Seamus Heaney's version of "Beowulf" is a wonder, a totally modern translation of the poem that somehow manages to sound like it's been around for a thousand years. For a long time, his translation was only available on Audible in a badly abridged version - badly abridged even though it was read by Heaney himself: enough of the story was cut that some passages were incomprehensible. Recorded Books has had this complete version for several years, and it's finally available on Audible as well.
If we can't have Heaney doing the whole thing, George Guidall is a great alternative: he has a deep, rich, old-soul-sounding voice that works beautifully on this kind of epic verse. (See "Gilgamesh" and "The Inferno" for other examples.) This is, in my opinion, the best version of this work available in audiobook format. Bear in mind, though, that I've been a fan of the poem for many years, and have read at least some of it in the original (in an undergraduate Old English course forty years ago). My recommendation may be less useful for someone trying to get a first-time gist of the story. I honestly don't know how this would come across to someone who'd never heard the story before.
If you want another interesting treat, listen to Guidall giving the other side of the story, in the audiobook version of "Grendel" by the late lamented John Gardner.
In the beginning of this course, Peter Stearns goes to great lengths to define what he means by World History, and talks about it as a recent development. But haven't we been studying World History all our lives? Not really, he argues. What we were doing is Western Civilization, treating it as the only part of World History that mattered. What he's doing here is showing the Other Side of the Story, and this particular way of doing World History IS a new thing.
Inevitably, there's some imbalance in the approach. He tries to keep Western Europe and North America in the picture with a lesson here and there, but his main focus is on East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The perspective he brings is truly global: Rome and Western Europe may have been in tatters, he says, but during that same period China and East Asia were thriving, so let's talk about what THEY were up to.
Inevitably, he glosses over some events, even some that would illustrate the issues he's discussing. For example, one of the lessons deals at length with slavery and its abolition. In the course of the lesson, he touches on the North American abolitionist movement and the difficulties faced by freed slaves in the latter part of the 19th century; but he never mentions the American Civil War. This isn't just chauvinism on my part. Nearly a million people died in that war, and the war's chief aim was the destruction of the South's slave-based economy. What could be more relevant to the point at hand?
It should also be noted that this is not a narrative history; it's more of a sociological and economic history. There's a lot of emphasis on trade, and not so much on the Great Men (and Women) who ruled the countries engaged in that trade.
Stearns has blocked out broad periods of time: the great river civilizations, prior to 1000 BCE; the Classsical period, from 1000 BCE to 500 CE; the Post-Classical period, to 1450 CE; the Early Modern period, to 1750 CE; the "long 19th century," up to the beginning of the First World War; and everything else since then. Within each of these periods, his treatment is more often thematic or geographical than chronological. He'll have lessons on Revolution, for example, or Gender Relations, or Globalization; and mixed in with these will be lessons that focus on Latin America or China.
Personally, I would prefer a juicier narrative. But Stearns is well-informed on all the topics he discusses, and he always has a packet of unusual facts, comparisons, or connections up his sleeve. (Who got most of the silver from the New World? If you said Spain, you'd be wrong: it was China. Understanding how that came about is one of the pleasures to be had from the course.)
Stearns has an unusual way of speaking that took some getting used to. Many of his sentences consist of lists - each item in the list ending with a rising inflection, like a question. Eventually I settled into the rhythm. The fact hat his lists are consistently interesting and well-organized helps.
James Reston Jr has an interesting theory: that Oswald was trying to kill Governor John Connally rather than JFK. Why? Because as Secretary of the Navy, Connally played a role in having Oswald's discharge from the Marines reclassified as dishonorable, and then denying his appeal.
In other word, Kennedy was collateral damage.
It's certainly possible, but there's no clinching piece of evidence here, nothing that nails the case. Reston quotes plenty of evidence that Oswald had a grudge against Connally, but none that the grudge rose to the level of murderous rage. Reston doesn't help his case by his lack of clarity about the single-bullet theory. The theory is essential to his case - so why does he spend so much time focusing on Connally's own refusal to accept it?
The most interesting passage in the book, frankly, was about the jokes Oswald exchanged with George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian emigrant living in the Dallas area. Some of them were actually pretty funny. Who knew that Oswald had a sense of humor?
As an audiobook, there were some odd production choices that further detract from its effectiveness. The first was having Reston himself narrate it. He's not terrible, he's just not very good. (He seems to suffer from the delusion many authors have that their words alone are sufficient to produce the desired effect; no emphasis need be added.)
