Truth be told, I have not quite finished the book, I have read about 3/4 of it, and I am running a bit out of steam. Unless the author is.
The Swerve is amazing in some regards, but it is also problematic, at least for me.
First let me say that the narrator is perfect. In addition to having a beautiful enunciation and pace, he obviously knows Italian, convincingly integrating all these Italian names in the English text. (I am French, and too often cringe at the French pronunciation of some otherwise excellent narrators).
The rationale for the book, the history of the discovery and rediscovery of the ground breaking On The Nature of Things, written c. 50 b.c.e by Roman philosopher Lucretius, is fascinating. My jaw dropped when The Swerve first revealed what was in that ancient poem of which I knew nothing. (I won't spoil it for you if you haven't read it yet.)
The historical and sociological backgrounds are fascinating. I have a passion for the history of books as objects, and that was honey to my ears. You will learn a huge amount about bookmaking, the scribal profession, the importance of lettering, as well as the role of Christianity and the Church on culture, knowledge, science, taste, sex, love, pleasure, pain... in brief, on Western human LIFE. You'll learn how all of the above is connected to books, libraries, collections... and politics, wars, papacy, schisms, heresy.... and then some.
And this is where, in my view, the Swerve puts you on info overload. Don't get me wrong. It is ALL interesting. And I want to hear it all. But maybe not in one single book, the premise of which was to tell me the story of an ancient manuscript. The background too often takes center stage, and feels like a massive digression. He could almost have written one book with each of those digressions into the societal history of the time.
Another problem with the Swerve, which is related to the volume of information it contains, is the time lime. Until the narration settles on the life of the genial Poggio Bracciolini in 15th century Italy, the first 1/4 of the narration repeatedly shifts between Antiquity, Middle Ages, and Renaissance, making the sequence of events rather confusing.
I am at the point in the story when Poggio has died, and I find myself loosing interest in the narrative. The author had succeeded in making Poggio so real, that I felt I was reading a novel. Without Poggio, I find the Swerve to sound a bit more like a history textbook. Maybe I am only suffering from "Poggio withdrawal". I will finish it. Maybe it will pick up steam in a while.
Overall, I highly recommend the Swerve. It is very well written. It does not feel like a theses. The language is elegant and accessible. What you'll learn about The Nature of Things alone is worth the read.
This book has been around for long enough. I probably won't say anything new about it.
It draws the map of what makes us who we are, and suggests how to be our best. It should be taught in elementary school (Okay, slightly simplified) and be required reading by HS. It can be poignant, painful even when you stumble on those "aha" moments, discovering why you do what you do (and are not so proud of). But it is neither moralistic nor does it indulge your flaws. It just describes the complex bundle that we humans are, with both scientific accuracy and compassion. If all the people in a position of power read it, the world would be a much better place. To read this book is to learn how to read yourself.
I gave only four stars for the performance because although Barrett Whitener does a decent job of reading, he is a little cold and it took me a while to get used to his nasal voice. I would have preferred this book to be read by Daniel Goleman himself, who is heard in the Preface and the Epilogue.
I really don't have anything original to say about this book. There is a lot for every taste. For those interested in medieval daily life, sociology, history, medieval Church history, art (and particularly architecture), maddening suspense, romance, battle scenes, love scenes, family scenes... and everything in between, that is the perfect book. It seamlessly meshes all those elements and more in a saga full of turns, and rebounds, surprises, frustrations, heart breaking disappointments, glee, exultation, and leaves you wanting for more. One Sunday I listened 8 continuous hours. I totally lost track of time.
My only reservation, which won't lower my "grade", has to do with the Manichean view of that society. The villains are pure evil. And the good guys and gals are basically spotless (or their flaws would only qualify as such in a medieval society, but not from our 21st Century point of view, e.g "the Witch" character).
John Lee does a wonderful job of carrying the story without excessive voice effects.
I highly recommend this book.
Before I read this book I was appalled by cock fighting and thought little about eating chicken, although I wouldn't each mammal meat.
Since I read that book, I have looked at cockfighting as an insignificant infraction to the law, and cannot look at packaged drumsticks without thinking "torture". It took me three months to finally eat some chicken after I "put the book down". And I made sure that the bird was organic and free-range. And I may not even do it again in a while. In that regard, it reminded me of the chapter on Potatoes in Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire. I never looked at a potato in the same way again, and certainly have never knowingly eaten a Russet Burbank ever since.
