It's an incredible book, and the narration is beautiful. If you can't have Shelby Foote reading it himself, Grover Gardner is a good alternative. Foote carries the story well past the usual Appomattox tableau, with a riveting description of Lincoln's assassination, a careful exploration of the consequences of that act, and a long, elegiac, unbearably sad narration of the winding down of the war and the outcome, especially for the freed slaves. Everybody lost. The long national nightmare ended in the age of the robber barons and union busting; and blacks found themselves frozen out, hunted down, and at times massacred by North and South alike.
It took me about a year of off-and-on listening to work through all three volumes. It was worth every second. I can't recommend this audiobook too highly. Yes, you need other viewpoints for balance, but no one else tells the story in such an utterly enthralling way and with such captivating and humanizing detail.
The Brothers Karamazov is a wonderful book, and deserves to be read by many more people than might be willing to tackle the whole thing. This audiobook comes to the rescue. It's a remarkable achievement. It manages to get in every character, every incident, every philosophical digression I remember from two previous readings of the whole thing. And it does it without rushing. The pacing is steady throughout.
Unlike the four or five hour versions typical of abridged audiobooks, this one appears to operate at the level of the word and phrase rather than the level of the incident or chapter: a little snip here, a small excision there; it all adds up to a version with about 56% of the original text intact. It's more a condensation than an abridgment. Yes, you're not getting the whole thing, but you're getting a solid and thoughtful selection, not a hack job. The Grand Inquisitor is still there in all his confounding glory.
And you're getting Simon Vance. As a narrator of 19th century novels, Vance is nearly without peer. (He's pretty good with contemporary books as well, it's just that I've listened to more of the other.) Maybe not a man of a thousand voices, but he's got a couple hundred at least, and many of them are on display here - none of them for show, all of them in the service of the novel.
Of course, if you can and want to, you should eventually tackle the whole thing. But give this one a shot in the meantime. Or give it a shot if, like me, you've read it before and just want a somewhat faster "review." Except it doesn't feel like a review when you're listening to it. It feels like Dostoevsky.
This was more like Chekhov than anything else I've read by Tolstoy. "The Cossacks" is long on atmosphere and character, very short on plot. Dmitri Olenin forsakes Moscow society to help fight the Chechens(!) at the foot of the Caucasus mountains. The Russians and Cossacks are on one side of the Terek River, the Chechens on the other. There are skirmishes, an occasional hunting expedition (for game and humans), and one brief and violent shootout near the end. Olenin falls in love, is rejected, gains some insight, and leaves.
It's definitely not War and Peace in miniature.
But it IS a story of great warmth and beauty, and the characters are finely drawn, with Tolstoy's apparently effortless ability to penetrate their souls with a few deft phrases. Some of the descriptions of nature are breathtaking.
(Wikipedia says Tolstoy reworked the novel drastically after re-reading "The Iliad." If so, it could only have been to make something as unlike "The Iliad" as possible.)
I found Jonathan Oliver a bit strident for my taste. He's great with the dialogue: each character is clearly differentiated and the emotional tone is just right; but the narrative passages, whether public or private, tend to be voiced in the same declamatory style. (Better declamatory and audible than whispered and hard to hear, I guess; but there must be a happy medium somewhere.)
This was an unexpected treat. I read "Kidnapped" in high school (and have listened to several audiobook versions since), but I never got around to reading the sequel. It is, in some ways, an even more interesting story than its predecessor.
David Balfour here completes the process of growing up that he began in the highlands of Scotland. "Catriona" shows the final unfolding of the events that began with the Appin murder. In the process, David is kidnapped again, finds friends in unexpected places, and falls in love. His alliances are complicated: there are few complete saints or sinners here, and even his greatest benefactors are motivated more than a little by self-interest. In the process, David demonstrates physical courage, but more importantly he also shows great moral courage.
There's also, unexpectedly, some sexual tension. David never labels it as such, and Stevenson is discreet in the best Victorian manner, but at one point in the book it's clear that's what's going on. At that point, David and Catriona are thrown together in close proximity, but it's not just the frustrations of love that drive David into frightening mood swings, complete with slammed doors and paroxysms of guilt.
Frederick Davidson is an acquired taste, as I've said in other reviews. I acquired the taste a few years ago and can listen to him now with pleasure and even affection; but my first reaction to his unusual voice was dismay. So I understand that this audiobook may not be to everyone's taste. But if you liked "Kidnapped," and you enjoy Stevenson, and you want to find out how things turned out for David, Alan, and the rest of the gang, give this one a try.
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.
I skipped this one for many years. I'd read "The Moonstone" in high school and couldn't imagine anything as interesting. But tastes change: the ending of "The Moonstone" now seems contrived in an Agatha Christie-ish kind of way, and the powerful brooding atmosphere of this book trumps it in spades.
Only two readers are named in the blurb, but there are actually several people in the cast. All are first-rate. Like "The Moonstone" itself, and like a handful of other Victorian novels ("Dracula" comes to mind), "The Woman in White" alternates between various narrators, each filling in a piece of the puzzle. Some chapters are taken from diaries; others from correspondence; others were specifically requested from the participants (at least in terms of the story world) to fill out the narrative. One is supplied almost at gunpoint.
My only real regret is that Walter Hartright (get it? Hart Right?) didn't realize at some point that the devoted and courageous Marian was a much better match for him than the passive Laura. But this is, after all, a Victorian novel, and one mustn't upset the apple cart, must one?
There are some wonderful villains here as well, especially the scintillating Count Fosco. Bombastic and ridiculous, with more than a touch of Hector P Valenti, Star of Stage and Screen, Fosco is underneath all that a genuinely frightening and dangerous man.
