This is a hugely worthwhile survey of east-west relationships if, like me, you didn't specialize in "Oriental Studies". This seemed a balanced political history overall. Gigantic chucks of information are jettisoned in any history; more so one encompassing 2,500 years. Of the periods and traditions I've studied, I can attest that the author covered most well enough to maintain the narrative without sacrificing too much detail. There's nothing about the Viking expansion into the region, and the Russians get short shrift. Never mind. Pagden did a brilliant job at constructing a fascinating, coherent, and challenging essay on the ties and fractures in euro-asian relationships.
I had just finished this a day before President Obama's Cairo speech. Pagden's history and analysis gave me background enough to hear nuances I would have never heard.
Oh, and the narration is excellent as well.
I have read all of Kurlansky and thoroughly enjoyed all of his works. This, however, is a flop. It seems to be written for extraterrestrials as becomes evident when read by Cazenove who is evidently from a different planet (he matriculated at Oxford and is a sterling example of an upper-class twit, which, I suppose, comes to the same thing).
I am roughly the same age as both author and narrator, so the events are, as youthful events always seem or ought to be for us old codgers, fairly lively. Mr. Kurlansky seems not to have remembered much, so this is not a personal history.
The political events and biographies of key figures are available from a number of sources, but Mr. Kurlansky seems to have researched social events perusing Time/Life archives. Neither magazine has improved much over the years, but at the time they were treated as laughably clueless by those of us who were the subjects of their screeds. So, ignore the social history: it is truly banal.
The political history is generally acceptable, but there are other, better sources. Listen to all of his other books and give this one a pass.
This is a classic bit of historical biography. The text survives the narrator. (Someone please explain to Griffin that reading historical writing is no excuse for sounding like such a pompous ass.)
This is a superb example of how not to write history. Aside from the shoddy research, worse writing, the blatant bias of the authors compels them to continuously whitewash Church history. This isn't history. It's propaganda, and not particularly good propaganda at that. The narrator is comically pretentious. It seems to be an attempt at giving the yokels a bit of pseudo-intellectual flimflam to mask the True Romance text and World Book research. If you're looking for a literate history of the early Middle Ages, try Winston's Charlemagne on audio, or try The Teaching Company for some excellent courses.
Cultural history as reflected upon by an arch conservative Catholic is interesting to a point. Reflections on cultural history as read by someone inhaling helium is an epic adventure. Barzun's thesis is nothing new (aside from bending truth a bit so as to make some rather famous atheists out to be religious after all), but his narrative talent is highly engaging. The historicity is tame stuff until post WWII by which time the good professor seems to have been gathering most of his cultural knowledge from Time magazine. To make the reading more interesting, the narration sounds as though the sound technicians were going for the chipmunk affect. If you think William J. Bennett an intellectual, you'll enjoy this right to the end. Otherwise look elsewhere.
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