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  • The Tangled Tree

  • A Radical New History of Life
  • By: David Quammen
  • Narrated by: Jacques Roy
  • Length: 13 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 475
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 436
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 433

In the mid-1970s, scientists began using DNA sequences to reexamine the history of all life. Perhaps the most startling discovery to come out of this new field is horizontal gene transfer (HGT), or the movement of genes across species lines. For instance, we now know that roughly eight percent of the human genome arrived not through traditional inheritance from directly ancestral forms, but sideways by viral infection - a type of HGT. In The Tangled Tree David Quammen chronicles these discoveries through the lives of the researchers who made them.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Quammen at his usual best

  • By JohnS on 08-23-18

Very Enjoyable and Readable

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-18-18

This book provides an extremely interesting, enjoyable, and readable overview of the history of the theory of evolution, from Darwin and before, up to the most current ideas. The central figure in the book is Carl Woese, who discovered Archaea, and there are also many engaging mini-biographies of other important figures (Charles Darwin, of course, but also Ernst Haeckel, Lynn Margulis, Ford Doolittle, and several others), and explanations of their contributions to the science.

The author explains a lot about biology, and cellular biology in particular, in support of the author’s central thesis; that different forms of life are far more interrelated that we realized just a few decades ago (hence the name of the book). This greater degree of interrelation arises because of Horizontal Gene Transfer (“HGT”), by which means living organisms can transfer their genes to organisms in other species or even other kingdoms or domains. The transplanted genes might not have any impact on the new host, or they might be harmful, or they might be beneficial. An example of the latter category is the gene that enables mammals to develop placentas.

The author also explains a great deal about cellular biology, with clear explanations of how scientists painstakingly figured out how cells work, from the first observations of bacteria in the 1600s, to the functions of ribosomes and DNA, to Carl Woese’s discovery of archaea, and, ultimately, to the importance of Horizontal Gene Transfer in both evolution and medicine.

In addition to the science, the book goes into conflicts between scientists with different points of view, or scientists who agree on the science but disagree about who should get credit, and the importance of getting credit for grant applications and tenure awards. As an outsider, I found this insight into the human side of the scientific community fascinating.

I come at the subject of evolution from the Intelligent Design point of view (though I am a Christian, I don’t believe that science supports a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis). One of the things I found refreshing about this book is that it didn’t contain attacks on people like me who believe that evolution could only make sense if it was intelligently guided.

I won’t lie about the science; at times, it got pretty dense. But the author does a good job of explaining the science in an understandable way, and I was able to get the important concepts, though I have no science background.

I purchased and listened to the audiobook. The narrator did a fantastic job – his pacing and enunciation were terrific, and his voice was very pleasant.

This book is highly recommended.

51 of 55 people found this review helpful

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

  • By: Barbara Robinson
  • Narrated by: C. J. Critt
  • Length: 1 hr and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 717
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 621
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 624

The six Herdman children are “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world”. They lie and steal and smoke cigars. They even burned down Fred Shoemaker’s old toolhouse. Now they’re taking over the Christmas pageant. The Herdmans have never heard the Christmas story before, and they don’t know anything about shepherds or Wise Men. When Imogene hears about the swaddling clothes, she demands to know why anyone would tie up a baby and put him in a feedbox.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Wonderful Christmas Story -

  • By Mary on 12-24-12

A Christmas Story the Whole Family Can Enjoy!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-10-17

Modern Christmas stories that are targeted to adults are almost always romances set at Christmas time, so these would not appeal to most children. Modern Christmas stories targeting the young are not usually stories that adults would enjoy reading on their own. So the ability of Barbara Robinson’s 1972 classic "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" to be read with enjoyment by readers of any age is certainly one of the reasons for its enduring and well-deserved popularity. Another reason is the story’s wonderful humor that arises from the situations the story puts its characters in; it is humor that is integral to the story. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever also has characters we already know before we start reading it: the woman who volunteers to run everything and doesn’t want to cede her territory, the overly prim and proper schoolgirl, and a family of unmanageable kids.

Okay, you’ve probably never met any family quite like the Herdmans, but you’ll love meeting them in this book, and seeing how their first interaction with the Christmas story brings about small but very meaningful and believable changes. My favorite part of the book is all the questions the Herdman children have about the Christmas story, and how Mrs. Brady answers them.

