Neil Gaiman Presents, and George R.R. Martin praises it right on the cover. Two powerhouse names like that can't be wrong when they stand in agreement, and it's that very reason I selected this book. These are names I trust.
This is an older novel and reads like one, but that's certainly no turn-off. What's a bit jarring is the format and presentation. A Pavane is a style of music, and the format was presented in here in literary form as 6 movements and a coda. The basic idea is that this is an alternate history where Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated, and in the mid-20th century, the Roman Catholic Church is still in supreme dominance as a result of having killed the Reformation. It's a steampunk styled world ruled by superstition and fear, but far more authentic feeling than most steampunk. It feels less like fantasy and more like a legitimate alternate reality. Sounds epic, right? Yes and no. You don't get an epic here. What you get is a personal account. Each of the stories contained here link one to the next through the eyes of the characters. Instead of a big worldview epoch, you get a human quality to the world as these people see it - what it's like to live in this world from within a few different walks of life, with the same emotions, strengths, and frailties that people are prone to have in our world as well. It's a master class in characterization. As a result, it burns slow, but it burns evenly, as surely as a higher quality candle. It doesn't illuminate the entire world, but it does illuminate the corners of it we visit through these characters, and it casts larger shadows of suggestion into that world. It definitely leaves you wanting more. More's the pity that there is no more save for what we take from the suggestive nature of asking the two most powerful words in the English language: "What if...?"
When a legendary Zen master corresponds to a legendary master swordsman, the result cannot be anything other than special. To have these writings today, translated with care to other languages... this is truly a great treasure.
I've commented on other reviews that I study western swordfighting and incorporated martial arts, which I believe is more versatile due primarily to the nature of the weapon, but is considerably more limited mentally. The object is "I hit you, you hit the floor." The very things that make the martial arts an "art" is lost without the mental and spiritual applications that the eastern counterparts have refined to perfection. It's the difference between being a cheap thug and being a true warrior in every sense of the term. Honor and victory are in the warrior, not the weapon.
In my quest to cross-pollinate these disciplines and reap a greater reward, I discovered this audiobook. I could tell you how mind-blowing it was. I could tell you how these words opened myself to a new level of understanding and appreciation. I could even tell you how further elaboration on these concepts might water them down due to how perfectly presented they are.
But I won't. Instead, I will say that if your interests lie here, you will find exactly what you hope to find and so much more. I know I did. And I now I will listen again, because I know that such wisdom does not unfold itself in a single presentation.
I'm working under the assumption that if you went through part 1 of this, you already know what to expect, but just in case... this is a military history, not a biographical or political history. That means it's deals with logistical info and battle data such as troops, routes, supplies, equipment, and other such things. Political background is limited, so for those looking for an overview, this is not the place to begin. But for the advanced scholar of this era, this is more suited for war gaming simulations and such.
Where volume 1 of this deals with Edward III's campaigns and has English bias due to a lack of French information from the period, this volume has considerably more to work with on both sides of the fight. There era between Edward III and Henry V is largely glossed over, mostly due to lags between skirmishes, but from the road to Agincourt to the end of the war, it's all here in magnificent detail.
There are few offerings on Audible for this particular set of campaigns, so anyone interested in this really needs to know up front what they're getting into.
The first thing to note is that there are different kinds of historical accounts, and these serve different functions. This account is NOT a political history. It's a military history. That means that, just as the synopsis says, the causes of the war are briefly touched upon, but the bulk of this narrative deals with troop movements, battles, and the overall progress of the armies involved. For the armchair war gamer, this book will be the type that gets people to pull out the old maps and push around plastic markers.
For those not familiar with the time period, please understand that this work isn't targeted for those seeking to learn the basics, and it was never meant to be. In other words, you will not find here an understanding of who these people are and why they're doing any of what they do. This book is targeted for those who are already interested in (and thus have a solid idea of) the biographies and politics of the age and want to dig deeper into the campaigns themselves. Personally, I'd recommend starting with overview histories of Medieval England and France so as to learn who the key players are and to get a sense of the politics. Start broad so you can see how each era molds the next, then start narrowing the focus to this era. Get to know the likes of Edward III, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Philip the Fair, Henry V, and Joan of Arc. From there, move to a working knowledge of armor, of castle sieges, and of swords, longbows, and cannon, as these things will inform your understanding of what these troops were dealing with. And then if you decide you absolutely love the idea of a military history, this is the book for you. Most general history enthusiasts never get to this point. It's not a mark against the historian or the audience, it's simply a measure of the specialization involved. Some might take a book such as this as an opportunity to test their personal limits.
