I agree with other reviewers -- this narrator is OK but not great. But it doesn't matter how great she is, the PowerPoint chapter (12, second to last) is a failure in audio. It it is worth timing your "reading" to be near a computer for it. The on-line version available at the author's web site is in color and includes sound clips from the songs that are referenced and is by far the preferred medium for this chapter. The black and white PDF available from audible is much less entertaining and captures less of the author's intent. The audio version collapses into boring nothingness for the last 3 slides in the PowerPoint -- they are graphs, and the narrator "reads" every data point! This is ten minutes of meaningless tedium. The producers of the audio book deserve a big fail for not coming up with a better solution to that.
As to the book, my response was meh through much of it. I could recognize her talent as a writer, but found it hard to really "get into" disjointed stories that were about different characters and hopped around in time. After I got to the end (including the PowerPoint chapter) I could see what she was about, and liked it better on reflection than as I was going through it.
I am among the minority who do not like this book; I'm only sticking with it because I paid for it. If you love the idea of a magical circus and magic being real and enjoy description of magical environments and effects, you may be among those who love the book. I'd prefer character development, human emotions, and/or a plot.
This book intertwines some very interesting reporting on modern science of genetics & linguistics (which I enjoyed) with some uninformed, irritating and wordy/repetitive extrapolations to genetic explanations of culture (which made me feel like arguing). As one little example near the end of the book (hard to check references with an audio book), there is speculation that the difference between East Asian and West European ways of thinking is due to the difference between rice farming and the lives of ancient Greeks. But ancient Greeks are not a dominant element of European genes, as the book said earlier. There may be something to the "Asian rice farmer" idea, but the comparison has to be to the waring groups who dominated Europe until recently; an earlier passage on the "civilization" of Europe similarly ignores history. And the huge influence of Genghis Khan in the Eurasian gene pool (documented earlier in the book) similarly disappears in talking about possible influence of genes on culture. Overall, the cultural discussions follow this model: see a cultural pattern and make up a story about how genetics could have caused it. Or identify a genetic pattern and tell a story about its effects that confirms your prior cultural biases. Don't worry about internal contradictions between different parts of the book. Over-generalize across societies and ignore exceptions when you want to say that human genes cause a universal cultural trait and caricature cultural differences (and over-generalize within continents) when you want to make a racial difference argument. Totally ignore alternate explanations for the phenomena. On the genetic front, he talks as if genes have goals and purposes. But evolution is about statistical distributions.
I like Nick Hornby's other books and enjoyed this one. The alternation among narrators was very effective.
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