C.J. Critt, does a wonderful job of narration, she is a perfect fit for this story. This would make a great story to listen to on a family car ride during the holiday season.

I would love one day for my own Christmas story "Back To Christmas" to have anything like the success and impact of Ms. Robinson’s classic.

  • The Man Who Invented Christmas

  • How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits
  • By: Les Standiford
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Davis
  • Length: 5 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 143
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 135
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 137

Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist. The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Beautifully Told!

  • By JodyB on 12-01-17

If you love A Christmas Carol, get this book

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-11-17

Anyone who loves Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (and who doesn't?) should read this book; The Man Who Invented Christmas will help its reader understand Dickens’ condition at the time he wrote the story, and the challenges he faced in getting it written at all, let alone in the few weeks he had to finish the project before the Christmas season passed him by.

But The Man Who Invented Christmas is much more than a book about a book. Instead, it is best understood as an excellent short biography of Dickens and an explanation of his times and the impact of his work, with a special focus on A Christmas Carol. There is also a good deal of information about the history of Christmas, which Mr. Standiford provides to show how Dickens' book revived the season's celebration.

As I wrote my own Christmas story, Back to Christmas, I read and listened to A Christmas Carol more than a dozen times. But after listening to Mr. Standiford’s excellent book, I feel like I understand Dickens' story better than ever before.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Turning Points in Middle Eastern History

  • By: Eamonn Gearon, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Eamonn Gearon
  • Length: 18 hrs and 6 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,142
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,038
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,031

The Middle East is a critically important area of our world. And, with its current prominence in international affairs, media images of the Middle East reach us on a daily basis. Much media coverage, however, is incomplete at best, failing to take account of either the complexities or the historical background of this pivotal region. For most of us, the real story of the Middle East remains untold. What made this crucial geopolitical area what it is today?

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Closest thing the GC has to a study of Ottomans

  • By L. Ritchie on 03-24-16

Great Way to Learn the History of the Middle East

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-20-16

If you could sum up Turning Points in Middle Eastern History in three words, what would they be?

Fascinating, relevant, important

What did you like best about this story?

The format of the book – thirty-six independent lectures – works very well for helping the listener retain the information. You can listen to any lecture independently of the others, because the author doesn’t make references, even to material covered in previous lectures, without explanation. And every single subject covered was fascinating.

What about Professor Eamonn Gearon’s performance did you like?

Some people might be bothered by his somewhat lilting pronunciation but I was not. But you should definitely listen to a sample of the narration before you buy the book to make sure you will be comfortable with it because his pronunciation is so unusual compared to professional narrators.

Any additional comments?

This is an outstanding course for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the history of the Middle East from the Mohammed’s first vision (610) to the end of the Ottoman Empire (1924) and Ottoman Caliphate (1925). The eighteen hours flew by. Highly recommended.

  • Empires of the Sea

  • The Contest for the Center of the World
  • By: Roger Crowley
  • Narrated by: John Lee
  • Length: 11 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 780
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 550
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 552

Empires of the Sea tells the story of the 50-year world war between Islam and Christianity for the Mediterranean: one of the fiercest and most influential contests in European history. It traces events from the appearance on the world stage of Suleiman the Magnificent through "the years of devastation" when it seemed possible that Islam might master the whole sea, to the final brief flourishing of a united Christendom in 1571.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Brilliant detail, exciting story

  • By Tad Davis on 08-17-08

Thoroughly enjoyable

Overall
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-30-08

This was an absolutely wonderful book, exciting, informative, and important. It gives the reader an understanding of the struggle between Islam, under the Ottoman Turks at the height of their power, and the Catholic Christians, led primarily by the Hapsburgs of Spain, the Pope, and the Venetians.

The depictions of the battles are as evocative of the horror of war as any I have ever heard; the incredible tenacity and purpose of the Turks, the astounding resilience of the Christians, both sides calling with equal fervor on the Lord for his favor in battle; suffering, bravery and brutality all around. The book also contains stories of many men whose names I had never before heard, but whose actions had an impact on history that lasts to this day.

Some listeners may feel that, at times, the book goes into too much detail, though I did not. The reader was clear and easy to understand, well matched to the material.

22 of 22 people found this review helpful