This audiobook has two things going for it.
Ian Rankin wrote it. The blurb here on Audible doesn't tell you it was written in the '80s, but Rankin does, in a forward to this edition. I think I've read nearly all of Rankin's novels, and enjoyed them all, this one no less.
John Lee read it. He has to be one of my favorite readers. He really brings Rankin's dialog to life, and seems to effortlessly navigate all the myriad dialects of English. His accents are always subtle; he never falls into the trap of allowing an accent to overpower the dialog. Lee is an artist.
If you've read any of my reviews, you know I like spy novels. In my estimation, a bad spy novel deserves death by firing squad. Luckily, this is one of the better ones.
This is quite an extraordinary spy novel. Winston Bates is sort of a brilliant Forrest Gump, a man with a talent not only for finding himself at the center of every failed Cold War clandestine operation from Suez to Iran Contra but for inadvertently causing some of them. He knows every high level player in US intelligence. He trades in gossip and the funny thing is, nobody in Washington seems to be able to keep a secret. Bates' photographic memory and his success on the social scene place him in the perfect places to gather information. At every turn, he tries to do the right thing but for 40 years he has no idea why he is spying or what he is supposed to accomplish. Peter Warner's Winston Bates manages to capture the supreme absurdity that I remember so vividly from the Cold War.
BTW, a lot of this novel is realized in conversations. The reader's performance brought all the characters to life, but especially Winston Bates.
This book is vintage Baldacci, literally. When I downloaded it, I thought I was getting the latest new Baldacci novel. By the time I was halfway through it, I had to check the copyright date, which turned out to be 2002 (Audible release date 4/2/13). I would not be surprised to hear that Mr Baldacci wrote this in the mid '90s.
No kidding. The tech in this novel is severely dated. We've had several generations of computer and communications technology since 2002. Most of the youngsters using computers these days probably have no idea what a floppy disk is or why anybody would use a telephone modem to connect to the internet. And why would anybody have a cell phone that can't do a google search or take a picture or tell you exactly where you are. What? No texting? Oh, yeah, right...that's how things were in the deep dark distant past, back when FBI agents were luddites who used Smith-Coronas.
Well, in spite of the historical nature of this novel, it is a pretty good thriller, one that I recommend. Also on the plus side, the reader did a fine job. I just wish that Audible had made it clear when I "pre-ordered" this audiobook that I was getting an 11 year old novel. I might have saved my credit for Baldacci's latest. I'll be checking much more closely in future.
Wow. I do not pretend to understand even the 20th part of the ideas in this book. Who would have thought that a physicist and mathematician could express himself so eloquently on so many disparate subjects? This book is all over the map; it's a wild romp through an amazing mind. David Deutsch's ego must be at least the size of the Milky Way Galaxy--no, wait, that's too "parochial", too provincial by N orders of magnitude! Well, I guess it does take some bravado to take on evolution, quantum mechanics, history, universality, even knowledge itself, and still find time for politics, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and a conversation with Socrates. Along the way, as Deutsch manages to drop an amazing idea you never heard before into just about every paragraph, his major theses boils down to two things: first, good explanations lead to an infinity of knowledge, while bad explanations have only the power to fool us; and secondly, there will always be problems, but they can be solved if we can separate the good explanations from the bad ones.
Doing that in the real world we live in every day is hard, way harder than I think Deutsch realizes. We are fallible human beings who more often than not ignore even the most elegant of explanations with impunity. That said, being inside his head for the last couple of days was a privilege indeed.
By the way, the reader did a great job of not being in the way!
Until Richard Dawkins came along and so elegantly skewered religion with his razor sharp intellect, I did not self-identify as an atheist but as just another former catholic. And then I was hit by the triple whammy in quick succession: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late and truly lamented Christopher Hitchens. I have never looked back. Yet, as good as their arguments are, they did not prepare me for the barrage of vitriol that most atheists face when they come out. And that, in a nutshell, is what Greta Christina's book is all about. Religions, she argues, exist on the continuum between good and evil. Some religions may be less evil than others right now, but the trend over time for all religions is toward evil. A few religions are explicitly evil, but the majority that are not lend credibility to those that are and thus they aid and abet evil.
Dawkins et al provide the intellectual arguments against belief in the supernatural, but Greta provides nuts and bolts arguments that I can put in my back pocket for the next time someone tells me that I'm no different from the believers . She is angry, it is true, but her arguments are reasoned, not shrill, and her anger fuels the impulse to try to make things better. I am angry right along with her because, for example, I loved the Boy Scouts but can no longer suppress my revulsion. Hitchens liked to say that religion as a way of understanding the universe belongs to the childhood of our species. This book is a step along the way toward leaving our imaginary friends behind, growing up, and taking responsibility for ourselves in the one and only life we get.
