Johannesburg, South Africa | Member Since 2009
I was introduced to Francis Fukuyama's book "The end of History and the Last Man" when I was studying second year Philosophy at university. While being very positive and optimistic about liberal democracy as the final and the best political system in the book (which was obviously an over confident stance), the book left a positive impression on me.
I bought this audio book to hear how Fukuyama's thought developed and to hear if he had any new insight into politics. He definitely has. Being careful of presenting a liberal democracy as the answer or the end of social evolution, Fukuyama starts with pre-human "societies" and other primates try to understand human behaviour and relationships in groups. From this he identifies the various building blocks of a successful state by taking the listener through history, using different countries as "case studies" in political order. The book is much more cautious than "The end of History and the Last Man" and it is not so American-centric. He even stays clear of a blatant Euro-centric understanding of political order. He starts of with China and uses different governments all over the world to explain why these governments are successful or not. He is able to convince the listener that certain building blocks lack in unsuccessful governments.
His second volume promise to be a contemporary analysis of political order in the world.
Fukuyama is very thorough in this study and includes a wide scope of disciplines to come to an intriguing analysis. However, I am not sure that a book like this lends itself well to be published as an audio book. It is very long and very detailed at places. Remember to download the pdf file that accompanies the book, otherwise you might struggle to follow what he says.
Jonathan Davis is a fair reader, but when you read the only joke and memory hook in the whole book as if it is just another fact, you've missed something of the author's intention.
If you are interested in political philosophy or economics this book might just be something for you. If however, you like short to the point discussions of such topics, stay away.
It has happened more than once that I had to consider either buying the ‘Audible’ audio version of a ‘Great Courses’ course or the downloadable video version of the same course. What was I thinking not buying this a course on writing in video format with an accompanying .pdf guide!? The content of Prof Marc Zender’s ‘Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity’ is so gripping, it left me spellbound. (That said, I do have a thorough background in Semitic and Classical Languages… but he was able to broaden my understanding of writing systems.)
He takes the listener through a journey of writing signs and systems in 24 lectures which are intricately connected and completely mesmerising! I think this course is probably one of the best structured courses I have listened yet. Starting with the basic concept of writing, dispelling myths surrounding Futhark (the runic alphabet), he proceeds to more difficult scripts such as that of the Chinese. Subsequently the listener is introduced to the decipherment of different ancient writing systems, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cuneiform and later on Mayan hieroglyphs. By comparing the properties of different systems of writing, he is able to illustrate some fascinating universal aspects of writing. (He convincingly argues and illustrates that writing systems were invented at different times in different places, but also that some peoples borrowed their writings from others.) Prof Zender discusses failed attempts of decipherment, the reasons thereto, as wells as invented scripts and languages such as those of JRR Tolkien.
This course is a highly accessible as well as an excellent overview of writing over the ages. It is presented professionally. Yet I refrain from giving it 5 stars under ‘story’ and overall because not being able to see the examples that Prof Zender used, kept me an outsider to complete insights. While I do understand that Audible does not provide the accompanying .pdf guide to any of ‘The Great Courses’ not being able to follow the Mayan or Egyptian hieroglyphic examples in the course felt utterly frustrating. I believe that a shortened .pdf file without all the contents of the regular guide could be made available to give the listener the best value for his/her money.
All said, ‘Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity’ is a brilliant course, splendidly arranged, highly engaging, well presented and highly relevant for anyone interested in languages and its writing systems.
Deon Meyer, master thriller writer is at it again. Once again I stand amazed at the amount of research that went into his new book 'Kobra.' He gives a true and believable sketch of the South African Police Service, the railways between Cape Town and Stellenbosch (with one exception), the current perceived state of South Africa as a country and to an extend Interpol and some lesser important things in the novel.
