Going into this book I was pretty ignorant about the origins of the bible, and I found it very informative. Anyone should be able to find this book interesting because of the impact that the bible has had on western culture, but it's especially for Christians that this book is really a must-read (or listen).
I feel it's important to mention that Christians should listen to this because I noticed that a few of the other reviews cried heresy, and it would be a shame if any Christians avoided this book because of that. The book gives you an idea of how the bible came to be. If you live your life by the bible's teachings then it should go without saying that this subject is extremely relevant to your life. It's also worth noting that the author doesn't argue for or against the validity of Christianity, having listened to the book all the way through I'm still not even sure if the author is a Christian or not. (Although he does make a very good argument against completely literal interpretations of the bible, but that's unavoidable in any serious look at this subject)
I bought this book because I loved the HBO miniseries that's based on it, and I was not disappointed. Many of the same people and events are here, but because it's a book, not restrained by the pacing of a TV show, the author can spend time giving backstory and describing things in more detail than the show can, so if you like the miniseries you can get a much more fleshed out version of the same story here.
The narrator is good. He puts on different voices for all the characters, a couple of the voices might sound a bit silly (there were one of two where I felt like he was trying to make the person sound really dopey). Still, it's very helpful because there are quite a few characters and this style of narration helps to distinguish them.
Probably the biggest strength of this book is that the author seems to be more interested in getting inside the heads of the soldiers than making any kind of political statement about the war in Iraq or war in general. Depending on your point of view you may see the violence in the book as horrific and pointless, or the grim reality of a necessary and noble cause. The point is you can decide this for yourself, the author won't tell you what to think. He just shows it as it is without shoving any messages in your face. The soldiers aren't glorified or vilified, instead they're portrayed as believable human beings, and are much more relatable because of it.
If you're a fan of the Wire you'll definitely recognize the mind behind this book. There's a similar feeling of authenticity that makes other cop stories seem silly. Simon's style of writing is extremely compelling to listen to. He describes a world that's strange, dark, funny, disturbing, sometimes depressing, and never boring.
The only real bad thing to say about this book is that it's abridged. I haven't read the full book so I don't know what was taken out, but I can't help feeling like I've missed out on some more great stories.
As other reviewers have pointed out, the music is a bit silly. Although it's made up for by a good narrator.
Before listening to this I had a very limited understanding of how natural selection works. I found this book fascinating and enlightening from start to end and now have a much better understanding of the basics of evolution and the evidence for it.
After listening to this I can't help thinking about what a miserable job my high school did of teaching evolution. The fact that I didn't even believe in it until I was an adult should give you an idea. Like with any creationist, my doubt in evolution was purely out of ignorance of what evolution actually is. If all the doubters of evolution read this book there wouldn't be many left over still clinging to the nonsense of creationism.
About two thirds of this book is great. The author starts by describing early forms of superstition and then goes on to give the history of the Abrahamic religions, explaining how they've evolved from ancient forms of religion into what they are today, and speculating about what may have motivated each change. I found this very enjoyable to listen to and if this was the whole book I would have given it five stars.
It stumbles for me in the other third of the book, where the author gets into what he believes are the theological implications of the history that he describes in the more interesting parts of the book. It becomes clear that the true purpose of this book is not to be a history book, instead it is about promoting the author's theology. Some might find this just as interesting as the rest of the book if they're inclined to agree with it. The problem for me is that it's entirely based on the idea that human civilization's moral progress of the last few thousand years is hard evidence that the universe has some sort of divine purpose. If, like me, you don't buy into this premise then everything that follows is pretty much worthless and quite a chore to get through.
Although if you agree with the author's theology, or are able to work your way through it, (or just fast forward to the good bits) the majority of the book is a worthwhile listen.
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