This is a tough call for me. I think Matt Taibbi is one of the great social commentators of his generation. He is articulate, ironic, incisive, irreverent, and witty. He isn't the least bit shy about skewering pompous, bloviating blowhards regardless of their political persuasion. His insights into the machinations of the primaries and the presidential campaign in "Rolling Stone" and on "Real Time" (HBO) made our quadrennial descent into madness almost bearable for me. So, with that in mind, I looked forward to listening to "The Great Derangement". Unfortunately, it was an underwhelming experience. I haven't seen the book, so I don't know what Audible or Random House removed during the abridgement, but I'm guessing that a lot of excellent stuff ended up on the editorial cutting room floor. I know; caveat emptor when you buy an abridgement (which is why I generally avoid them). Just the same, I was very disappointed. I give it 5 stars for content and the narrator, 2 stars for the abridgement, and a 3 overall. In the end, listening to "The Great Derangement" was like eating half a Snickers bar. What I got was really good, but it would have been a lot more satisfying to have scarfed the whole thing. Here's hoping that his latest book, "Smells Like Dead Elephants", comes to Audible in an unabridged version.
Over the years I've read the series from beginning to end twice and am listening my way through it this time. "The Ionian Mission" is not as dull or plodding as blockade duty in the Mediterranean might be, but I have never thought it offered much in the way of advancing pivotal story arcs that run through the entire series. It never seems to go anywhere (beyond blockade duty in the Med) and, in that respect, is probably an accurate reflection of the story’s setting.
I've enjoyed Simon Vance's narration of all of the books I've listened to thus far. He reads well, with just the right pace and dramatic flair. With books like the Aubrey/Maturin series, a narrator's ability to perform accents well contributes considerably to my overall enjoyment. Mess those up and, for me, the listening experience becomes irritating and annoying, and only becomes more so as the story progresses. To my opinion, Vance does a creditable job with the varied accents of the characters our protagonists encounter during their voyages. (I haven't listened to any of the O'Brian books narrated by Patrick Tull, so I'm not able to compare the two. As both versions are unabridged, I can only speculate that Tull's pacing may be slower. That might account for why his versions consistently run three to four hours longer than Simon Vance's.)
All in all, I recommend "The Ionian Mission", but don't think it's one of Patrick O’Brian’s best works. However, even with some shortcomings, I think it's worth four stars and that listening to it was time well spent.
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