There are many other interesting things about animals in Herzog's book. Not the cutesy type of things. He is pretty down to earth, scientific, and factual. He destroys many preconceptions and forces us to face our cultural biases vis a vis certain creatures, mainly some that are good to pet and cuddle with in our culture might be good to eat in another. I actually recommended the book to some anti-Obama campaigners who vilified him for eating dog meat in Indonesia when he was 10 years old... A little knowledge of cultural tastes in food goes a long way, even in politics. And Herzog is a good source.
An enjoyable, entertaining read, that I would definitely recommend.
Yes, I would agree with the readers who found this book a bit dry. Both the format and the content read like the transcript of a symposium. The narrator has a blank tone to match the format. And indeed this book is basically the transcript of a five day symposium. But the readers who enjoyed Daniel Goleman's Social Intelligence, and Emotional Intelligence, and presumably the Dalai Lama's books (none of which I have read yet) will no doubt enjoy this read. I found the parallel between modern neuroscience and Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama's approach to science absolutely fascinating. It is not a how-to book. It doesn't offer practice, exercises, and self help strategies. It is a polyphonic dialogue between high level scientists and devout Buddhists. It is very respectful, enriching, and highly civilized. If the world listened to this group of people, both scientists and monks, it would be a much better place.
I loved every aspect of this book. The translation, granted I know no other, was in clear and modern English that allowed me to fully appreciate the content in all its subtleties. Stephen Michell's soft tone of voice and the slow pace of his reading gently lead me through the meanders of Lao Tzu's thoughts.
As I heard the gentle voice say "by not dominating, the master leads", I was sinking deeper into a comfortable meditative mode. When suddenly, that Jack sprung out of her box: "Hello, this is Cherry Jones... bla bla bla". What possessed the producers of that book to kill it with that obnoxious ad at the end, which jumps into the listener's ears without a iota of a pause or a transition to isolate it from the reading of the Tao? That is how I learned that the reading of the Tao was over. With Ms Jones yelling in my ears.
That explains my one star for "Overall." There should be a grading for production quality.
I have been reading this book on a loop for the past two weeks. It is not a book to read. It is a book to absorb. It needs to sipped into the texture of one's life. I found it to be the case for all I have read by Jone Kabat-Zinn so far. The "Eastern" elements can be disorienting at times as they appear to contradict all we were taught about the American way of life--striving in particular. And try "non-judging" for size. But with each new reading, the "Western" resilience breaks down a bit more. The book will not make a Buddhist out of the reader. Or if it does, it was not JKZ's intent. But it will make you feel more alive. Just listen. And really pay attention to the words.
One important thing about this audiobook, is that the author, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, is the narrator. Narrator is not quite the word actually. He doesn't narrate. He comforts and gently, ever so gently guides the listener to a better place. Where- or whatever that is. JKZ leaves that to you to choose. It is not new-agy, touchy-freely mambo-jumbo. Although he clearly offers techniques used in Yoga, that is not Yoga. Nor is it "spiritual" (although he has a very interesting take on the meaning of that word in another book that I also rated 5 stars: Wherever You Go, There You Are). He is not preaching Buddhism (again, he explains his references to Buddhism in Wherever You Go...). His meditation techniques are down to earth. Precisely. Literally, mentally, physically down to earth.
Even for one who doesn't experience the kind of acute, debilitating chronic pain he mentions in the book, this is a very comforting read. The sound of his voice, the rhythm and tone in his speech pattern make you feel safe. It made me feel I was in a presence of friend who knew me, understood me, and knew what to say to sooth whatever hales me.
It is the kind of book that should be covered by health insurance.
I was dreading the end of that book. Not because of the end itself. But because it HAD to end, and after 47 hours of my life spent with Edmond Dantès, Count of Monte Cristo, I just couldn't leave him. Edmond Dantès is one of the monuments of French lit., a kind of Batman (seriously), a sublimely well educated avenging angel who can charm while talking of art or poisons. John Lee's narration is flawless--I will not hold against him the mangled French words.. that is a common flaw of all audiobooks I have read so far, and unless you are French as I am, it won't spoil your pleasure--and his deep warm voice perfectly portraits the superhuman nature of the awe inspiring Count. I also wish to add that the English translation matches in elegance Dumas's French. Very highly recommended for a true dark, romantic ride.
Why guilty?... Well, because I laughed a lot, knowing I shouldn't have. In this book all men are 9 y/o (mental age) pushing 16 (sexual age). It is cheap anti-male humor... but somehow it works (Yes, I am a woman.) However, most of the time it is patronizing to men. And as one reviewer remarked, the men the author addresses would never read that book. Not without a serious incentive or a gun to their heads. That is why the jokes are cheap. But the book is light, well written, witty, and perfectly narrated. Dear male fellow reader, if the famous Katz's scene in When Harry Met Sally hit you in the manhood, stay away from that book.
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