This book is worth buying for chapter one alone. This paints a word picture of the lives of the aristocratic rulers of Britain in the last decades of the nineteenth century, at the peak of Victorian imperial power. It is sympathetic in tone, full of individual anecdote, and at times very funny.
Much of the book is just as good, with a close look at US politics at the time, the conditions and ideas that gave rise to the anarchists and international socialists, and the madness that engulfed French politics during the Dreyfus affair. The realistic cynicism in the description of the Hague peace conferences is brilliantly done and gives a strong sense of why the era eventually collapsed into the horror and violence of the Great War. The German chapter and the story of the tangled politics of the 'welfare' parliament are rather slower, but worth the listen.
This is a lovingly written and sympathetic book about a troubled genius. The narration could be better: there are annoying changes of vocal tone at some points and I wondered whether some parts had been re-recorded. Some parts are over-long. But that didn't spoil the book for me. The insights into the early developments of nuclear physics are fascinating, as is the depiction of the race (as the men doing the job saw it) to build the atomic bomb. The detailed look at the unfair treatment of Oppenheimer during the communist hysteria of the fifties is brilliantly done. The part describing his leadership of the Los Alamos laboratory is the best thing I've read about the development of the bomb.
The -in some ways sad-story of Oppenheimer's personal and family life is well told, but in the end he remains enigmatic. I was left with the impression that the humble and human aspects of his character won in the end over the arrogant side of his personality. The book takes some getting into: putting yourself in Oppenheimer's shoes is maybe impossible given the unique ingredients of his character.
This is the story of the events running up to the colossal mobile battle that set the stage for the dissolution of Old Europe in the trench warfare of 1915-1917 and paved the way for the horrors of the twentieth century. It was an old fashioned campaign fought with new weapons: heavy artillery and the machine gun, with infantry and horses along for the ride. The narration is effective and urgent, though at times mannered where French and German accents are assumed. You can feel the old world giving way to the new under the remorseless pressure of events and the foolish optimism of the leaders of Edwardian Europe. The description of the events surrounding strategic and command decisions in the first weeks of the war is masterly. The course of events was dictated by the whims of the Kaiser, the delusions of the French military staff, Imperial Russian honor and stupidity, British blundering that worked out in the end (at the cost of virtually the whole army), and railway timetables.
I decided that the author's academic, though ironic, detachment from the horrific behavior of the Germans in Belgium in the first days of the war was the best way of approaching the topic since it left the reader to decide for himself what reaction was justified at the time. The reaction of the British was perhaps the most natural and explains much about the subsequent course of the war. We can ponder whether the world has advanced or retreated since 1914, when the Germans felt no need to dress up the deliberate murder and dispossession of civilians as anything other than a legitimate military tactic, intended to shorten the war. The 'Huns' were brutal, but they were honest.
This is a good bad book. The plotline is clever, with every major character of the 11th century springing out of the pages. A English hero meets up with Welsh rebels, a famous Scots King, a Spanish icon, and others. He returns to England to defy the despicable William the Conqueror, then goes off into Byzantine exile. There is a mystical amulet. If this sounds rather silly, it is.
That said, the book has a magnetism and many genuinely moving moments. Hereward's family are lovable. The women are not badly written but narrated in a breathlessly tedious way. There is a hilariously daft seduction scene. The Normans are all purpose professional villains. The Saxons are noble but doomed.
This is a great beach read, or one for a rainy day
This is a great imaginative journey into the Paris of the impressionists. It could be better. Some of the characters are annoying. The history is clunky. The relationships are sometimes overwrought.
However, the hero- Renoir- is intriguing, funny and compelling. When he is around the book is great. Most of his friends are lovable. The real stars are French food, Paris and the materials Renoir and the others used to create wonderful paintings. So if you think you like (or could like) Paris, food and art, I would give it a go. If not, my commiserations. I've listened twice and can't quite decide if I really like it.
Like the previous two parts, this is a masterwork which will appeal to anyone interested in history. It is by turns funny, tragic, personal, reflective, sad, and always entertaining. It could not have been written in the same ironic but respectful way by anyone of the previous generation, and perhaps not of the successive (my) generation.
The narrator is one of the best I have listened to, varying his pace, tone, accent and delivery with almost perfect judgment.
For a person new to audiobooks with curiosity about the Empire, I would recommend volume one (Heaven's Command) and this as terrific listens. Volume two is perhaps slower and, overall, less entertaining, but still well worth the price. The chapters in this book about the near east campaign in WWI, Indian independence, Ireland and the Empire between the wars, and the parts in volume one about the Indian mutiny, African exploration and the exploitation of Canada are some of the best audio listening you could get.
To listen to this is to disappear into a vanished and fascinating world.
Timothy West is one of the best narrators I have heard, and here makes a good book into a great and riveting one. He brings the book to life. This is a brilliant buy if you want to find out whether you like listening to books, although you may be disappointed later on if you expect other narrators to be as good as this.
The TV series were good but West makes a better job of reading the work than Schama made of presenting it in pictures. Schama's genius is to vary the pace of the narrative and move the story along by switching from big themes to personal details and reminiscences. He has an instinctive feel for the linkages between different places and times. His judgments about the main characters are balanced and sympathetic, without letting the villains or fools off the hook. If you want a good introduction to Stuart Britain, this is the book to buy. England, Scotland and Ireland get a fair share of the tale, which is sometimes missing in the work of other writers. The next volume, through to the present, is just as good, but more contemplative.
This is a terrific blend of science and history with a great feel for the country Smith worked his way across and interesting diversions into aspects of the eighteenth and nineteenth century world. Winchester is a good reciter of his own work, reading with passion, variety and enthusiasm for the subject. The variety of speech makes the book an even more entertaining listen. The second half of the book is a little slower than the first, and I found it possible to sympathise only so far with Smith for his debt and marriage problems. Winchester's Oxfordshire accent (as Smith) is an authentic one, but comes across as rather mannered at times. As the narrator, his classic English accent is just right for this subject.
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