I read this novel years ago, but when I saw the movie, I knew I would have to listen to the audiobook. I really liked the movie, but by the time I'd finished the audiobook, it was clear to me (once again) that movie-making is really an exercise in making compromises. As I listened to George Smiley slowling peeling back the many layers of deception, many of which the movie barely hinted at, I found myself completely drawn again into the story in that way that only a great novelist can do. As Smiley walks the cat back, the tension builds slowly but inexorably toward exposing the bane of all counterintelligence operations, the dreaded mole.
While the movie was excellent, two main characters, Percy Alleline and Toby Esterhaze, were completely miscast as simpering morons. That said, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth nailed Le Carre's main characters so completely that as the audiobook played, I did not have to imagine what George Smiley and Bill Haydon looked like. I already knew.
It's been said before, and I agree, that Le Carre is not a great spy novelist, but rather a great novelist who happens to write about spies. The reader did a superb job. His rendering of George Smiley's understated voice was spot on.
Can you call an audiobook a "page turner?" Well, maybe not, but the authors are such masters of their subject and display such eloquence and insight that I found myself saying, "Wow, that was interesting! What's next?" This is not your average dry and dusty history book, that much is for sure.
Well, to be fair, history did give them a wonderful cast to work with. Alexander the Great, Ptolemy Soter, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, Claudius Ptolemy, Philo, Caligula, Caracala, Hypatia of Alexandria and many, many more. From the story of Alexander himself laying out the streets ca 300 BCE to the final dousing of the candle of knowledge before plunging in to the dark ages ca 600 CE, this is the story of a city like no other before or since. It was born from a vision, lived and flourished, and then like all good things, it died, the victim of its own brash nature and (in my opinion) the ultimately destructive forces of greed and revealed religions. But along the way, Alexandria taught us how to think.
This is a great read. The reader doesn't get in the way of the text, which is the third best thing you can say about a narrator.
I am not sure what this audiobook was trying to be. The reader is excellent, but this is not a history of ancient Egypt, certainly. While there is an excellent narrative of Egyptian mythology, the rest of the book seems to be aimed at an audience of third graders. I should have known, since it's only 2 hours and 25 minutes long. You can't even scratch the surface of 3000 years of Egypt and the Pharaohs in that amount of time. And that's what this audiobook does: it fails to scratch the surface.
If you want a real history of ancient Egypt in audio form, seek out Professor Bob Brier's efforts for the Teaching Company.
There's an old saying in jounalism, to the effect that you should believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you read. And it's probably the belief in the written word that has led human beings to stray from healthy skepticism into revealed religion for all of recorded history. No one would have remembered nor even known about the inane mutterings of a tribe of Bronze age desert wanderers had they not had the temerity to write down stories about their imaginary friend.
Bart Ehrman has it right, I think, at least partly right. We humans are credulous beings. Once people had written documents, the forging could commence, perpetrated by people who wanted control over the minds of other people. "This is what happened, see, it's all here for you to read!" Let the revelations begin.
Bart started life as a fundamentalist christian, but as this book proves, his inquisitive and logical mind could hardly sustain that. This book is a great read, and I'm sure even Bart would say it's worthy of a healthy dose of informed skepticism.
This was a great story, right up to the point where the USS Walker disappears into a black cloud. Haven't we done this before? Right! Kirk Douglas and the USS Nimitz disappeared into a black cloud, too, about 30 years ago. It was the Exec, though, who got the beautiful brunette nurse. Wasn't there a Japanese prisoner fished out of the ocean? Jeez, I just realized, there is a difference...the Destroyermen don't have a dog! Oh, yeah, Kirk Douglas also made it back home. I fear the Destroyermen are stuck in alternate reality hell for at least 10 books.
I can imagine some folks are probably endlessly facinated with this story. It just wasn't for me.
The narrator was above average. I wouldn't reject an audiobook solely because he was reading it, which is the second best thing you can say about a narrator.
The authors obviously did a great deal of research into the letters and writings of people who actually took part in making this history. Most of the material they quote is not from the elites but from common sailors, wives, prostitutes, prisoners of war, young officers, criminals, women aboard British warships, impressed Americans, smugglers, parole breakers, and otherwise unknown and disreputable participants. For me, this brought historical events into sharp focus.
No single memorable moment, rather it is the compilation of hundreds of individual moments, each as perfect as if captured in amber, that makes this history so compelling.
One of the best stories about the British navy in the Napoleonic era that highlights the sensibilities of the age involves the visit of the Queen to a battleship just newly arrived back in England. The sailors, being sailors, had brought aboard hundreds of prostitutes, which was a common practice in the British navy at the time. The Captain ordered that they be kept below decks while the Queen toured the ship. But, the Queen, being the Queen, looked down into a passageway and saw these women staring up at her as if she were from another planet. She immediately ordered that the women be allowed to come up on deck so they could see what was going on. Priceless!
A lot of comments here about the reader, most of them negative. Too bad. I enjoyed Lawlor's narration, his comic French accent and terrible Scottish accent as well. His interpretations of the voices of all these common people who witnessed this conflict added immeasurably to their humanity and their realness.
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