Capt. Bennie Griesel is at it again... doing his bit to make the world a better place. But is he drinking again or is he still fighting the temptation of the bottle? Why is he sleeping in his office? This is the backdrop against which quite a few people are murdered and the Hawks must deliver. But these murders are all committed with bullets marked with a cobra on the shell. Who is this Cobra? What has brought a hired assassin known in Europe to South Africa? Why is the British, American and seemingly South African government on edge?
These are questions that will be asked and answered during this book. Meyer has an excellent ability to bring the rich and the poor together in his books. In Kobra he does it really well. It is where these two worlds meet that the sparks fly.
I think Nic de Jager has the right voice for reading Deon Meyer's books. Fortunately Deon Meyer is not using so many swear words - maybe it is because I don't understand the French swear words - as usual, thus it doesn't detract so much from a really good story and De Jager can read with more confidence. I thought De Jager read the Cape Afrikaans also very convincingly.
If you can read Afrikaans or Dutch, I strongly recommend that you listen to this book. It is mostly even paced and clear. But maybe it is better to wait for the English translation to be available in audio format, especially if you don't understand Afrikaans.
[Afrikaans: Ek dink nie 'n mens kan verkeerd gaan met hierdie boek nie. Dit is 'n spannende ontspan misdaad-riller. Die soort boek waarvan Deon Meyer die meester is. Ek dink Bennie Griesel is 'n karakter wat nou in die Afrikaanse literêre landskap ingeburger geword het, amper soos Sherlock Holmes in die Engelse landskap.]
The 'Joy of Ancient History' is a fruit salad of the best lectures from a vast array of courses on Ancient History by 'The Great Courses.' As an anthology it gives you a taste of everything, without expecting you to finish every fruit. Unfortunately this collection also suffers the shortcomings of anthologies in general. While a tremendous job was done to try and establish cohesion it didn't always work. Listening to the lectures I couldn't help to sometime wish that I could hear a previous lecture just to get into the picture. It spans a vast array of subjects, times and topics. That said, I am grateful for listening to it, because I was introduced to the Terracotta Army, and Prof. J Rufus Ferus' biographical sketches on Julius Caesar (from 'Famous Romans') and Solon (from 'Famous Greeks') made two figures I found boring come alive. Prof. Glen S Holland's lecture on 'Mesopotamian Creation Stories' (from 'Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World') was very interesting. The lost civilisation of the Amazons introduced by Prof. Edwin Barnhart was absolutely fascinating.
You will have difficulty in not gaining something you never knew from these lectures. 36 of the best lectures by professors of the Great Courses is not something you should just pass by. While I didn't like one or two lectures and I felt it sometimes suffered continuity, I thought the choices was generally excellent, intriguing, gripping and awe-inspiring. A must have for anyone interested in some or other aspect of ancient history.
These days it feels as if Trudi Canavan is shooting very straight arrows. A hero (in this case Tyen) sets out on a journey in which he realises that the institution where he studies has been keeping secrets (in this case 'The Academy'). His loyalties are severely challenged and he will become another person. There is also a heroine who finds herself in a very similar situation (in this case Rielle). She discovers basically the same as the hero, but it is more implicit.
It is as if Canavan's foreshadowing technique has become blatant. In the case of Rielle for instance, she is first harassed by a person with a tarnished soul... thereafter the wheels start rolling and guess what she will become... !
The parallels between the two main characters are so obvious, they even end up in more or less the same situation at the end of the book.
What is new? Well magic is not plentiful, it leaves stains in both people's worlds. They live in a multiverse with different worlds. (It makes me think of Orson Scott Card's Gate Thief in some way.) The thing that is new is 'Vella' (probably from the Latin, vellum, which is a page in a manuscript usually made from animal skin) a magic book that was a human being before... guess... the mightiest sorcerer changed her into a book. She is a 'truth'-saying book.
With so much predictability, I can just anxiously hope that Canavan will be able to steer the story to an interesting and unpredictable place. I hope the magic is still coming...
