The Human Stain is perhaps Philip Roth's best novel. Roth has a skill for taking a snapshot of life and investigating it thoroughly without wasting words or boring the reader. The decisions people make in their lives, the outcome of the those decisions, and how the decisions impact the people around them: that is the essence of The Human Stain.
I noticed some comments about Bronson Pinchot's performance; some listeners found his reading too energetic and over-the-top. I have to disagree. For me, the story came alive and was more enjoyable because of his reading style. As for the novel itself, the characters are created so effectively they reminded me of people I once knew. The language is plain, in that mid-century American novel style that is hard to do well. The story is fantastically unexpected; dark, humorous, and entertaining.
This book has not gotten as much attention as some others, like Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, but it's a sleeper. Whether you are new to the science of evolution or, like me, revisiting it, this is essential reading. Professor Coyne does a splendid job of making the information accessible without patronizing the reader. Honestly, I read this book at a time of great personal change and it had a profound effect on me. Anyone who was once religious may understand what I mean by that. This would be a great book to give to an evolution doubter. Only the willfully blind can come away from it not understanding why evolution is true.
Christopher Hitchens was, in my opinion, one of the preeminent communicators of our time. This is an amazing book, one that strikes a perfect balance of reason, wit, honesty, and even respect, without apology.
It is possible that the author has a sharp scientific mind. He acknowledges that this work expands on ideas put forth by Dawkins and Dennett. As a formerly trying-to-be-religious person raised by fundamentalists I can say anecdotally that the comparison of religion to virus has merit. In this book the hypothesis was presented more as a metaphor; I expected it to be more science-based than it was. The author uses sciency language, but without meaty philosophical or scientific treatment the idea is reduced to hours and hours of "it spreads...just like virus," "it affects decision-making...just like a virus."
The story is amazing and would have been every bit as interesting in an audio format as it is on paper had it not been for the surprisingly unappealing performance of Michael York. I have a version of Dox Quixote he read years ago and it was terrific. This time around I found his characterizations so distracting I could hardly concentrate. Luckily this book is one I had already read a few times--I didn't feel as guilty about not finishing the audio book.
I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from this book. I think I expected to read something relevant to my life experience. Introverts come in many packages and have varied traits and skills. After the first few chapters the author seemed to focus on her particular brand of introversion, emphasizing qualities like sensitivity, empathy, being soft-spoken, slow and deliberate thinking, and even mentioned her own tendency to cry when she sees something that stirs her emotions. Now, I can't be the only introvert out there who is not particularly sensitive or empathetic, who does not notice many details--especially about people--because I am usually thinking of something else. I have never cried over a sad movie, but I know a lot of extroverts who cry at the drop of a hat. I found myself getting a little annoyed actually, and caught myself thinking, "No! That isn't me at all!"
She does cite a lot of research, and those parts carried some interest for a while. It often reads like the author's personal quest to achieve self awareness, and some of the examples she uses (Al Gore for one) make her political 'sensitivities' too much of a focal point for a book that should have been written to speak to introverts, not just to a certain kind of introvert.
No one should buy this book hoping to gain the kind of insight one can get from a great Myers-Briggs session, but people who share many of the author's own qualities will probably enjoy this very much. Others may not get much of out it.
I have not enjoyed a book about a president this much in years. Millard is not only a skilled researcher, she has a true gift for making a faded bit of history both fascinating and relevant.
This was not a bad book by any means, but I wouldn't say it was outstanding, either. Suspenseful crime novels tend to follow a pattern because that pattern is appealing to the reader. In this novel, what was first presented as the primary story line was abruptly resolved three quarters of the way through the book without so much as one unexpected fact, and was never referred to again. The secondary story line, at first believed to be part of the first, did not take a surprising turn but a tedious one. It did not veer shockingly, but meandered slowly through short chapters that disclosed too much too soon.
As I listened to the novel I felt anticipation, because I was waiting for an unexpected twist. Yet none of the resolutions were a surprise, and I grew impatient with the story as it threw one dramatic episode after another in front of me, seemingly to delay the conclusion of what I already knew.
As for the narrator, given the difficulty of reading a novel aloud I would give him high marks, although I did not care for the weak, whiny tone of most female and young voices.
After reading all the hype about how wonderful and atmospheric this novel is, I made it my first Audible purchase. Diane Setterfield had good intentions, inspired as she was by Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and other grand novels written in the gothic style. Alas, Ms. Setterfield is no Charlotte Bronte.
The first chapter was promising, but as it progressed the book surrendered to lazy, amateur writing. I am astonished that Setterfield's editors allowed her juvenile reliance on adverbs and redundant descriptions to pass unchanged. Chapter after chapter, I thought if I heard one more reference to something being Clean, hair being Neat, tea being Hot, someone moving Slowly, Smoothly over something else, I would tear out my own hair.
The awkward back story to the novel, that of being a twin, was portrayed with such melodrama it was impossible to take it seriously. The primary character, Margaret Lea, was so haunted by absurd images of some lost twin she never knew, every time she saw her reflection she was nearly overcome by the vapors. The book's subject of interest, Vida Winter, is described as the most successful author of her time. If that is to be believed, Ms. Winter should be capable of telling her own story in an elegant, literary style. She does not. She tells her story in the same dull order as the rest of the book.
Ms. Setterfield wanted to create a dark, gothic atmosphere. Instead, she gave us characters without depth and a setting that we can only conclude was "gray." For all her references to Jane Eyre, she could stand to read it again.
While the story itself could have been intriguing and enigmatic, the novel reads as if she was so excited about the neat story idea she came up with, she did not consider whether or not she had the skill to tell it. Perhaps with better editing and more rewrites, future Setterfield novels will live up to the hype. This one, not so much.
The narrators, on the other hand, were fantastic.
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