Professor Brand has apparently written a biography of Franklin and it might be a better listen than this lecture. Brand does occasionally lose track of his material and take unnecessary discursions. Nonetheless, he has command of the facts and real enthusiasm for his subject. Brand just plain likes Franklin and his regard is infectious. I knew very little about Franklin and enjoyed having my preconceptions destroyed. This is not one of the great biographies; it is simply too short. But it is a great introduction to a fascinating man. If you?re curious about the guy on the $50 bill, give this one a try.
In Book 2 of The Baroque Cycle is set in the same time period as Book 1, but concerns an entirely different set of characters and wholly different viewpoint than Book 1. The protagonist is Jack, a vagabond, a perfect rouge who could only be compared to the likes of Falstaff or Harry Flashman. Jack sees an entirely different view of the late 17th century than that provided by the moneyed, puritan of Book 1. This is a London where enterprising young boys can make money by clinging to the legs of hanging men (to hasten their deaths), a Paris where the rat catcher is a man of great influence and an Amsterdam so incredibly rich and free from petty corruption that a man like Jack can hardly find a place for himself. This is a viewpoint rarely found in historical novels, that of the least regarded, the poor, peasants, vagabonds, wretches, slaves, and prostitutes. In this book, Stephenson also introduces his most compelling female character. An intelligent, capable and witty young woman, sold into slavery at a young age and determined to both succeed and to gain her revenge. This volume is much more focused on fun, adventure and humor than Book 1. Nonetheless it is brimming with descriptions of the social, political, religious and commercial changes that were transforming Europe at that time.
I strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Stephenson or good historical novels.
I rarely write reviews, but this situation seems to demand it. I am amazed at both how few reviews have been posted and how many have been negative. It is not surprising that some did not enjoy Quicksilver, but where are the reviews from those that did? It is hard to believe that this rich, original and quirky book has not found an extensive audience.
Strictly speaking this is a "secret history". That is, it faithfully covers a historical period but creates characters and events that fit neatly in the cracks between what is known and what is not about this period. Into these cracks, Stephenson inserts Daniel Waterhouse, a fiction college mate of Newton and early member of the Royal Society. He is a puritan, a member of sect at the fringe of English society. Through his eyes we receive an intelligent and intimate understanding of his time--a time when culture, science, religion and commerce where changing radically--were becoming modern.
This might sound dry, but it is not. It is the coming of age story of man in the Restoration Court of Charles I. It is filled action including one of the most perfectly described pirate battles I have ever encountered. It has a cast of compelling characters, both real and imagined; scientists, both mad and brilliant. Running though all is a vein of wit and often hysterical humor. The prose itself is first-rate, far better than we have the right to expect in a historical novel. Add to all of this an excellent narrator with a perfect ear and voice for the accents and cadences of the time.
If you enjoy Stephenson or a well written historical novel, you should not miss this. By the way, Quicksilver is the first of several volumes in the Baroque Cycle. I have only read the second book, but I can already guarantee that there is much more to look forward to.
It is hard to believe that this was written by the same Dan Simmons who created Drood, The Terror, The Black Hills and the Hyperion series.
Most of his recent historical, horrorhh; novels such as Drood and Black Hills have been extraordinary. This makes Children of the Night; that much more hard to accept. Unlike his other work, Children is derivative and uninteresting. The story is not intrinsically bad. The tale of an American scientist to adopts a sick, Romanian infant and finds that the child is not only a vampire, but holds the key to curing countless diseases should keep our attention and give Simmons the canvas he needs to produce the challenging, thought-provoking that is his trademark. How it became this charmless drivel is beyond my understanding.
An accessory crime was committed by the narrator. His silly accents, inability to give most characters their own voice, and consistent mispronunciations add the final, unnecessary touch to this disaster.
This is both one of the best and one of the worst novels I have encountered. But mostly it is one of the worst.
The writing is powerful and literally visceral. There are many startlingly and original ideas. At least three of the stories are true classics, as instantly iconic as, say, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery".
"Haunted" has incredibly tight thematic unity. The anthology-within-a-novel structure is not simply a framing device. The stories illuminate the novel and the novel reinforces the stories in an ascending spiral. Unfortunately the primary theme is not especially insightful. Palahniuk is saying that there is no need for supernatural monsters since human beings are themselves capable of the most monstrous acts. While there is some truth in this, he hammers away at it with such a relentless lack of nuance that the narrative becomes grim and tedious. It also makes his characters largely undifferentiated since they are uniformly selfish, cruel, myopic and perverse.
Yes, we get it. People are bad. Really, really bad. With so much repetition, "Haunted" at times becomes merely a tour of human depravity. And this is a tour that is conducted with a great degree of relish. He lingers so long over such truly hideous scenes that you wonder if he is making a point or just enjoys nauseating the reader.
There is a lot going on in "Haunted" and it is definitely the type of book that would otherwise be worth reading several times. But I could never bring myself to read it again; it is too humorless, too glibly cynical, and far too sickening.
In 1967, Roger Zelazny wrote his masterpiece, "Lord of Light" which was followed two years later by its equal, "Creatures of Light and Darkness".
Although he was to write many excellent and challenging novels in the next twenty-eight years, he never quite reached the heights of originality of these two works. His later work is more careful, more polished and (in the case of the Amber series) more formulaic. It is all very enjoyable, but lacks the breathtaking daring of "Lord of Light" and "Creatures of Light and Darkness". Especially in "Creatures" he writes without rules. As strange as it seems, the best parallel I can draw is the films of Quentin Tarantino. In "Kill Bill" there is an extended anime sequence right smack in the middle of the movie. That should not work, but it does. In the middle of "Creatures", the narrative is suddenly carried by a lengthy poem. That works so well it is hard to imagine it written any other way.
Although less experimental than "Creatures", "Lord of Light" was very unique it its day and introduces us to many of the elements that would ensure Zelazny's lasting popularity: morally ambiguous heroes, tragically flawed villains, the problems of god-like beings, ripping, non-stop action, and shameless, beautiful prose.
I applaud Audible for bringing back this influential book and introducing it to a new audience. The narration is unfortunately mediocre. The narrator frequently steps on the best lines or mangles them with poor timing. Nonetheless, the magic shines through. I invite everyone to rediscover this amazing classic that defined the genre of Science Fantasy.
I have now listened to several selections from the Portable Professor series and I have not been too impressed. It isn?t that the selections are terrible, but mediocrity is the rule. ?To Rule Mankind? is fairly typical. It is a lot to ask anyone to survey the history of the Rome in eight hours and I didn?t expect any shattering insights. Professor Titchener does a competent job, but her tone is frequently patronizing. She is clearly unaccustomed to reaching a mass audience and feels the need to ?talk down? and make the material accessible.
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