The producers also, oddly, started off with a list of chapter titles, spoken without preamble or explanation. Fortunately there are only 10 of them. And the audiobook ends with 20 minutes of spoken footnotes. I don't think I've ever heard that before. Sometimes footnotes can be effectively merged into the narration, but left to the end of the book? Not so good.
On the whole, I'd have to say take a pass on this one. If Reston's case were compelling, it would be worth overlooking the other flaws. But it isn't.
"The Count of Chanteleine" is part of a specially endowed and financed series of Verne translations, a project aimed at providing editions of a number of Verne works that have never before appeared in English. The series is under the general supervision of the North American Jules Verne Society.
This particular title is translated by Edward Baxter, who has done excellent work in the service of Verne for other publishing projects. His style is informal, sometimes surprisingly colloquial: there is no effort here to make the translation sound Victorian. Apart from the difficulty of some of the French names, and my lack of familiarity with the geography - some of which I was able to overcome with the help of Wikipedia and a good map application - the tale is fast moving and accessible.
The Count of Chanteleine is a leader of the conservative resistance to the French Revolution, in the crucial year of 1793. My knowledge of the period is sketchy: I knew that 1793 marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror; what I didn't know was that there was a counter-revolution that same year, particularly in western and northwestern France: a coalition of Catholics and Royalists, who united in a "white army" to fight the Republican "blues." Chanteleine, a leader of the Whites, is defeated in battle and forced to go off on his own (with his servant Kernan) to try to save his own wife and child.
Verne is up to his usual tricks here: the plot takes a number of unexpected turns, and the story is filled with picturesque and arresting episodes. One of the aspects of his genius is the ability to wring every possible twist out of an historical or geographical setting.
One thing that's different here, at least from Verne's better-known work, is his emphasis on Catholicism. Verne himself was a conservative Catholic, and many of his characters are devout; but the morality is unusually black and white here. If you're a Catholic and a royalist, you are, by definition, a good guy; if not, you're a scoundrel. There's nobody in between.
That said, and taken as is, the story is great fun; but there's a problem with the narrator, Fred Frees: a big problem. He's clearly a talented voice artist, and would have done well with a producer who was willing to rein him in; but here he gives full play to the most over-the-top, melodramatic interpretation of the material imaginable. He's constantly shouting the dialogue, as if emotional intensity and volume are identical, and the characters at times sound like they're right out of Dudley Do-Right. His villains are almost audibly twirling their mustaches. There is a strong element of melodrama in the story already - note the black and white morality already mentioned - but choosing to emphasize that quality in the narration was, I think, a mistake.
So.... there are some major flaws here. But even so, I hope to see other titles in the series. While we're at it, let's have some of the wonderful translations in the Wesleyan University series as well. The more Verne the better. But if Mr Frees is selected as narrator again, please - someone tell him to dial it down a notch.
This is an intelligently (but severely) abridged performance of the translation by the poet Cecil Day Lewis (father, as it happens, of the actor Daniel). The production features a top-notch cast: Ralph Fiennes, Derek Jacoby, Eleanor Bron, Bill Wallis, Anna Massey, Andrew Sachs, Christian Rodska, Philip Madoc among them. This is audio theater done right, in the best BBC manner, with music and sound effects throughout. Some of the recurring musical themes are a capella and have a wonderfully archaic sound.
What remains is roughly - judging by the length of other audio versions - one-sixth of the total. Dido is here, but not her sister; the war with Latinus and Turnus is here, but not the sad story of Nisus and Euryalus. It left me yearning for an unabridged treatment of the same translation (which, by the way, is somewhat hard to come by in print). The full translation is a careful line by line version that was, according to its introduction, originally prepared for a BBC broadcast. (Among the missing elements are Virgil's sometimes horrifyingly graphic descriptions of carnage.)
I'm very familiar with the story, in both printed and audio format, and it's hard to recapture the experience of hearing it for the first time. But to the extent that I can do this, I think this would be an excellent introduction to the story of Aeneas.
This has always been one of my favorite audiobooks. It was one of the first unabridged audiobooks I ever listened to, on a set of cassette tapes checked out from the local library. After listening to it again, I'm struck by the unique collaboration between Jane Austen and Flo Gibson: both are here at the absolute top of their game.
Austen is sometimes characterized as superficial, more interested in the economics of marriage than in the "higher feelings." But the economics were important, and in any case it would be hard to think of another character more defined by genuine, deep feeling than Elizabeth Bennet.