If you ARE in this target audience, you might want to know that some details within are compared to battles and movements through the same areas in World War I, and there are even parallels to the American Civil War, so if you know something about those campaigns, even better.
It should also be noted that this is not a fair and balanced account of the war. This is a more British-centric account, by a British historian, for a British audience, using mostly British resources. And while that might also be a big negative for some, it's folly to assume every history has to be a balanced account. There are considerably fewer Muslim-centric accounts of the Crusades available in English, for example, than there are Crusader-oriented accounts by the very nature of the historians. Understanding the strengths and interests of the historian helps to better understand the history being provided. General audiences will have a harder time wrapping their heads around this, but this is common, especially for military histories. It's also important to note that the French forces were largely pounded, especially under Edward III's campaigns, so their records are simply harder to find. That we have anything at all is of value.
Other reviewers have commented on the quality of the narration. I'm predisposed to enjoying Charlton Griffin's work, though admittedly most of what I've heard him narrate up to this point is more literary. For example, he did an amazing job with Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, but you won't find such poetry here. Griffin is clearly aware of it too. He brings some level of drama to this account, but the account doesn't lend itself to melodrama. It's dry and scholarly reading for a niche audience, as you might expect an historian to deliver. Griffin does his best to kick it up a notch, and to my mind he does so admirably. As to his pronunciation of French... I don't know French, so I can't tell how close to the mark he is. I only know that most British speakers have peculiar but consistent ways they mangle the French language as a cultural prerogative that goes all the way back to 1066, and this is probably in keeping with it. All things considered, it sounded good to my ears, but as I say, I don't speak French. My advice is to listen to the sample and judge accordingly.
Having understood up front what to expect, and being interested enough to give it a go anyway, I think my only real gripe is that this title is broken into two parts. For the life of me, I can't imagine why, especially since the physical book is a single volume. If I can get the entirety of the Bible or the original Sherlock Holmes canon spanning dozens of hours for only one credit, why can't I get 20 hours of military audio for the same? Also, it'd be nice if there were maybe some PDF material that gave us some workable military maps. Still, for what it is, I'm rather pleased with it. I'd still love to get some better political overviews of this era on Audible though.
Credited as the very embodiment of chivalry in a time with the concept was just coming into its own, William Marshal was very nearly executed at the age of five yet would go on to serve as the backbone of the Plantagenet dynasty. He would rebel against kings, serve alongside kings, go on Crusade, and become instrumental in the signing of Magna Carta. By any measure, this man is a legend in the annals of knighthood, England, and the whole of the Middle Ages.
This new biography is nothing less than impressive. While it does help to have some background knowledge of the Plantagenet dynasty and its key players (I highly recommend Dan Jones' The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England), the great thing about this book is that it does stand on its own for those who are just dipping their toes into this part of history. This means it works very well as both an introduction to the man and his times and as supplemental reading to other works. It's an easy read, but it's by no means lightweight in its approach. The result is that the Greatest Knight steps out to shine as one of the most respected men in history, fully accessible to modern readers some 800 years later.
Right from the beginning, this series has been a steampunk story flavored with one part James Bond and one part X-Files. This time around it's a bit more 007 (with shades of Skyfall), and we get a little Doctor Who type vibe thrown into the mix. I won't say how, because that would ruin some of the surprises.
Picking up in the immediate aftermath of Dawn's Early Light, our intrepid agents have kindled a romance, but their time to savor it has been cut short by a distress signal that calls them back to London. One of their Ministry Seven, their street urchin informants, is missing. Worse still, the Crown has disavowed the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, and its agents are now systematically being picked off by agents of the Department of Imperial Inconveniences. Our heroes must survive the culling, expose the villains, and rescue one of their own. Secrets are revealed! Backstories are explained! And if you pay close attention, there are a few jabs at modern pop culture to be had.
As with the previous entries in this series, it's a light, fun read with all of the humor, pseudo-science, and historical cameos you've come to expect. And as with the previous entries, the further this story goes, the more outlandish it gets. For all of these reasons, this continues to be my favorite steampunk series.
