There were some very good things about this book. It started really strongly and evoked the horrors of life in the trenches very well. This standard was maintained through the hero's recovery from war wounds and on through his trip as a stowaway to New York City.
After this, the story floundered. Unfortunately, I struggled to keep track of the plot from this point. I did listen on to the end, and it had its moments, but overall it was a disappointment given its initial promise.
The narrator was unsuited to the job. The hero was a working class Cockney, and most other characters were American, but he delivered the whole narration in a middle class English accent. This didn't help my understanding of the story, and definitely didn't breathe any life into it. I honestly think I could have done a better job myself.
I also found the big explosion in Manhattan at the end quite bizarre. It was somehow meant to show that the war had come to America, but it didn't really work for me and I just thought the story had lost its way.
As soon as I saw this book I knew I was going to love it. 25 hours of the history of the world, based on a BBC production. The made-for-TV origins of this book meant that it was always likely to be entertaining and not too highbrow, and that's exactly what it is. A really good listen, starting with our hunter-gatherer ancestors and ending with today's problems of overpopulation and global warming, with quite a bit of other stuff in between.
The author unashamedly ascribes to the 'individual' human theory of history, whereby the story of the world has been significantly shaped by the actions of particular people. In many cases, history could have taken a radically different turn if, by chance, something had happened differently. An obvious example is that Hitler survived World War One, and the author believes that the course of history might have gone drastically differently if he had not – there wouldn’t necessarily have been a ‘substitute’ Hitler waiting in the wings to do what he did. Of course he also acknowledges the importance of the general flow of history, but this audiobook is mostly the story of important people and the things they did.
One of the difficult things about taking on such a big subject is that the world is a big place and at any given time there are many different histories rolling out in the different continents. So he tells us the histories of Africa and China and America, but I guess, as this was a BBC production, the focus may be a bit biased in the later centuries towards the influence of Britain. This doesn’t offend me because I’m English and was indoctrinated as a schoolboy into thinking that the Battle of Hastings and the Battle of Britain were landmark events in World History, when the rest of the world might see them as minor struggles on a small island. But I’d be interested to know if non-British listeners to this audiobook found it excessively Brit-centric.
Go ahead and listen, and I’ll look out for your reviews.
Wow! This is the first review I have written for some time, because Les Miserables was 57 hours long. I chose it because I knew nothing at all of the story, except for what I'd seen on posters about the musical, which hinted at French revolutions and poverty as being key themes.
I found it very enjoyable, mostly. The storyline is punctuated by a number of long descriptive, philosophical passages about Paris, the battle of Waterloo, the sewerage system, etc. Sometimes, I have to admit, I got a bit bored during these and wanted to return to the storyline. The plot itself is really good and definitely held my interest, although it stretched my credulity just a tad at times.
At the very end I was surprised that Hugo finished with a succinct passage reflecting on the final event of the book, I was expecting another long piece of philosophising to cap it off.
As this book has been described as one of the best ever written, I am sure there are many subtle themes and undercurrents which I missed. I haven't read any reviews of the book (I will do now - I didn't want to spoil the book beforehand). No doubt these reviews will reveal to me some of the book's deeper meanings.
The narrator was excellent and, overall, I'm glad I chose and persevered with this book.
This is the third Malcolm Gladwell book I have listened to (or read), and like the other two, it is really interesting, but just a little bit unconvincing in parts. He is a brilliant storyteller, drawing you in with interesting anecdotes about a man who can pick winning horses by observing their body language and a rogue soldier who outwits the entire US army in a war game scenario. But towards the end of the book his argument loses its way.
As the book progresses he gradually builds a convincing theory about how our minds are adept at making accurate instantaneous judgements and how, in many cases, the more information we are given the less likely we are to judge well.
But then he starts to make some slightly dubious claims and even to contradict himself somewhat. He tells the story of 4 policemen who kill an African American in a bad neighbourhood at night because they think he has a gun. He says that the stress of the situation gives them ‘temporary autism’ which robs them of their normal powers to make ‘blink’ judgements. But you just don’t need this theory to explain why they misjudged the situation. It was dark, and the inability of the men to detect the innocence and terror on the victim’s face could be explained by this alone.
