This is a short audiobook that is well worth listening to if you are starting to study the Holy Grail for any reason: addicted to Dan Brown, reading Malory, even going back to the source of the Grail legend: France, 1172. It hits the high points of the surprisingly complex history well, and of course entertainingly, because the Grail IS lurid and thrilling: Templars really do come into it, as do Cathar heretics, grand German opera, and those creepy Scottish and English monestaries. All this sounds like a made-up thriller, but is completely historical, so we might as well enjoy. The lectures go from the actual origin -- a famous poet thought it up and then apparently died in mid-sentence in the late 12th century; to the much earlier origin several enthusiastic 13th century writers thought up to complete the missing text; to the considerable effect the Grail had on literature all through the centuries since, and ends with the tremendous modern interest in the Holy Grail expressed in movies and novels and histories.
These are jangly old radio performances "based on" M.R. James stories. Derek Jacobi just says a few words at the beginning. I bought this audiobook because I thought he was actually reading the stories and that would have been great. These are scripts with various actors taken loosely from the stories and they are not very good, I thought, and hard to follow. I think the description of this offering should be rewritten, as it is credited to Jacobi, but he has very little to do with it.
This is an eight-hour lecture series on World War I, a topic so huge that the time limit constrains Professor Ramsden to useful summary and clear ideas that may surprise and delight even veteran WWI readers, as it did me. The Modern Scholar series is a very good university-quality lecture series with riveting lecturers, in my experience, and this is a fine example of the line.
Prof. Ramsden hits all the stories we need to know because they represent WWI in our culture. So it's a good starting place or a good review. But importantly, he states clearly and simply summaries of situations and ideas behind battle plans, something that almost no source does because the detail of WWI, the millions dead, the endless trenches, the hopelessness of the carnage for years, overwhelms us all. For instance, Prof. Ramsden says the point of Gallipoli was first to sail the great British fleet right into the Dardanelles past Constantinople, thus overawing the Turks, keeping them out of the war, and securing passage of the Straits to resupply Russia. But that didn't work, because the Turks sank a lot of the ships at the entrance to the Straits. So the planners said, no problem, we'll just land soldiers on the Gallipoli peninsula and they can run over to the forts guarding the Straits, silence the guns, and then the ships can sail majestically through. As we know, what happened instead was total catastrophe on land, also. It is very helpful to stay out of the details of a given disaster long enough to understand what people were trying to do, what was going on overall, and that is a strong point by Professor Ramsden.
He does the same with the end of the war, reminding us that there has been a controversy from 1918 till now about whether the western powers should have fully defeated Germany, including invasion, to persuade Germany it was defeated and thus perhaps avoid World War II. He agrees that Germany never believing it had been defeated (and "machinations" stealing their victory) was a cause of WWII. But he crisply concludes that it simply could not have been done, for a number of reasons that could not possibly have been gotten past -- that they stopped the war as best they could at the time and nothing better was possible. I found that deeply satisfying, because I agree with it. Should have been done better, couldn't be, so much for that.
This course focuses too much on the professor and his sexual interests, which he attempts to connect to Shakespeare's plays. There is a camp quality to the verbal style, including long shuddering intakes of breath meant to communicate sexual excitement. The ideas are sometimes unusual, such as Prof. Saccio's belief that Shakespeare's sonnets are not biographical, but are perhaps an extended experiment in sonnet-making. I don't believe that is a majority opinion. I held out till nearly the end of the first half of the lectures, when a lovely quoted passage was so enthusiastically sexualized in the discussion that I turned off the book and deleted it as indecent. The professor frequently promotes his two other lecture series on Shakespeare for The Great Courses, but I'll want to take care to avoid those.
I wish they would retire Scott Brick -- his wildly melodramatic readings are quite a problem considering I have entirely too many unheard audiobooks that I see are read by him ---- aaaaack. I won't buy anymore by him now that I know about his over-acting. He causes the characters to lack dignity, and that is too bad with The Woods because Cope, the main character, has a lot of dignity. I eventually switched to reading it as an ebook, and that worked better. Great thriller, I thought, gasping surprises and a complex but very clear plot. One of Coben's best standalone thrillers.