There is darkness here. It's not just in large things, like the frankly described disgrace that follows Lydia's impulsive attachment to Wickham. (Austen would never use the word "sex," at least not in reference to sex; but she leaves no doubt about what Lydia and Wickham are up to, or what it means for the family in the conservative, judgmental world of the novel.) There are small tragedies scattered throughout the novel. Charlotte's marriage to the odious Mr Collins is one: she has to endure constant embarrassment at the hands of her ridiculous husband; but worse, a wall drops down between her and Lizzie, a wall that does, in fact, put a permanent end to their former intimacy.
The ending may be a fairy tale for Jane and Lizzie, but others are not so lucky. Mary remains at home with her parents, forced to leave aside her own pursuits, pathetic as they are, to listen to her mother's endless babbling. And Lydia and Wickham never learn: they wander from house to house and town to town, always looking for a situation they can afford, always leaving behind debts and diminished reputations.
Gibson's voice is a bit raspy, not at all the kind of lilting sound you'd expect from the prose itself. And yet one after another, she captures the essence of each of Austen's brilliant characters, from the insufferable Collins, to the eccentric and (later) regretful Mr Bennet, to the generous and impertinent glory of Elizabeth Bennet herself. Over and over again, I found myself laughing at loud, both at Austen's wit and Gibson's perfect articulation of it.
I've tried to listen to other readings of the book, but for me none of the others comes close.
If you've read Reza Aslan's book on Jesus, or Bill O'Reilly's, and want to see a recognized expert on the historical Jesus at work, check this out. It's not current; comments on the audio make it clear that it was recorded pre-2000; but it's aged well, and to date remains the most comprehensive summary of the subject available on audio.
Bart Ehrman has strong opinions on the subject, and he's not shy about voicing them here. But he returns again and again to the historical evidence and to the methodologies historians have developed for dealing with that evidence. These are the footnotes Aslan left out (and the ones Bill O'Reilly, in his rush to market, never bothered to look up). Ehrman's lectures are solidly grounded and delivered with the enthusiasm of someone who loves what he's doing.
About those strong opinions. Jesus was, says Ehrman, a millennial prophet (that was, in fact, the title of one of his first books on Jesus). Jesus expected God to intervene in history in his own lifetime and bring about the Kingdom, a Kingdom in which Jesus himself expected to play a prominent role. He expected his 12 disciples to play significant but subordinate roles: in Ehrman's view, statements made by Jesus about his disciples judging people from the four corners of the earth are to be taken literally as a description of his agenda. Unfortunately - says Ehrman - Jesus was wrong, and his mission was a failure.
This isn't the Jesus most believers want to hear about, but it's the Jesus who appears from a dispassionate examination of the evidence. It's the Jesus most consistent with the work of John the Baptist who preceded him and the apostle Paul who followed him. It's the Jesus of mainstream New Testament scholarship and has been so for a hundred years.
Traditionalists aren't the only ones whose ox is gored by Ehrman. The Jesus Seminar - a group that argued Jesus was an inoffensive philosopher of the Greek Cynic persuasion - comes in for a strong dose of forensic dissection. John Dominic Crossan's reliance on the gospels of Thomas and Peter is discussed and criticized at length. Scholars who argue for a multilayered "Q" document, earlier layers of which are non-millennial, are resoundingly refuted. Over and over again, Ehrman demonstrates how the view of Jesus as a millennial prophet makes better sense of more evidence than any of the rival views.
Every statement Ehrman makes in this "great course" is backed up by citations of evidence, a clear explanation of pros and cons, and careful reasoning. I'm not sure this is the first place to look if you want an easy introduction to the subject, but if your appetite is already whetted, Ehrman will give you a well researched and coherent vision of Jesus.
(Last time I'll say this, though: Great Courses - please - enough with the canned applause already.)
I said this before, for the first volume of this book, and I'll say it again: this is an incredible act of generosity on everyone's part: the editors, the researchers, Twain himself, and especially (in the case of the audiobook) Grover Gardner. Gardner is one of the best Twain readers around - you won't go wrong with any of his performances of a Twain book - and listening to this is like sitting back, legs propped up, and hearing a garrulous old friend talk about his life. All that's missing are the cigar and the glass of brandy. (You'll have to supply those yourself, if you're so inclined.)
This volume has quite a bit to say about God, none of it particularly complimentary. It's no secret that there was no love lost between Mark Twain and God, or at least God as he conceived him to be: Twain's God has a lot of suffering to answer for, suffering that in Twain's opinion could easily have been avoided by a snap of the finger.