Later on he describes another policeman, who had received training in controlling this kind of panic reaction in dangerous and stressful situations, and because of this training, when faced with an armed youngster, he waited a little longer and gathered more information and decided not to shoot. But this contradicts the main idea of the book, which is that we make better decisions when we allow our intuition to do it in a blink.
So, by the end of the book, you have been entertained and have also been persuaded that humans often make better judgements when they ‘thin slice’, i.e. they make quick unconscious decisions based on very limited information. But, in my opinion, he tries to over-elaborate his theory in the later chapters, and I felt myself disagreeing with him, which spoilt the book a bit.
I had read only one Jane Austen book before ‘Persuasion’. It was ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which I read in the early 90’s in the Himalayas, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ve seen films of other books, such as ‘Emma’, but what attracted me to ‘Persuasion’ was the fact that I knew nothing at all of the plot.
Like ‘Pride and Prejudice’, I enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed entering another place and time, where life was as different as if you were to visit a planet in another galaxy.
The only beings that exist on this planet are middle class people from rural England. No one works, and the most important thing in the World is the art of conversation. Even the least articulate of Austen’s characters speaks beautiful genteel English, and they all have the ability to remain within the limits of what is considered respectable, never getting even close to discussing vulgar subjects like sex.
The next most important rule of the game is that you must try to find the most eligible available spouse. They must be well-situated within the English class system and have a reliable source of income. Of course, they must also be respectable, eloquent and good looking. All this has to be done without anyone actually admitting that this is what they are up to.
Persuasion is the same as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, in the sense that it is another delightful chocolate from the same box. I enjoyed the clever way people talk to each other, and the storyline was light-hearted fun, like a Hugh Grant romantic comedy. The narrator was superb.
At first I thought I’d made a big mistake choosing this book, and for a while I was tempted to return it. I chose it because I am always struggling to think of my next book to download. You would think, with so many amazing books in the World, that I would have a long list of titles waiting patiently to be read. But for some reason this isn’t the case. I rarely get a book recommended to me and often, when I do, I don’t really like it. I think this is a combination of the fact that I don’t mix with particularly bookish people and I have a particular, perhaps narrow, taste in books. For example, I really like non-fiction and especially popular science.
So I picked this book because I want to venture more into fiction, and I hoped that it would give me lots of great tips for novels to read. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
This is an autobiographical book by an American publisher whose mother is dying of pancreatic cancer. He and his mother are both avid readers, and they turn their informal chats about their reading into a more formal arrangement whereby they read the same books and discuss them. Of course, it is also about the man’s love for, and close relationship with, his dying mother, who lived a busy and unselfish life helping people in war-torn countries around the World.
Although, if I could live my life over again, I probably wouldn’t choose this book second time around, there were definitely some good things about it. The writer has a good engaging style and his reflections on life, dying and death were interesting enough to make me want to carry on listening to the end. For example, he was sitting beside her deathbed and I liked that fact that he admitted that he found this tedious, when I was expecting him to describe it as deeply intense and emotional.
On the negative side, the book is a bit claustrophobic. It is almost exclusively about the man and his mother. Even though he is an interesting man and she was a brave philanthropist, the constant chemotherapy, the gradual deterioration, her physical frailty, their chats, all feel like you are trapped in a hospital room with the 2 of them for 2 years. You would hope that the escape from this would be the discussion of books, but very few, if any, of the books discussed made me think, ‘ooh, that sounds interesting, I must get that one’. This may be because I am shallow, or perhaps because I have different tastes to the author and his Mom. For example, they both appreciate poetry and pottery, and these things play no part whatsoever in my life.
In short, this book is very well-written, but just isn’t really for me. Other people might love it. If you think you might be one of those people, I hope I haven’t put you off!
I really enjoyed this book. It is packed with interesting popular science tit-bits, presented in an engaging style, interwoven with the author’s personal experiences and the lives of various scientists.