This book is recommended for anyone who want the depth of a Mills & Boon in a fantasy universe... but at this point without the romance. (Funnily the one thing absent is a homosexual character, but then it is not the last book.)
More or less three years ago I opened a facsimile edition of the oldest codex of the complete Christian bible, the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus. I remember thinking while being awed by it that except for the Dead Sea Scrolls, this is the oldest text of the Bible we have - and it is in Greek! This realisation took me on a personal journey to reassess the Greek Old Testament, better known as the Septuagint. When Audible Studios published, Alexander Von Humboldt Fellow & Junior Research Fellow at Oxford, Dr. Timothy Michael Law’s book “When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible” (OUP) I bought it almost immediately.
This is - as far as I know - the only popular introduction aimed at ‘lay’ persons. Most books on the Septuagint are written for scholars and postgraduates, though some like Jennifer M Dines’ “The Septuagint” (T & T Clark) can also be considered for everyone as it is clear and easy to read. That said, Timothy Law’s book comes at the right time, almost six years after “A New English Translation of the Septuagint” (NETS) was published. Readers and listeners of Law’s book who cannot read Greek, can access the text of the Septuagint through an excellent translation when necessary. (However, if you just want to follow his argument, remember to download the PDF file that accompanies the audio book.)
Law writes from a Christian perspective. He begins his book by sketching the effects of the Hellenisation of the Ancient Mediterranean world and how it created the necessity for a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Fairly soon it becomes clear that he wants to venerate the Septuagint as the original bible of the early Church. It has become popular in Septuagint scholarly circles to make out a plea for returning to the Septuagint as the bible of the Church. To an extent it seems that he does it also. (Yet the same plea could be made out for the Latin Vulgate.) But Law has a point, the Septuagint was indeed the preferred text used by the New Testament writers, including Paul and Matthew. It also contains important variant readings that differs from the Masoretic text (the Mediaeval Hebrew Text of the Old Testament provided with vowel marks by the Ben Asher family or Masoretes) which he claims has been downplayed due to conservative theological agendas for too long. I think that this is one of things I found of value in Law’s book, he convincingly illustrates that the Septuagint - through a translation of an often lost Hebrew text - bears witness to alternative textual traditions. Together with that, he offers a different approach to textual authority than the limiting doctrine of “in-errancy.” Highlighting Origen, Augustine and other church fathers’ views he shows how the early Church accommodated different texts of the Bible.
I found Law’s critical and honest approach to the legends surrounding the creation and translation of the Septuagint, of great value. Having read various books that would touch on letter of Aristeas which tells about how it came to be that the Septuagint was translated, I now realise that various scholars may have reported only what other scholars had to say about it. It is clear to me now that the letter of Aristeas doesn’t say explicitly that 70 scholars translated the Septuagint over a certain period in seclusion where after they compared their translations to that of each other, finding them to be exactly the same. This is a later interpretation of the story.
Another issue that Law made me think about was the order of the Decalogue (ten commandments) and how it differs (especially in order) between the scrolls from the Dead Sea, the Septuagint and the Gospels. One cannot just presume that the Hebrew text’s order is the correct order, which has an influence on how one should evaluate Jesus quoting of the commandments.
This brings me to the one thing that I have been wondering about Law’s study. While he illustrates how complex it can be when dealing with quotations of the Septuagint texts and its revisions in the New Testament, he seems to assume that the New Testament writers didn’t adjust the text of the Septuagint to make a point. All differences between the Septuagint and the New Testament can therefore be explained in terms of different layers of Septuagint texts that were used by the New Testament writers. If I take his argument a bit further it would mean that theoretically one should be able to date various books in the New Testament according to the revisions and type of Septuagint text that they used. I am a bit sceptical about his assumption that the Septuagint’s text was almost mechanically used by the New Testament writers.