The second volume also has quite a bit to say about cats (Sour Mash was one of his favorites) and about his daughter Susy's biography of him, from which he quotes extensively. Other topics that grab Twain's attention, over the course of several months of dictation, are copyright law (he favored copyright "in perpetuity"); how the government used military pensions to buy the votes of the pensioners; phrenology and the mind cure (he had no truck with the former, but seems to believe, or want to believe, in the latter); and his admiration for London cabmen, who had to acquire a knowledge of the city that rivalled Twain's own knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the Mississippi River.
There are villains aplenty. One of the chief villains is Twain's fellow writer Bret Harte, who was (in Twain's opinion) a liar, a sponger, and a cheat: a man who abandoned his wife and children to genteel poverty when he left for Europe, a man whose default mode was sneering. (One night over a game of billiards, he went too far and sneered at Twain's beloved wife Livy. Twain set him straight, unloading a train of vituperation that had been years in the making.) "The sense of shame," Twain says, "was left out of Harte's constitution."
There are also a few heroes. One was Livy; another was Helen Keller, who met with Twain several times and whom he considered a friend; another was Keller's teacher Annie Sullivan. Henry Rogers, a robber baron to some, was a personal hero to Twain: by careful financial management, Rogers was able to help Twain out of bankruptcy and pay back "a hundred cents on the dollar," satisfying Twain's sense of honor - and more to the point, Livy's.
There's at least one complete short story embedded in these reflections: "Was it Heaven? or Hell?" I'd read that story many years ago, but I never realized - nor did Twain realize at the time he wrote it - that a similar scenario would play out in his own life shortly after the story was published. Livy and Jean both became deathly ill, and following the accepted medical practice of the day, neither was told about the other; so the unfortunate Clara was left with the task of making up stories of Jean's exploits to tell her mother, occasionally tripping over inconsistencies. (Jean, of course, was only a few bedrooms away, in a delirium of fever.)
This volume, like the one that preceded it, is a thing of joy and beauty for any lover of Mark Twain's. I hope all the participants remain healthy and able to see this magnificent project through its third and final volume, and that Grover Gardner will be able to narrate it, and that I will be around to hear it.
I call this the "sinister" translation of "20,000 Leagues." I first ran across it in an old blue-bound Collins Classic, the translation unattributed but the volume sporting attractive line drawings. (I've since heard that it was translated by Henry Frith, but I don't know the details.) It's actually still available as an ebook from Collins.
But why sinister? Because when Aronnax discovers a shell whose whorls go to the left rather than to the right - apparently an event as rare as a black swan - he exclaims to Conseil: "It's a sinister shell!" - "sinister," of course, being Latin for "left-handed."
That illustrates one of the problems of the translation. It's unusually complete - for a 19th century translation of this book - but it's sometimes worded awkwardly, with a preference for literal rather than idiomatic turns of phrase.
Some of those turns of phrase obscure quite a bit. One of the howlers - familiar to Vernians from the more frequently reprinted translation of Lewis Mercier - has Aronnax returning from "the disagreeable territory of Nebraska." A translator more attuned to colloquial speech would realize that Verne was talking about the Badlands.
Still, awkwardly worded though it is at times, it's reasonably accurate; and it has the advantage of having one of the audiobook world's best storytellers, Norman Dietz. Dietz has a way of "spinning a yarn" that fits this epic adventure very well. His voice is at times unfashionably breathy, but like Anthony Heald, he has the knack of sounding like he's making the story up as he goes along.
So it's a bit of a wash. The translation gets a C, the narration gets an A. Listen to the sample and see which is more important to you. First time listeners of Verne might be better served by the F P Walter version, read by Peter Hunsmann, or the Anthony Bonner version, read by James Frain. Neither of those narrators are as congenial to me as Dietz, but check them all out.
(If you decide to go with this, here are a few of the more obscure terms to watch out for. "Sinister" means left-handed, as already noted. "Carbonic acid" is carbon dioxide. "Azote" is nitrogen. "Cachalots" are sperm whales. "Poulps" are squid. "Secretary of Marine" means "Secretary of the Navy." And the "sonorous stroke" that Ned Land's harpoon makes might be more colloquially rendered as a "ringing sound.")
Whatever you do, avoid the audio versions that use the Mercier version. It's easy to recognize: it starts out, "The year 1866 was signalized by...." As soon as you hear the word "signalized," put it back on the shelf and move on. However good the narrator, you won't be getting Verne.
I tried very hard to like this audiobook, because it uses the best public domain translation of Verne's masterpiece currently available: the first version of F. P. Walter's translation, which is available on Gutenberg and elsewhere. (Walter has since re-translated the book in a copyrighted anthology called "Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics." This anthology is THE place to start if you're just getting interested in Verne. It's available from Amazon in both paper and Kindle versions and includes many illustrations from the original French editions.) Walter's translation is clear, accurate, and idiomatic.
