Most of my time listening to this book was not well spent, since there is a lack of overall structure to the lectures. Little stories and tidbits of information were pointed out to be important without ever being given a context as to why they were important.
For example, an entire lecture is devoted to the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church and it is continually pointed out by Professor Cook that it is very important for catholics to think of them. But only at the end a context is sketched out as to why, and yet it makes very little sense. In another of the late lectures the consequences of Vatican II are adressed, but again they are merely labeled important and the listener is left hanging.I feel that a lot of this wasted time is due to the fact that Professor Cook is clearly speaking to people like himself rather than to the average listener. That is to say, he is speaking to an American Catholic who knows quite a bit about the religious institution he belongs to and can himself provide the context. More about this below.
Thus, this lecture series seems more like a commentary on the history of the Catholic Church rather than an overview, which disappointed me quite a lot.However, there were a couple of interesting little pieces of information that sparked my curiosity and the parts of Church history that I already knew a good deal about and could provide my own context for were fairly well brushed up.
There are two parts to Professor Cook's performance that I'd like to comment on: one is his use of dynamic voice and the other is his use of perspective in language.
Professor Cook clearly attempts to provide dynamism at the sentence level of his lecturing by putting the emphasis on different words throughout the sentence, making pauses and in general avoiding the monotone droning that cliché associates with lecturing. In this he succeeds, but unfortunately he does so at the cost of understanding. It is apparently randomised which words the professor chooses to put extra emphasis on, which often confuses the meaning. One could argue that this should keep the listener on his or her toes - but then it is at best a cheap trick.
What it does produce - at least in this listener - is a weariness of the rambling nature of Professor Cook's lecturing style. Coupled with the very clear perspectivism that I mention above - that of an American Catholic with a more than average involvement in his faith - the lectures were at times so idiosyncratic that I tuned out. There is only so many times one can endure alienation by the constant use of the pronoun "we" to indicate both speaker and audience as members of the Catholic faith.
I have nothing against a clear and internal perspective in lectures about institutions - but these lectures were presented as being for the general public, and it seems that Professor Cook is not really aware of the alienation he creates with his language.
To clarify: I am not offended, but it did put me off many times during the listening.
It is also worth mntioning that Professor Cook's voice is very "wet-sounding", although I adjusted to this very quickly. I would, however, recommend that you hear a sample before buying simply to check out this aspect.
I could not see a TV series based on this. There is too little narratuve structure, since the lectures bascally just detail a series of things that happen and are underlined as important without ever giving the proper context.
I listened all the way through, which may be weird when seen in concert with my comments above. I kept hoping for a betterment when the series got to the time I knew little of in Church history (Dark Ages and post-renaissance) but alas it was not forthcoming.
As mentioned, enough little tidbits of weird information was spread throughout to keep me at it, but in the end I cannot possibly recommend this lecture series.
I have already recommended this audiobook to several friends. I have done so because it is chock full of relevant information and analysis about one of the most formative events in contemporary history, and because it is narrated wonderfully.
Throughout the book this central argument bubbles beneath all of the stories and analysis: that nazi ideology and the inability of the German high command to override it was the deciding overall factor in the outcome of the war. While the narrative still gives plenty of room to descriptions of every single front in the war as well as many of the most famous people involved, it never looses sight of the overarching purpose of the book, which is to find documentation for the central argument. Still, you will find plenty of witness accounts not only from the top of the top, but often from people who have bled and suffered and died in this mind-boggingly massive conflict.
At first I had my doubts about Rodska's approach. He takes on an impressive amount of accents when reading the quotations from witnesses in the book, and what put me off was not this, but the characters he adopted when quoting the most famous people involved. His imitation of Churchill is quite good, but his Hitler seemed at first over the top. But as the narrative unfolded, it build the case that Hitler was primarily a domineering man of surprisingly little talent for such a prominent historical figure. As such the choice to voice him as an intense and dirty little man grows from being a charicature to actually illuminate the psyche of the despicable dictator.
All in all the characterisation in the quotations pays off enormously in making the very, very long text come alive with a variety that is probably harder to convey effectively in the written medium (although I have not read the book in print). So if you're having trouble with it initially, stay the course. If nothing else, the Churchill impression is a hoot.
Many moments, but let me mention two. An intellectual and an emotional.
First the intellectual moment: re-listening to the book I was startled when around the middle suddenly popped up a chapter on the Holocaust. As all the other chapters are arranged as analysis of the different fronts reviewed chronologically, this was structurally weird, since the chapter spanned the entire war. But then it dawned on me. Coming as it was halfway through, it sat beautifully as a reminder of why the seemingly indestructible nazi war machine collapsed: because of the cruel and inflexible nazi ideology epitomised in the horrors of the concentration camps and their meaningless and ressource demanding slaughter of civilians. Realising this structure was a moment of intellectual clarity that stayed with me, and made the review of the atrocities more bearable.
Then the emotional one. Soldiers marching back from the front in Russia, where the witness describing their march suddenly realises that they have no eyelids, because they have frozen off in the cold. This stark image of the scars of warfare suffered by the common soldier for a cause he has little influence on and reaps no benefit from sacrificing himself for has stayed with me ever since I first heard of it.
This is history at its finest - a faithful rendering of events that slowly build up evidence for an interpetration of the meaning of said events in a larger context. I cannot recommend this wonderful audiobook enough.
Peter Saccio unfolds an extremely varied interpretation looking both at the structure of entire plays and sometimes at single soliloquies. He has a flair for knowing the exact amount of context needed to make his point, so that he is never far from Shakespeare's text. Thoroughly recommended for people who enjoy exercising their interpretative muscles and thinking along.
That he obviously lives and breathes Shakespeare in that he has a lifelong relationship with and passion for the plays. He rarely gets pver-excited, though, and comes off as an intelligent man saying intelligent things about a subject he knows a lot about. If you yourself like or love Shakespeare this is the next best thing to discussing the text with like-minded fellows.
Be aware that not all of Shakespeare's plays are considered, although the big four tragedies, The Henriad, Richard III, Measure for Measure,The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice must be said to be a quite a representative selection.
The comprehensive overview of movie history that never loses the thread.
Realising how many classic films I want to find and watch, especially more with Alec Guiness in them.
Yes, but the narrator has a very annoying habit of making little pauses before emphasis and when titles and concepts are mentioned, which makes it sound as though the narrator is surprised by this every single. It gets very annoying, but does not stand in the way of the information - only of great enjoyment. There is also a slight tendency to a movie trailer-like sentimentality in the narration from time to time.
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