I think the world of Michael Drout, and so I was primed to enjoy yet another terrific and insightful work from him. Unfortunately, this series of lectures seems rushed and poorly planned. (In addition, unlike all other Modern Scholar lectures I've purchased, this one did not come with a PDF document containing outlines and bibliographies for the talks.) If you're not familiar with this work, I recommend reading his scholarship or listening to some of his other lecture series.
Drout sets up two very useful ways to think about Tolkien's Middle-earth writings and their relationship to the classic Western literature that inspired and informed them; one is the metaphor of the tower and the ruins, and the other is the concept of "fighting the long defeat." Both are most helpful, and Drout is at his best when he teases out how Tolkien the philologist and Tolkien the medievalist mined the sources he studied to sub-create a new world of his own. Alas, the lectures soon stray from these organizing themes as he considers The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion in turn. That's not to say there aren't gems of information embedded in the lectures - you might say that Drout proves that not all who wander are lost (!!!) - especially with regard to how Tolkien employed framing narratives and the idea of "the compiler." I'm also particularly sympathetic to Drout's well-aimed critiques of the limits of postmodern literary criticism and the disaster of contemporary intellectual property rights and copyright law.
The lectures seem rushed though, as does Drout himself. (His hasty asides sometimes veer into insupportable generalizations of the "X had never happened before" or "only Tolkien did Y" variety, several of which could be contradicted quite easily, or genuine errors; for example, when he's "on script," he identifies Éowyn as Théoden's niece, but when he makes an offhand comment, he calls her Théoden's daughter.) I wish that, since he makes the effort to discuss "Leaf by Niggle," he'd also addressed the related "On Fairy-Stories," which speaks to many of Drout's larger points. I also wish, given his perspective on Christopher Tolkien's efforts in restoring/presenting his father's unpublished works in The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales, Drout had addressed the larger History of Middle-Earth volumes, as well.
The final lecture is by far the most frustrating. Unfortunately, when Drout chooses to address Middle-Earth inspired participatory culture, two of the three examples he uses (Peter Jackson's films and the Lord of the Rings role-playing game) are licensed "products," if you will, not fan creations. Even then, his points are disconnected. He fails, for instance, to link the post-Jackson influx of women into Tolkien fandom (which he mentions without explanation) with the explosion of fan fiction, fan art, and costuming activities. His treatment of the films and the role-playing game also comes across as only partially reasoned; he criticizes the films for removing readers' opportunity to imagine Middle-earth actively for themselves, and yet praises the game designers for bringing Middle-earth to stunning visual life for gaming participants.
When he discusses his personal experience with The Long-Expected Party, he does not put the event into its global context of fan-created and fan-run Tolkien conventions and gatherings, a point well worth noting (and supportive of his larger argument). Most disappointing of all, he completely ignores major ingredients in Tolkien-related participatory culture, such as the immense and decades-long phenomenon of Tolkien-based world music, from U.S. country/western music based on The Hobbit and Argentinian folk music based on The Lord of the Rings to German death metal based on The Silmarillion. This is such a widespread and long-lived phenomenon, it begs for mention in any treatment of readers' desire to enter Middle-earth. In the end, listeners would have been better served if the final lecture had been dedicated to expanding Drout's earlier textual analyses.
I got a great deal out of these lectures, as I knew I would, but I don't recommend this as a starting place for exploring Drout's impressive scholarship and insights.
Huxley's Brave New World stands with Zamyatin's We, Rand's Anthem, Boye's Kallocain, and Orwell's 1984 as one of the great dystopian novels of the early twentieth century. This satirical answer to the utopian works of H.G. Wells and others rewards multiple readings/listenings and continues to be chillingly timely for a contemporary audience.
Set in London in 2540 C.E. (or 632 A.F. – that is, "After Ford," after the enshrinement of mass production), the novel draws a portrait of a society in which people are created, engineered, conditioned, and perpetually drugged to serve the goals of "Community, Identity, Stability." John the Savage, who has lived beyond the bounds of civilization, and the Resident World Controller of Western Europe, His Fordship Mustapha Mond, know the forbidden pleasures of Shakespeare and science, respectively; they are the symbols of what must be sacrificed - individualism, beauty, curiousity, even conscience - for this "perfect" world to survive.
Not only is Brave New World a brutally thoughtful answer to the naivete of the "Age of Utopias," but with Huxley's clever use of names and references (from Marx to Lenin, Freud to Ford, Malthus to Newman), the novel also serves as a cultural literacy test and survey of Western thought.
I highly recommend listening to this moving story (and its contemporaries) every few years. If anything, its message grows more relevant with time.
Michael York's narration is absolutely masterful. It simply couldn't be better.
This is a one-of-a-kind gem I can't recommend highly enough. Surely it's one of dystopian science fiction's best-kept secrets. Imagine an isolated island preserved from world plague by its remote location. Now imagine the inhabitants creating a community based on Plato's REPUBLIC.
What does it mean to be alive? To be an individual? To be a member of a community? To be responsible? Whatever you expect this book will be, it will surprise you. I've listened to this more than once, and yet the twist ending never fails to take my breath away.