All that said, I think that Dr. Law’s “When God spoke Greek” is a very timely introduction to the Septuagint. I admire him for writing a popular introduction on a highly technical topic. It is a tremendously important work which - I hope - will bring a new appreciation for the Septuagint. Maybe a new generation of seminary students will buy the ‘Biblia Graeca’ of the German Bible Society which contains both the critical texts of the New Testament and the Septuagint and not just the New Testament and ‘Biblia Hebraica.’
“When God spoke Greek” is an up to date, engaging work of which every Christian and Jew should take note. It illuminates the two religious traditions through the Sacred Scriptures of the Hellenistic Jew and the story of how it became the Scriptures of the Christian Church until it was replaced in the West with the Vulgate. It definitely challenges long-held perceptions on theology, the Bible and its text.
I wish I could say that I enjoyed Stephen F. McLaughlin narration as much as the content of the book. He is an established audio book narrator with more than 20 books up his sleeve. His pronunciation of word and sentences is clear and easy to follow. His accent is quite neutral. Having listened to other samples of his interpretative reading, I cannot say that this was his best reading. I suspect that he read the book slower than most of his other productions. Furthermore I really got the idea that he doesn’t know Greek, Hebrew or Latin, especially because of accent placed wrongly on words. However McLaughlin gave a decent performance that shouldn’t hinder you to buy the audio book.
“When God spoke Greek” is a must-have for anyone interested in the story of the Bible.
Focussing on Everyman throughout history, Dr. Robert Garland, Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics at Colgate University, USA, attempts to put you, the listener, in the everyday sandals of different people of the Ancient World. Cladding the listener with the respective identities of a Palaeolithic human (1 lecture), a Mesopotamian (1 lecture), an Egyptian (4 lectures), a Greek (11 lectures), a Roman (11 lectures), the different ancestors of the British (4 lectures) and that of a Medieval person (7 lectures), he confronts you with the lives of ordinary humans. This is probably the reason why the material presented is so interesting.
The comparisons with our own day and age makes it fascinating. Dr. Garland is a tour guide that takes you through the proverbial looking-glass to show you the other side of history. This metaphor he uses in various way throughout the course hence he is able to bind 48 30 minute lectures together in a whole. I admire the way he carefully compiled and structured the course. He kept me with him even though I am not British or American. (I was acutely aware of his Western bias during the course. It is probably also the reason for its popularity.)
Throughout the lectures, Dr. Garland was engaging. I didn’t count any ‘uhm’ or ‘ah.’ The course is highly polished and tremendously informative. So if you are interested in history or just everyday life, recline at this table the cuisine is ready to be enjoyed.
‘Medical School for Everyone: Grand Rounds’ starts with a disclaimer which boils down to something sounding like “This course is not supposed to make you a medical doctor.” After such a disclaimer one might feel hesitant to continue listening, but I am glad that I did. The course’s actual aim is to make one a better patient by introducing you to the way doctors think and function to make a diagnosis. However I just bought it out of pure curiosity.
The course consists out of twenty four 30 minutes lectures by Prof. Roy Benaroch from Emory University School of Medicine where he specialised in Paediatrics. He seems to be well-known in the USA through his blog and his books ‘A Guide to Getting the Best Healthcare for Your Child’ and ‘Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth Through Preschool: A Parent’s Guide.’ He also writes Science Fiction.
The listener is invited to imagine him-/herself to be a doctor that goes on rounds visiting various patients. You get the chance to be the sidekick of a sort of Medical Sherlock Holmes, thus you may be a highly opinionated Watson. By looking at different patients presenting diseases and using the steps doctors take to diagnose them, Prof. Benaroch introduces listeners to the world of a doctor as well as to many (mostly common) illnesses. For me the most interesting round was the Antarctic appendectomy on myself.
The course falls in the same category as Prof. Robert Garland’s course, “The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World,” in the sense that it use make-believe to make you understand important concepts. Prof. Benaroch has an excellent voice and it was quite easy to follow his lectures, though some of the medical terminology kept me at times in the dark.
