When Shilts' detailed history of the early AIDS epidemic was first published, it was received as a pathbreaking work of advocacy journalism. It's a story of brilliant although sometimes craven scientists, short-sighted and callous government officials, heroic AIDS activists and tragic victims. It makes for compelling listening, although it's clear that the account is not impartial. The frequent lack of objectivity is understandable (Shilts was not just a local journalist but also a member of the gay community), but is often irritating.
Shilts' anger at what is perceived to be government heel dragging regarding the epidemic is front and center, made especially so by the narration. The narrator has two voices: one is a sarcastic and furious tone aimed at officials, the other a soothing, empathic tone describing the victims of the disease. At times these are so exaggerated that they veer into near parody. The story is poignant enough that it doesn't benefit from the overdramatic narration.
I was alternately engaged in and taken out of the story. In parts it was beautifully written, the many personal details just right for the point that was being made. In other parts it was so slanted and even unfair that I couldn't listen without mentally objecting to what was being said. It's also marred by a great deal of redundancy, and over the course of 31 hours of listening, this became very tedious.
I'd recommend this to anyone who wants an eyewitness account of the early years of AIDS written by a someone who himself became a participant and even later a victim of the disease. It's impassioned and well detailed, but not always objective.
The pacing is way off. The first part of the book describes the Yalta conference in excruciating detail, including anecdotes about the leaders that any reader of other histories would find familiar. When the book finally gets going on the important issues, after what seemed like hours on the minutiae of Yalta, it makes some interesting observations about the roles of the various foreign ambassadors in negotiating issues, on Truman's unpreparedness for office, on Stalin's immorality, and on Churchill's doggedly anachronistic imperial sympathies. Yet even here, most of the material would be familiar to any student of the period. The book doesn't seem to include original research.
The book needed a good editor to cut unimportant detail and elaborate sections that really move the history forward. But in the absence of original research, the book can't be more than a rehash of other, familiar works.
The narration was painful. There is a sing song quality to the reader's voice that is the same in every sentence. I couldn't listen to much more than a half hour in a sitting.
I don't think so, at least not for someone who's done substantial prior reading on the topic. As a primer, it might be fine, if you can take the narrator's odd cadences.
I'd recommend this course to anyone who wants a broad overview of Victorian England. Prof. Allitt covers a LOT of topics, but none in very much depth. It's a great jumping off point to do further reading (listening). It's particularly useful that he quotes liberally from contemporary writers to give a sense of the culture. I wish a bibliography were included, though.
My favorite lectures were on Gladstone and Disraeli. Prof. Allitt draws nuanced distinctions between them and we can see both sides of contemporary politics. While he describes the eccentricities as well as the accomplishments of both men, the portrayals don't veer toward caricature. Actually none of the people whom Allitt describes do--he seems to like the men and women he talks about and is sympathetic rather than condescending to their foibles.
I loved his teaching style. He's clear, not too redundant, and has a wonderful sense of humor about the material. His accent is engaging. All around, a terrific teacher.
No, but the topics fascinated me.
On a personal note, I appreciated Prof. Allitt's attention to Victorian religion. This is a topic that is often absent from historical overviews. He's thorough and even handed.
The fact that the writer directly engaged the moral issue, which can be summed up as, "Is it better to be beautiful than good?" Oddly he answers his own question in the conventional way, which is not what I was prepared for. It seems Gray gets his just punishment at the end. But along the way there is the idea that fate, accident, random occurrences also can determine one's outcomes. So this isn't a straightforward justification of the "wages of sin." I think Wilde was more subtle than that in his contemplation of art and aesthetic appreciation and their effects on human life.
There isn't a single likeable character in the story. Dorian is immorality incarnate, Basil allows his appreciation of aesthetics to get in the way of his judgment, Sir Henry is a loathsome upper class idiot, and Sybil is a fool. But Dorian's development from a beautiful young innocent to a decadent monster is fascinating.
The narration was very good and Page did all the characters well.
No, but I learned more about the 19th century foppish British aristocracy--possibily Wilde's own circle--that I might have wanted.
To me the best histories frame the narration of events with the social contexts that shape them. I'm always interested in how religion, social standing, family and group experiences, and culture, for example, influence the choices historical figures have made. This book excels at discussing these interactions. It's so much more than a biography of Lincoln and the other men who make up the "team of rivals." We get a rich and persuasive portrayal of the contexts in which all of the characters form their ideas and set out on their actions.
I thought the performance distracted from the book. It was so overrefined and stagey. The narrator spoke with an American accent, but the only word I can think of to describe it is "plummy." A less theatrical reading would have made listening a great pleasure.
No. The book is long and full of details, memorable anecdotes, and lots of important historical information.
Yes, I'm sure I will. The performance is incredibly good--the reader was able to find a unique voice for each of the many characters. It's also a very rich story and I'm sure I'd get more from a second listen.