Don't be fooled if you see this referred to as a "young adult" novel; it's a perfect listen for thoughtful adults, as well.
We really need more of such books: competent, thorough, readable distillations of the latest scholarship, able historical overviews. I read this as a memory-jogger, and while I encountered nothing new, I was most pleased by how much information was presented, well told and well organized. This provides an excellent introduction (or reminder) of the history of the Shawnees and their unique position as the travelers, bridge-builders, and resisters they were as they negotiated the ever-shifting no man's land between Native America, England, and the colonies/United States. This also provides good insights into how the Shawnees of today became established in their current settings and incarnations. Highly recommended.
The narration makes it clear when direct quotes appear, and I really appreciate that. My main complain against the narration is that George Wilson changes his pronunciation of some of the proper names as he goes along, and this can be jarring/confusing.
Oh, well done indeed.
This is a highly compelling and insightfully crafted study of the 1860 murder of three-year-old Savile Kent, the highly publicized investigation led by Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector Whicher, and the subsequent resolution(s) of the case, which all but destroyed the detective while ultimately leaving the (allegedly) guilty party to live a long and productive life. This work is steeped, as it should be, in the intellectual history and cultural mores of the time. I especially applaud Summerscale for the thorough and thought-provoking way she ties the figure of Whicher to the emerging literary character of the detective, as seen in the works of Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others.
I found this to be thoroughly satisfying. The narration is excellent, and I couldn't stop listening. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Victorian era, the history of crime detection, and/or the real-life models behind the great literary detectives.
This is how it should be done.
Lyndsay Faye spins a tale that immerses the reader in New York City of 1845. The details are rich, well researched, and never superfluous; everything serves the interest of the story, in this case the formation of New York City's first police force. When one of those pioneering "copper stars" accepts the burden of investigating a truly horrific series of murders, he takes a personal and professional journey that shows him the many faces of religious and racial conflict, political corruption, and poverty and vice in his city -- as well as poignant glimpses of true heroism, of the modest kind as well as the mighty.
This story has it all: three-dimensional and compelling characters (of various ages and backgrounds and both genders) with complex relationships, a deep sense of time and place, and an intricate plot that keeps the reader guessing until the end. The conclusion manages to be intensely satisfying while avoiding excessive neatness.
I'll refrain from giving details, because this novel is a gift that should be unwrapped as the author intended. If you're interested in a well-drawn historical novel or a thoughtful mystery or a love letter to a city in the act of growing into itself, warts and all, you should treat yourself to this book.
Steven Boyer's narration is pitch perfect.
Sturgeon's classic science fiction novel (really, a series of interwoven stories) is a lyrical, poignant look at "Homo Gestalt," the gifted "freaks" who together form a new organism, the next stage in human evolution. It's a fascinating and often genuinely wrenching thought experiment about prejudice, cruelty, love, empowerment, identity, and belonging. It would've been ideal if the entire work had been read by the same narrator, but I didn't find the shift to be too distracting. Sturgeon's work is deeply disturbing, with brutal and beautiful purpose, and it's very much worth listening to today.
This novel tells the story of Scott Carey who, because of exposure to a cloud of radioactive spray shortly after he had accidentally ingested insecticide, ends up shrinking at a rate of approximately 1/7 of an inch per day. He encounters all kinds of perils as he diminishes, from a drunken pedophile to sadistic street toughs, from the spider in the basement to the elements themselves, but this is first and foremost a psychological novel about the uncertainty of the individual in the 1950s and his/her place in the possibly futile, certainly alien post-war world.
For example: "What he wanted to know was this: Was he a separate, meaningful person; was he an individual? Did he matter? Was it enough just to survive? He didn't know; he didn't know. It might be that he was a man and trying to face reality. It might also be that he was a pathetic fraction of a shadow, living only out of habit, impulse-driven, moved but never moving, fought but never fighting."
This is a tense, frustrated, dark character study, and it's made all the better by an excellent narration that captures the frustration and fear of the protagonist very effectively.
On the whole this is a far better than average collection of Sherlockian stories. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing how the different authors opted to bring Holmes to the States while respecting Conan Doyle's canon. The best tales here are excellent, most are good, and few are disappointments. The narration was fantastic - evocative and skilled with the various accents used, both British and American.
Lyndsay Faye's "The Case of Colonel Warburton's Madness" tackles one of the canonical unchronicled cases with great success, underscoring not only Holmes's impressive deductive abilities, but also Watson's inherent decency and empathy. It's a delight to have Watson relate an unsolved mystery from his days in San Francisco to help his friend battle crippling boredom. San Francisco's a compelling character here. Given how much I enjoyed Faye's DUST AND SHADOW, I'm unsurprised that I liked this so much.
In "Ghosts and the Machine," Lloyd Rose offers a fascinating glimpse into Mycroft's and Sherlock's younger years and relationship (from Mycroft's point of view, quite well done), as well as a poignant window into real-life characters from the history of the Spiritualist movement.