This audiobook is an excerpt from the larger story cycle told by Thomas Malory and printed in 1485, the Morte d'Arthur, the Death of Arthur stories, which have inspired so many modern works, including Lord of the Rings. The reading is lovely. Much of the original language is kept and though words are different and turned around in meaning sometimes, one very quickly catches on, because the reader keeps modern pronunciation. One of my favorite discoveries from this reading was how Malory likes to make rhyming paired alternatives: we still say "whether he will or nil," but he also says "would or nood" and "wist or nist" for knowing or not knowing. All you really need to know to understand this book from (barely) pre-Tudor times is that Siege means seat, not a warfare tactic. As in the Siege Perilous, that only Galahad could safely sit in at the Round Table. Siege is simply a French word, and they used some French in those days that we have exchanged for other French these days.
The story cycle of the search for the Grail is short and makes sense from beginning to end. It follows not only the original story by Chretien de Troyes, who probably first imagined the Grail, but the amendments quickly added by other writers such as Robert de Boron to Christianize the story, making the Grail a cup and in fact, THE cup, and adding in Joseph of Arimathea. The original glimpse of the Grail that we got from Chretien was none too Christian and then the author died before he finished the story, so his bestseller book sorely needed a quick fix and got fixes from writers across Europe. Malory faithfully reports the dominant legend as it came down to him from the early 13th century, almost three centuries before he wrote his great collection of Arthur stories.
The Grail tales are lively and vivid and have, as intended, many ethical issues which were no doubt discussed in 15th century book discussions. Which should Bors rescue, a maiden being raped, or his brother being beaten to death with whips from thorn bushes? Lionel survives, but one can appreciate just how seriously annoyed he was at the choice Bors made. What about that queen whose illness could only be cured by (a lot) of blood from a maiden? Was it really an appropriate moral decision for Perceval's sister to sacrifice herself? And what about the 24 tombs of similar maidens the knights found after she died? Hmmmmmm. Needs thought.
This audiobook would be great for fans of the Holy Grail, for Malory fans, and for young people who can only profit from grounding in our basic English literature without being bored.
The reader Scott Brick seems to be reading this novel in a strange, overwrought fashion that sounded to me like a parody of the text. It doesn't deserve a parody: the story is a good plot with attractive and interesting characters. I deleted this audiobook and another Coben read by Scott Brick. I'm reading the text of "Hold Tight" as an ebook instead. Coben is a popular writer and deserves a better reader.
I made two passes at this audiobook to finish it, because I found the Marxist and rather pro-terrorism slant problematic and startling. The author seems to be mildly in sympathy with a number of the terrorist groups and generally opposed to government. Unsurprisingly, given that slant, he seems to disapprove of Jewish terrorism in the early days of the Israeli state, and is not convinced the current wave of Islamic terrorism is terrorism at all, but "fanaticism."
On the other hand, he does address terroristic uprisings chronologically, which is helpful, and categorizes their general emphases: assassinations, fighting for communism, nationalist movements, etc.
The reading is remarkably bad -- wooden and hard to follow. The reader does pronounce the many foreign names and words well, regardless of language. I cannot recommend this audiobook. There are a number of offerings on Audible about terrorism; I liked the Walter Laqueur book.
This is a thought-provoking book on a number of levels. An obvious one is that Walter Laqueur wrote it shortly before the 9/11 attack on New York and the Pentagon. That subsequent attack justifies many of his conclusions, as well as his close attention to the first attempt on the World Trade Towers, mentioned repeatedly.
Another issue is the author's inclusion of more violence he defines as terrorism than I had understood as terrorism when I started the book. He includes state-sponsored terrorism, proxy terrorism, organized crime terrorism, and insanity-driven terrorism, among several other types.
I like Laqueur's repeated emphasis on the certainty of change in the world. Things will not stay the same as they are now: we can depend on that. I was particularly interested in the "why" of killing lots of civilians; this being perhaps the reason many look into the topic of terrorism now. The author offers a menu of reasons, including political, in that terrorists may be trying to effect a change; but the really interesting reason, to me, is that many terrorists may simply want to kill as many people as they can who are not like themselves, and this may be a genetically based urge that also underlies war.
The reading is excellent and the book is quite easy to follow as an audiobook.
The reader of Wolf Hall uses a lugubrious tone, falling depressively on the end of each line.This is unfortunate since not all of the story is sad! I notice they changed the reader for the second in the series, "Bring Up the Bodies." I was enough put off by the reading style that I read the second in ebook form.
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