Unfortunately, Peter Husmann's narration falls short on a couple of key points. First - and I admit this may be subjective - he sounds like he's outside the novel looking in, rather than "inhabiting" it. His tone is slightly condescending, as if he's talking down to the listener. He's reading the book out loud, not telling the story. It may be that this was a conscious choice aimed at making the book more accessible to younger readers, but I didn't enjoy it. (Playing it with Audible's 1.25x or even 1.5x option did help this a bit.)
He also mispronounces some of the names, Aronnax in particular. It's "Aaron-ax" - Husmann pronounces it "Aaron-no", as if it were spelled Aronnaux. I found this distracting. "Conseil" is also mispronounced - it should be con-SAY, not con-SAIL. (Understand that these are my American approximations of the French.)
I would love to see a different reader tackle Walter's translation - or, alternatively, to see Husmann have another try at this one: he's got a good, strong voice; can clearly distinguish between the different characters; and would benefit greatly from a more natural delivery. (Come to think of it, maybe what he was missing was a good director.) Doing this book is clearly a labor of love for Husmann: at the time I wrote this, the "list price" was less than $2.00.
Actually what I would REALLY love to see is someone tackling all five of the novels in the anthology: this one, "Journey to the Center of the Earth," "Around the World in 80 Days," "From the Earth to the Moon" and its sequel "Around the Moon." Verne is a wonderful writer, and so far the audio versions of his work have been kind of piecemeal.
I took a long time listening to this because I didn't want it to end. I also wanted to listen to the music chronologically as Jonathan Gould worked his way through each album and single; so I kept taking breaks from the audiobook to catch up on the songs.
The Beatles are THE band for me and always have been, since my brother and I took the bus into Richmond in 1964 to see the first run of "Hard Day's Night." I won't go so far as to say this is THE book about the group, but it's a fine one, and is well narrated by Richard Aspel. To the standard question, would you read / listen to another book by this writer / narrator - yes, definitely, on both counts.
It's not the most gossipy book about the Beatles. Gould doesn't have any ground-breaking new research or exclusive interviews to offer. What he has, in abundance, are two things: a rich sense of the political and cultural context in which the Beatles' career took place; and a detailed analysis, musical and lyrical, of every released single and every track on every album. His discussions of the songs are what impelled me to go back and listen to them yet again, this time with a handful of specific things to listen for in each one. (I didn't always understand the terminology Gould uses: at one point, he refers to "the elemental subdominant cadent in A-major" - at least I think that's what he said - but his descriptions are more often concrete and illuminating than over-my-head baffling.)
Gould sets the Beatles firmly against the backdrop of Elvis, Les Paul, Brian Wilson, the Stones, Dylan, and the Goon Show on the one hand; and Vietnam, assassinations, student rebellions, the Prague Spring, the Chicago riots, the Profumo affair, and the political rivalry of Edward Heath and Harold Wilson on the other. If you didn't live through those times, the book will give you a better sense of the wider world than any other Beatles book I know. If you did live through those times, it will remind you of how glorious (and sometimes gloriously awful) they were. Woodstock makes an appearance, even though the Beatles didn't show up there: they were putting the finishing touches on the "Abbey Road" album. But Woodstock was an important part of the cultural background; it's impossible to understand the Beatles' place in popular culture without taking it into account.
I haven't listened to all the Beatles-related audiobooks on Audible. Of the ones I have listened to, the only one in the same league is the book by Bob Spitz - unfortunately only available here in abridged format. (The Hunter Davies account is on my list, but even though it has a 1996 update, it's mainly focused on the period ending in 1968.) Until someone offers Spitz unabridged, or Philip Norman's Shout!, or Hunter Davies writes a fuller account of the later years, this is the audiobook I would recommend to anyone wanting an introduction to the history of the band. Gould presents the story with admirable objectivity; it's obvious that the band, and the band's music, fascinate him; but he's willing to call baloney when he sees it, and some of the Beatles tracks, especially as he moves into the troubled territory of The White Album and the Let It Be sessions, come in for particularly harsh criticism. ("Shapeless" and "gormless" are two of the adjectives employed in Gould's discussion of one of the tracks on the White Album. "A parody of a travesty" is his verdict on another.)
The only thing that could make the audiobook better, in my opinion, would be an edition that integrates the songs themselves into the narrative. But you can always do that on your own, like I did.
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