The author's empathy with the Jewish characters, particularly Rebecca. Scott doesn't shy away from describing the contempt of English medieval nobility for the Jews, who were in their opinion total aliens- nonbelievers and usurers. But underlying the insults and blame is Scott's essential humanism. He insists on a portrayal of Jews that supersedes medieval stereotypes, making Rebecca one of the noblest and most memorable heroines in romantic literature. The ending made me cry.
No, but I'm sure to look for other books by him now.
No, it was too long and much too dramatic to take in one sitting. Anyway I knew how it ended, because I'd read it before. But if I hadn't known about Rebecca's fate, the suspense might have had me listening in longer sessions.
I enjoyed the first few chapters about the early church, especially the analysis of Origen and Augustine's theology, and the effects of neo-Platonism on Christian thinking. After that, however, I lost interest for different reasons: while the chapters on the variants of the eastern church were too detailed and sometimes just plain dull, subsequent chapters on the medieval and especially the renaissance church seemed rushed and raised more questions than they answered. The author seems more concerned with the "what" than the "why," which isn't unusual for a historian, but I would have liked more explanation of, for example, why the ideas of Lutheran and reformed theologies were so appealing to people at the time. Unfortunately when the author does explain the appeal of ideas, he's frequently reductive, as when he tries to explain iconodulia as a result of the need for certainty and tangibility in troubled times. I guess it would be an impossible task to achieve in a one volume history, but I wish he'd given as much play to the importance of ideas in later chapters as he did in those concerning the early church.
Maybe to those who want an overview. It's certainly a jumping off place for further reading.
I liked the chapters on the early church. There's a feel in those chapters for how compelling the new theology must have seemed to its early adherents and teachers. I also enjoyed hearing about the application of Platonist ideas to scriptural interpretation and to the development of theology.
Hasn't the BBC already done this?
The narrator deserves a lot of credit for his stamina and for the majority of times his pronunciation of foreign terms was correct. A few quibbles about the ancient Greek, but altogether an excellent job. I hope he got a lengthy vacation after narrating this work.
Growing up in an era in which American school kids actually read the classics in their English classes, I remembered Tale of Two Cities as one of my favorites. The audio version reinforced this impression. The brilliant prose style, the interplay of characters, the comic, the dark, and the melodramatic dextrously interwoven, and the surprises of plot development kept me listening with pleasure through the whole book.
It has a more sublime ending than any other book I can recall. Other than that, the scenes with Mme. DeFarge are darkly fascinating. Also those regarding Dr. Manette in the Bastille. I don't want to give anything away!
I haven't, but I enjoyed his narration. It is subdued and emotionally low key, which I guess could be perceived as boring, but I thought it was a great counterpoint to the melodrama of the book. Characters are easily distinguishable and the accents are well done.
You can't make a better choice than the opening phrase of the book!
Absolutely yes. I had to control myself from starting over from the beginning the minute I finished the first time through. The richness of the plot, the development of the characters, and the brilliant narration lend themselves to a second and maybe third or fourth listen.
The story is enthralling, with terrific characterizations, settings, and plot development. More than a mystery--although it is a great mystery--it gives the listener a vivid sense of the class structure of mid 19th century England that governed the social behavior of virtually all the characters. I loved the description of the fledgling attempts of women to assert some degree of independence, sympathetically portrayed through the character of Marion Halcolme. And there is the rest of the colorful cast of characters from the villainous Count Fosco to the courageous and moral Walter Hartright to get to know and enjoy. I loved that the story is told in the form of letters, which allows for the separate voices of characters to reveal their emotions and thoughts directly to the reader/ listener.
No, but this narration is so wonderful that you can bet I'll be listening to their other performances in the future. Prebble's skill in differentiating the speech of the various characters he gives voice to is amazing. He also handles the female voice particularly well, which isnt always the case with other narrators.
Yes, although the length of the book makes that impossible. By the end, I was in love with Walter and in awe of Marion. Finishing the book made me reluctant to start another. Honestly this is the best listen I've had from among the scores of audio books I've owned.
Do NOT pass this one up. It is a rare treat!
The story is one of the best I've listened to. The narration is another matter.
I love the eclectic style of social history in the book. The author melds an account of the British experience of trench warfare in WWI with a new expression of British sentiment for empire--namely, the drive to conquer the world's greatest mountain. For the British, having suffered unspeakably in the war and having failed in their attempts to be the first to explore either North or South Pole, the desire to climb Everest became both a symbol of imperial glory regained and an expiation of the horrors of the war. In addition, the author shows a deep appreciation for and sensitivity to the local Buddhist religion and its effects on both local adherents and outsiders.
The performance started out strong, but, as others have mentioned, stumbled over pronunciations of place names and events. It was also distracting that the narrator seemed to take breaths at random intervals, breaking up the pattern of the text. These problems were especially noticeable because the narrator has a lovely voice and this could have been a stellar reading.
I think the title and subtitle of the book say it all.
A rare social history. Don't miss it just because the narration isn't perfect.
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