Author Samuel Avery says up front that he is neither a Buddhist nor a physicist. Turns out, neither am I, so I take this book as being transmitted from one enthusiast to another. At the same time, it would seem the author knows his stuff. I would love to hear feedback from a Buddhist quantum physicist on this.
Due to the nature of quantum physics and the explanations required for the author to get his point across, I would recommend active (mindful) listening to this audiobook. While the information presented is done so as simplistically as possible, trying to listen to this title while doing other things will only result in confusion and missed explanations. It requires your whole attention. In that manner, you have to operate like a Buddhist to get the information within. Nice touch. While listening mindfully, I did find the author's explanations to be confusing, but I can see where some might just as easily need to rewind some things and hear them a second time to ensure you really did hear something the way you thought you did. It's just the nature of the beast in this case.
All in all, I found this book interesting in the extreme, and I recommend it to the curious who like to ponder the higher questions of the cosmos. The author narrates the audio himself, and his manner comes across cool and conversational, as though speaking to a peer.
This book is an incredibly dense treatise and analysis on the moral hardlines and ambiguities encountered in the midst of war. As a casual audio listen, it's probably a bit much to take in. But taken one chapter at a time and allowing each one to process, this book reveals itself to be of considerable value to historians, philosophers, military enthusiasts, and pretty much anyone for whom this topic weighs heavily. The trick, I think, is to get into the hands of world leaders and military commanders for consideration where it matters most.
I've encountered Buddhist philosophy at many points over my life, and I've always found it beautiful. But for some reason, I've never actually turned my attention to its foundations. Or if I have, nothing stuck with me for whatever reason. At any rate, I decided I needed a refresher course on what makes this system tick. There are many choices on Audible to choose from in this regard, and I'm glad I picked this one.
This is a live recording, so there are a few coughing distractions here and there from the otherwise attentive audience, but nothing that would make you lose focus. Jack Kornfield is an amazing ambassador to this faith, engaging his listener with all of the compassion and mercy you'd expect, but also with humor. The result is an experience that transcends what you'd get out of a book.
I was only in recent years made aware of the Culper spy ring, and the idea fascinates me. Given the perceptions of what lines could and could not be crossed by certain classes of individuals, this entire story flies right in the face of what the general public would expect. The idea that Washington - the man who would not tell a lie, according to popular legend - was as deceitful as they come to win the war for Independence? That's just priceless.
The story as presented here is not really for entry-level students of the Revolution. The author gives you the stories and personalities on the new players within the spy ring, but you're expected to know the more prominent figures on both sides, a considerable amount of the politics, and an understanding of the attitudes at different levels. It's completely understandable to make those assumptions of the reader, given that this is more of a story for those already interested and somewhat immersed in the history of the time. The good news is that anyone who finds themselves not up to speed but still willing to dive in head first can get by in the broader view with their Wiki-scholar credentials. Obviously, the more you know about the big picture, the easier it is to appreciate the details of the story told here. I worked from a fairly solid knowledge base, but I'm certainly no expert. I still needed reference points from time to time. The rest worked itself out for me.
The only real issue I had is that the story does jump around a bit here and there. It's all easy enough to track if you pay heed to the dates and the narrative that unfolds. Others might have difficulties following the details of the coding or the other elements of spycraft, but for me that was part of the selling point of this book. This is geek-level history, and it's fun for me to finally have those details. Considering this is a story that went largely unknown for so long, I applaud the author for putting it all together for the interested reader. Well done.
I love religion. I love to dig into the heart of what makes a given faith tick. I love the discourses of philosophy that support or deny given aspects of it. I love seeing the back and forth of the debated issues, seeing which arguments are the strongest. It's fascinating to me. Because of that, I'm rather surprised I haven't come across Dr. Carrier's work until now.
This is a solid case for atheism, written as a discourse to be read by Christians. It's well-reasoned. The logic is impeccable, regardless of which perspective you adhere to. Without saying so, it works under Sherlock Holmes' own principle of "When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." In other words, he uses scientific method to seek what's provable. I'm sure there are many of the faith that would have instant negative emotional reactions to this. Regrettably, such is the case when the heart overrides the head. This isn't an argument made to address that.
I would love to see an equally reasoned argument made in rebuttal to this that accepts provable evidence and explains it with equally provable evidence. I think that'd be an interesting read.
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