I'm a molecular biologist by profession, so I thought it would be fun to listen to what is widely considered THE foundational work of modern biology. While interesting for me from a historical standpoint—it's truly breathtaking how complete a conceptual framework the Origin provided more than a century and a half ago, and how thoroughly Darwin anticipated and refuted the possible objections to his theory—unless you really want to hear all of the examples Mr. Darwin deploys to buttress his theory of natural selection, I would recommend a more recent treatment of the topic. Or listen through an abridged edition of The Origin of Species, such as the one narrated by Richard Dawkins. The language is, in most places, exceptionally dry, and the narrator doesn't do the material any favors. However, it is one of the great achievements of human reason, so if you are patient and able to pay close attention to the dense language, this will ultimately be worth your time.
This book provides a comprehensive overview of US history from the end of the War of 1812 to just after the admission of California to the Union. The ebb and flow of politics provides the main narrative framework for the book, into which Howe weaves detailed discussions of the competing social, economic, religious and technological forces that slowly transformed the coastal states of the founders into a continent-spanning empire riven by internal disputes that would erupt in the Civil War and reverberate for more than a century after. Howe makes the entire era come alive by drawing on a wide variety of primary sources, from census data to the writings contemporary diarists and newspaper accounts, and incorporating many engaging quotes.
This would be a perfect listen for an avid student of American history, since it covers a frequently overlooked period (overlooked, I would add, for reasons which Howe discusses at length towards the end of the book) were it not for the truly horrible quality of the recording. The narrator is overall quite good, but the editing is probably among the worst I have ever encountered. There are noticeable jumps in audio quality and speed throughout, sometimes even within the same sentence. These imperfections are substantial enough that at times I found myself listening more to the atrocious mixing than the actual content, which was a shame.
Scholarship aside, and I found the content of the book by and large interesting, I could simply not get over the naration, which I found hideous. Every sentence is spoken with bombastic gravitas in an comically Churchillian style. Furthermore, the producers employed tawdry "special effects" for every primary quote, drenching Charlton Griffin's voice with entirely unecessary reverb. The first time he read a passage from the Bible, I thought it was somewhat amusing, but after the third or fourth quote I found the cheap theatrics distracting to the point of infuriating. Regarding the "bias" many listeners found in the book, it's worth keeping in mind that the authors (Crane Brinton for example) were products of Oxford in the 1920s, and thus reflect the best and worst of British imperial scholarship...
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