I would recommend this course to anyone inclined to solve mysteries, thrive on puzzles and clues. While you will not be a qualified doctor hereafter, it can help you in understanding the framework within which doctors ‘operate.’ It comes highly recommended.
Before Prof. Ehrman became a real celebrity with works like "Misquoting Jesus," "Jesus Interrupted," "God's Problem" and "Did Jesus Exist?" or more recently "How did Jesus become God", he wrote a book called "Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium" (OUP: 1999). For me, this book towers above the others. "The Historical Jesus" course in the Great Courses series is based on this book.
Much of Prof. Ehrman's ideas seems somehow still fresh. So while it is one of the older courses in the Great Courses series, it is excellent and of great value. The lecture series starts of with the various ways in which people depict and think of Jesus, where after it looks at its sources to get to know something about Jesus. He discuss the historical criteria used by critical scholars and historians to discern who Jesus was. He then gives his own reconstruction of Jesus which include his early life, the context within which he lived, his apocalyptic message, his words and deeds and his last hours.
As an ancient historian he limits his understanding of Jesus to the natural phenomena that could take place, while Ehrman leaves the rest to 'theologians.' He follows in the German Albert Sweitzer's thesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet.
What I like about this course, is that Prof. Ehrman gives a thorough and honest overview of the current state of Jesus research while he is empowering listeners to do their own investigation. But be warned, he might not be everyone's cup of tea. If you are a committed Evangelical for instance, you might find is lectures offensive.
Still, it is an excellent place to start if you want to find out more about the historical Jesus.
I have started to read a summary of the Mahabharata, one of the Hindu faith’s sacred scriptures and the longest human epic ever written. When I came across the concept of ‘purushartha’ (the goal of human existence) that consists out of ‘dharma’ (conduct within society), artha (economic actions), kama (pursuit of pleasure) and moksha (spiritual activities), I knew I was in trouble. My previous formal study in the phenomenology of Religions just weren’t enough to give me an understanding of the great epic.
I discovered the Great Courses twelve lecture course by Prof. Mark W Muesse on Audible and decided to try it out. I am glad that I did!
In a mere twelve lectures Prof. Muesse takes the listener through the family of Indian faiths commonly called Hinduism. He starts of placing Hinduism within an historical context from which he introduces concepts and ideas that entered these religions piece by piece, almost like building a puzzle.
I founded his lectures on the Vedas, the oldest holy writ of the religion very insightful. The fact that there was an unknown civilisation discovered in the Indus valley with a yet undeciphered written language is intriguing. It was also interesting to hear resonances of Ancient Biblical family practises in his lecture ‘Men, Women, and the stages of life.’ I found the way a woman was always connected to a man through the various stages of life very interesting. Even the idea that most arranged marriages seems to be happier and less prone to producing divorcees than so-called love marriages. I wish there were a PDF of depictions of the Hindu gods that could be used with the lecture ‘Seeing God.”
However, Prof. Muesse opened the world of Hinduism to me with a clear and interesting presentation. It was easy to follow in very informative. I can heartily propose this course to anyone interested in Hinduism.
Prof. John McWhorter, linguist and English lecturer at the University of Columbia fires off like a rocket bringing linguistics to the listener through 24 short 15 minute mini-lectures from A-Z. He uses the alphabet to introduce the listener to some interesting facts about the mishmash of languages spoken in the world.
He starts the course at an enormous pace and peppers you with a lot of information. Initially I thought that I would opt out due to the pace against which he presents. I managed to stuck in there and was not disappointed. He knows a lot about languages.
From a South African perspective just the following: Xhosa is not pronounced Chosa as if it should start with a fricative, but with a clicking sound like that of the clicking languages that he describes. His pronunciation of the language called Afrikaans was also lacking. Despite that, he brings tremendous insight into languages and their structures. Highlights are "H for Hobbits" and "R for R-lessness"
If you want a fun-filled and highly informative course, this one is for you.
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