using such mimicry. It's the only reason the narrator did not get five stars.
Ignore the the title, this book is no way a "new" history. Some of the sources may be new but the interpretation is solidly Orthodox and traditional.
Sometimes that can be helpful. Other times it can be infuriating when the author gets it exactly wrong. And like the men he covers the author's feel for the subject at hand is sure and steady when the subject is Europe and highly questionable when the subject at hand is Asia or the post colonial "Third Word."
As an overview of nearly fifty years of history, a history that a whole generation has now not lived though, it has its uses. I would use it for a 101 or 102 course, but only as an example of "Orthodox History" and the flaws inherent in the constructing of such history. It would have to be balanced out by other books on the same subject.
If you go in knowing that this is a history of Cold War as told by a Cold Warrior you will have the right mind set for the listen.
The personal story of one man who managed to escape the North Korean Gulag Aquariums Of Pyongyang is a solid performance but somewhat dated.
Written at the turn of the Millennium it has not aged well. To give the author his due he could have not know how lashing himself to the ship of the George W. Bush administration would tarnish the ending of his book.
The beginning is harrowing enough. The author, a mere boy, is first pulled from the comfort of Japan to live in the "worker's paradise" of North Korea by his foolhardy and ideological family. From there the standing of the family is slowly chipped away until one awful night they fall from the elite of North Korean society, from the heights of Pyongyang to the depths of the Korean Gulag.
From there the little boy grows fitfully to a man and that man finally finds a way to escape and report on the daily grind of one of the Korean camps.
The prose are workman like, and the narration moves along, if sometimes sluggishly. It's a good work, but it is not a great work. I would recommend this as a companion to "Nothing To Envy" which is in many ways the stronger of the two books.
A sidesplitting romp of various and sundry forbidden subjects by Russell Brand. Russell is a very guilty pleasure who is best shared with the right sort of friends. The whole performance is very much not safe for work, not safe for those easily offended, and may cause grave harm to barn-yard animals. You should not operate heavy machinery while under the influence of this man.
Brand ruminates on the beautiful mess he has made of his life, and this kind of self revelation is not for everyone. It is a raw and unvarnished exposition where the humor lies in the brutal honesty of the performer. If this kind of humor appeals to you, then Russell Brand is your man; if not, perhaps Bill Cosby is more to your liking?
The audiobook is less history than a polemic. When introduced to the two Israeli authors in preface I had a sinking feeling, wondering if these two men could deliver an unbiased account of Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini. I tried to keep an open mind and let the authors present their case.
Unfortunately for the authors, they tipped their hand early and often. Rather than let the history and facts speak for themselves, the authors go out of their way to smear, defame and besmirch el-Husseini.
The total lack of objective reportage becomes quite embarrassing as they attempt to conflate such phenomena as Arab Nationalism, Baathist ideology, the rise of Shia Iran, and other disparate movements together. Far too many times the Audiobook becomes totally a-historical. The portions dealing with Iran, and the gyrations of Ahmadinejad are quite painful to listen to as they sound like a satire of boiler plate Likud calumnies.
But this is part of theme unfortunately. Every time these historians wonder into current events, or anywhere near current events for that matter, any pretense of objectivity is tossed over the side to deliver a Greater Israel Apologia. We have left history far behind and have joined the twilight world of far-right Israeli politics.
Not only is this a dark and fearful realm, it is quite absurd. Saddam Hussein and Khomeini despised each other; their world views could not have been different. To draw a link between the Arab,secular, socialist, and nationalist Baath party of Iraq, dominated as it was by Sunnis and the Islamic, Iranian, theocratic government of Iran is to trade in non sequiturs.
The overarching notion of "radical Islam" presented by the two authors is a phantasmagoria. It does not nor did it ever link such distinct polities as the PLO, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia. It certainly did not link the elite players in the brutal game of power politics as played in the Near East.
Maybe one day a team of historians will provide a balanced biography of Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini; the man does deserve such an investigation. This audiobook is nothing of the sort, it is a badly maimed thing; never given the chance to breath. Here and there some items that are both interesting and perhaps useful; but in the main they are buried under far too much toxic invective to be accepted at face value You cannot trust these authors to play fair with the sources, you cannot trust their interpretation. They have shredded any benefit of doubt far too early and far too often.
I can only recommend this Audiobook as a way to understand the point of view of the Greater Israel crowd. Understand this book as a distortion of history, as a biased accounting warped by an iron ideology that has abandoned nuance and you have a starting point. It is not history, it is not biography, it is not scholarship. It is political document, a polemic; it is, in short, propaganda.
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