There was one brief period, about midpoint in Marian Halcombe's narration, when the story started to get on my nerves and I found myself whispering "Get ON with it." But almost exactly at that point, the stakes were suddenly raised from financial risk to life and death, and from that point on the story grabbed hold and wouldn't let go till the last T was crossed.
Fascinating look at Roman history, from the rise of Julius Caesar through the triumph of Octavius. It's true, as others have said, that the title is somewhat misleading: the book's canvas is huge. On the other hand, Cleopatra - if not Antony - is the glue that holds it together. Despite its epic story, the book never loses sight of the telling detail or the fascinating personal anecdote. You may get more than you bargained for, but it's interesting throughout, definitely a book I will go back to in the future when I want to refresh my memory about this period in history.
Suzanne Toren's narration is straightforward: professional rather than emotional, but clear and easy to listen to.
If you're looking for a biography of Cleopatra herself, Stacy Schiff's book might be a better choice. On the other hand, my impression - although it's been a long time since I read Schiff's book - is that this one covers much of the same information, with less speculation, and with a larger context.
My only real complaint is that the audiobook refers several times to a forensic reconstruction of Cleopatra's face, and it's clearly a highlighted feature in the print version; but the PDF that accompanies the audiobook doesn't include it.
Robert House presents a restrained and plausible reconstruction of the Whitechapel murders. His candidate for Jack the Ripper is Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew who was hospitalized for insanity not long after the Ripper's last and most vicious murder.
The fact that the murders stopped around the same time Kosminski was put away is only one of many suggestive facts House presents. Kosminski was, in fact, on the CID's list of suspects. FBI profilers who have reviewed the case have concluded that the Ripper was a "disorganized lust murderer," a schizophrenic and psychopath; and have also identified Kosminski as the suspect most closely fitting that description.
But House is careful to note that this is a matter of hunches and probabilities rather than certainties. Does he think Kosminski was the killer? Yes. Does he claim that he's proved it, and that the case is closed? No. Mostly what he tries to do in the book is explode some of the myths and mystique that have grown up around the case, and to demonstrate that the Ripper wasn't so much "good" as incredibly lucky.
Joe Barrett's gravelly narration is perfect for the story. One possible pitfall is the variety of English and Irish accents he's called on to provide: I think they sound pretty good, but then again, I'm an American whose main experience of English accents is in other audiobooks. In any case, Barrett gives a consistently interesting performance, maintaining the pace of the narrative despite its legal and psychological complexities.
And now, after a brief foray into the world of Ripperology - I watched two movies on the subject and read a Ripper-inspired novel while I was listening to this - it's time to put this topic back on the shelf. It's a disturbing and haunting subject, the terrain of nightmares and nausea. It's not so much that the women suffered: if the police surgeons were correct, they died very quickly, and what followed was not torture killing but the abuse of a corpse. What's disturbing is contemplating the mind of someone who would want to do that. House is a sane and humane guide, but one trip down this lane is enough for me.
Grant is one of the most underrated heroes of American history. He is usually remembered as a drunk, a butcher, or an incompetent, who had one of the most corrupt presidential administrations ever. There's a grain of truth in some of these — Grant did have a drinking problem earlier in his life; his final push to end the Civil War resulted in appalling casualties; and many of the men he picked for his administration betrayed his trust. (No evidence about the incompetence, except with money: he was a brilliant general and a wonderful writer.)
But Grant remains a hero: personally honest, a devoted husband and father, a courageous soldier, a brilliant strategist, and totally committed to Lincoln's vision for ending the war. H. W. Brands demonstrates his remarkable virtues in chapter after fast-moving chapter. Even his presidency gets more positive attention than usual: among other things, he broke the power of the Ku Klux Klan in the postwar south.
And of course there's the inspiring story of his battle with bankruptcy and cancer and his struggle to complete his memoirs before succumbing to the final assault. Their subsequent publication (by Mark Twain) ensured the prosperity of his family for many years after his death.
H. W. Brands tells the story as much as possible in the words of the participants. Every biographer of Grant will quote from the same letters and journals and memoirs; but usually these are snippets interspersed with summary and interpretation. Brands is more generous in his quotations, presenting whole paragraphs and even groups of paragraphs. The result is an exceptionally vivid account. Brands has captured him in motion.
Stephen Hoye narrates briskly and with a lot more passion than is usual in nonfiction. It's an audiobook I plan to return to again and again.
Greenberg has written a lively political history of the Mexican war and the substantial but disorganized opposition to it. Key players include Henry Clay, James K. Polk, Nicholas Trist, and Abraham Lincoln: all deftly characterized with a few well-chosen anecdotes. The military history is covered in broad strokes - for more detail on that, a better choice would be Martin Dugard's Training Ground. But if you want a clear and vivid picture of the machinations that led to the war and to its ultimate conclusion, this is the book for you.
There are obvious parallels with more recent wars, some of them opposed by many in the US, but Greenberg doesn't hit us over the head with that. Apart from a few somewhat anachronistic references to "embedded journalists," she leaves us to our own conclusions. This is political history, not politicized history.
Caroline Shaffer's narration is equally lively. At first it seemed discordantly "peppy" to me, but as I got used to her style of delivery, I realized her unflagging energy was keeping me drawn to the story. All in all, I really enjoyed it.
There are so many wonderful recordings of this wonderful book - how could you possibly pick one over another? Simon Vance is one of the most reliable narrators in the business, and he delivers the goods here as well. His voices form a miniature orchestra, taking us through the story with speed and clarity. I often pick up details in one of Vance's narrations that I missed in reading the book or listening to other readers. Here it was an emphasis on the smells of London that I hadn't noticed before; and my mouth watered at the descriptions of the food. I loved it.
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