Don’t expect to learn anything revolutionary or ground-breaking. This book, in parts, is a science primer. There was some material I already knew pretty well, and some parts, such as his explanation of the causes of earth’s seasons, and the discussion of tectonic plates, I have known since geography classes at age 13. It is a bit like Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything.
I really enjoyed the sections covering the Big Bang, how elements are formed inside stars, and what it’s like on Neptune and Mars. His discussion of the effect of gravity on mammalian body size is compelling, and includes the following observation, which is typical of the author’s entertaining style: ‘if you drop a mouse down a 1000m mine shaft, it gets up and walks away; a rat is killed; a human is broken; a horse splashes!”.
The story meanders from subject to subject. It is ostensibly about the impact of the cosmos and the laws of physics on our daily lives, but sometimes it wanders off at a tangent and you forget the core theme of the book. For this reason, and the fact that I was distracted by hedge-cutting while I listened, I took the unprecedented step of listening to the book twice. I picked up a lot of interesting stuff that I’d missed first time around.
The narrator is excellent and, as long as you are not looking for anything too cerebral, this is great popular science.
It seemed a bit of an odd premise, to describe the World's history in terms of 6 drinks, but it worked a treat. Starting with beer, the author progresses through wine, spirits, coffee tea and coke and weaves it skillfully into the history of civilisation.
I learnt a lot. (e.g. I was surprised that beer arose so early in our history) and I was also entertained by countless anecdotes about these beverages: How the British navy was stronger and fitter than its rivals because of the serendipitous use of lime juice to flavour and preserve rum (thus preventing scurvey); how coffee houses in London evolved into institutions such as the Stock Exchange and Lloyds of London; how coke was manufactured in a transparent form and packaged like vodka in the soviet era to be acceptable to the Russian communists.
The narrator was pretty good, although he had the annoying habit of rushing the chapter titles so you didn't realise when a new one had begun. Aside from this, the book was one of my most 'listenable' downloads.
What a dry subject, nitrogen! It would be hard to write an interesting book about this topic, but the author succeeded. He describes how the planet's population was on the verge of starvation, having consumed nearly all the natural deposits of fixed nitrogen to use as fertiliser, and how nations vied for the last scraps of the chemical in remote outposts of South America.
Nitrogen is, of course, plentiful, in the air we breathe. But in order to be useful as a fertiliser, it must be converted to a solid form. Two German scientists, Haber and Bosch, (excuse any mis-spelling, I never saw these names in written form!) worked tirelessly to solve this tricky problem. Their drama unfolded against the backdrop of a fascinating period of German history, in which nitrogen played an especially important role because of its use in explosives (and hence in warfare).
The theme of antisemitism is also important in the book, because a large proportion of Germany's scientists were Jews.
It is a good story, well narrated, and worth a listen.
This is a very enjoyable listen. It is the story of an old man who has become horribly stuck in a rut. He is living an empty life of mediocrity and is scarred by his failures and weaknesses as a human being. He goes out to post a letter and just carries on walking, a la Forrest Gump.
His journey is not easy, and he experiences desperation and crisis on the way, but ultimately he grows as a person, learns to understand himself and to cope better with his demons. It is not a corny feelgood happy ending, but some things improve for Harold. In Harold's 'happy ending' we are not allowed to escape life's realities of death, loss and grief, but we can appreciate the value of the discoveries Harold makes.
It is a moving story, grim at times. You engage with all the characters and you do want to keep listening to hear the rest of the story. It is also a very English story, and I'm not sure whether this would make it more or less enjoyable to someone who isn't from that country (as I am).
It is a little bit twee and reminded very much of a serialised BBC radio play. There were also some aspects of the storyline which stretched my credulity a bit. If you don't want to spoil the story by seeing my examples of this, stop reading now:
1. When the media find out about Harold's walk they camp outside his (wife's) house but they don't actually go out and find him, which would have been very easy to do.
2. He sleeps rough and lives off wild plants for a while. I don't think you could do this sustainably in the English countryside
This is why I couldn't quite give the storyline a 5. But I wholeheartedly recommend it nevertheless. The Narrator was magnificent.
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