Steve Hockensmith's "Excerpts from an Unpublished Memoir Found in the Basement of the Home for Retired Actors" is a delight, both for the ridiculously self-important voice of its narrator and the its evocative descriptions of The Whelp (that is, a young Sherlock Holmes, "treading the boards" as a company player in the wilds of America). Great fun with lovely insights into a young but already recognizable Holmes.
Robert Pohle's "The Flowers of Utah" offers a "What if?" spin on some of the not-so-tied-up loose ends from "A Study in Scarlet," but it thinks it's cleverer than it is, and the payoff from the "infodump" doesn't justify abandoning the rest of the story as Pohle does. This fell rather flat for me, the first disappointment of a volume that's otherwise been excellent.
Loren D. Estleman's "The Adventure of the Coughing Dentist" has Holmes and Watson working with Wyatt Earp to prove Doc Holliday innocent of false charges of murder before he's lynched. The character voices are wonderful here, as is the portrait of the still young and growing friendship between Holmes and Watson.
Victoria Thompson in "The Minister's Missing Daughter" provides a mystery that's quite easily solved, but that's rather the point, as the community's and family's general assumptions about an exploited wallflower of a girl have blinded everyone from seeing the obvious truth about her fate. This is not a standout story, but it has its own quiet charm.
"The Case of Colonel Crockett's Violin" by Gillian Linscott is a story about Holmes and Watson in San Antonio determining which, among a field of several choices, is the authentic violin owned by Davy Crockett and rescued from the Alamo. A solid effort.
Bill Crider's "The Adventure of the White City" needed to be about twice as long as it is to do justice to its ambitious premise (mixing the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Wovoka, and the Ghost Dance). Although it felt rushed and very thin in patches, the main theme was more than worthy, and I appreciate the thought behind the not-quite-fully-realized story.
In "Recalled to Life," Paula Cohen offers a story from the Great Hiatus in which Holmes saves the career of a framed former New York detective. A very satisfying story and a compelling original character.
Daniel Stashower's "The Seven Walnuts" shows a Holmes-obsessed Harry Houdini and his brother employing the Great Detective's methods to solve a local mystery after Holmes's "death." Clever, but I missed Holmes and Watson.
Matthew Pearl's "The Adventure of the Boston Dromio" is a very satisfying and complex mystery showing Holmes at the height of his deductive powers as he helps Watson save the man who once saved Watson's life. Quite well done.
Carolyn Wheat's "The Case of the Royal Queens" is another good mystery, and it offers glimpses into both Holmes's past and his future life with bees. A solid and wryly told tale.
The May-December romance for Sherlock Holmes in Michael Breathnach's "The Song at Twilight" is a bit odd and not entirely convincing, but I do appreciate how the story fits into the canon of THE VALLEY OF FEAR and "His Last Bow," and how it underscores the manner in which sovereign, country, and his brother all manipulate the aging and supposedly retired Sherlock Holmes.
Michael Walsh's essay is somewhat suggestive, if not persuasive, although I don't see how its theme (of anti-Hibernian sentiment in the canon) fits that of this volume. Christopher Redmond's piece on Doyle's travels in the United States is more descriptive than analytical, but it adds useful context to the focus of the collection. It's lovely that this volume ends with Conan Doyle's own comments on "The Romance of America."
While the delivery was somewhat excruciating to endure, the content of Ned Blackhawk's survey (from the pre-Columbian era through the beginning of the Obama administration) was mostly solid. A few of his choices confounded me - for example, spending significant time on Mark Twain (?) while never even mentioning Tecumseh and his pan-tribal alliance or key role in the War of 1812 - but on the whole Blackhawk condensed a great deal of history into a streamlined and fairly audience-friendly narrative. His discussion is particularly strong when dealing with the important court cases and legal precedents that shaped U.S. American Indian policy, and those sections alone made me glad I invested time in this, despite its other shortcomings.
A riveting true crime story that vividly recounts the birth of modern forensics.
At the end of the nineteenth century, serial murderer Joseph Vacher, known and feared as “The Killer of Little Shepherds,” terrorized the French countryside. He eluded authorities for years—until he ran up against prosecutor Emile Fourquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, the era’s most renowned criminologist. The two men—intelligent and bold—typified the Belle Époque, a period of immense scientific achievement and fascination with science’s promise to reveal the secrets of the human condition.
With high drama and stunning detail, Douglas Starr revisits Vacher’s infamous crime wave, interweaving the story of how Lacassagne and his colleagues were developing forensic science as we know it. We see one of the earliest uses of criminal profiling, as Fourquet painstakingly collects eyewitness accounts and constructs a map of Vacher’s crimes. We follow the tense and exciting events leading to the murderer’s arrest. And we witness the twists and turns of the trial, celebrated in its day. In an attempt to disprove Vacher’s defense by reason of insanity, Fourquet recruits Lacassagne, who in the previous decades had revolutionized criminal science by refining the use of blood-spatter evidence, systematizing the autopsy, and doing groundbreaking research in psychology. Lacassagne’s efforts lead to a gripping courtroom denouement.
The Killer of Little Shepherds is an important contribution to the history of criminal justice, impressively researched and thrillingly told.
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