LISTENER

Tad Davis

  • 394
  • reviews
  • 6,307
  • helpful votes
  • 1,930
  • ratings
  • The Plague

  • By: Albert Camus
  • Narrated by: James Jenner
  • Length: 10 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 674
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 516
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 525

In the small coastal city of Oran, Algeria, rats begin rising up from the filth, only to die as bloody heaps in the streets. Shortly after, an outbreak of the bubonic plague erupts and envelops the human population. Albert Camus' The Plague is a brilliant and haunting rendering of human perseverance and futility in the face of a relentless terror born of nature.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Translator Please!

  • By Plain English on 06-04-11

Disappointing

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

Reviewed: 01-17-19

I missed the boat on this one. I know many people who admire this novel, and one member of my family was profoundly moved by it. But somehow I wasn't able to connect with it.

After several striking scenes in the beginning, the book settles down into a glacial pace. There are a number of key characters in the story, and their viewpoints are effectively represented, but there's no real conflict. Everybody works together to get through the terrible calamity of bubonic plague — evolving later into the far more deadly and contagious pneumonic plague. The city is blocked off from the outside world in an effort to contain the epidemic. The death toll rises; every man — and they are all men — sucks it up and keeps working stoically.

And eventually the plague dies down, goes back into hibernation, and the city is reopened. Nobody knows why the plague erupted; nobody knows why it went away. There's a philosophical point to be made here, but I didn't find the story compelling enough to connect the dots.

James Jenner is an OK narrator, though his very American voice (certainly at least North American) doesn't mix well with the European ambience of the story. (It takes place in North Africa, but it's a French colony, and virtually everyone in the novel is French.) Some of his characters sound like they would feel at home in a Dashiell Hammett story.

It just didn't work for me.

  • The Second World War

  • By: Antony Beevor
  • Narrated by: Sean Barrett
  • Length: 39 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 843
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 762
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 759

Over the past two decades, Antony Beevor has established himself as one of the world's premier historians of World War II. His multi-award winning books have included Stalingrad and The Fall of Berlin 1945. Now, in his newest and most ambitious book, he turns his focus to one of the bloodiest and most tragic events of the twentieth century, The Second World War. Thrillingly written and brilliantly researched, Beevor's provocative account is destined to become the definitive work on World War II.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • It Fills in Gaps I Didn't Know Existed

  • By DJM on 07-31-12

Amazing

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

Reviewed: 01-09-19

I came late to the study of World War II. Prior to this, the only thing I'd read on the subject was Andrew Roberts’ book The Storm of War. (I've also used The Historical Atlas of World War II as a reference point.) In some ways that was more clearly organized. But Beevor’s book has a somewhat broader scope and is significantly more detailed when it comes to describing the experiences of people on the ground. It is a well-written and deeply moving narrative. Beevor’s descriptions of Stalingrad, Budapest, and Berlin are devastating.

Both books are useful correctives to the kind of America-centric history I got in high school and college. Who paid the highest price for victory? The USSR, hands down. (On the other hand, while the US casualties in the Pacific were a fraction of the deaths sustained by the USSR, both books tend to shortchange this part of the story.)

If you want to convey events that are tragic and weighty, Sean Barrett’s voice is the one you want: deep, compassionate, and unflinching. Of the two books, this would have to be the one I would recommend if you're only going to read one.

(By the way, both would benefit from a PDF download including the maps and other illustrations from the print editions.)

  • The Beautiful and Damned

  • By: F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Narrated by: William Dufris
  • Length: 13 hrs and 1 min
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 356
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 252
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 258

Published in 1922, Fitzgerald's second novel chronicles the relationship of Anthony Patch, Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete, and his beautiful wife, Gloria, as they await to inherit his grandfather's fortune. A devastating satire of the nouveaux rich and New York's nightlife, of reckless ambition and squandered talent, it is also a shattering portrait of a marriage fueled by alcohol and wasted by wealth. The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald wrote to Zelda in 1930, "was all true."

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • i loved it

  • By Emily on 01-20-05

Wonderful

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

Reviewed: 01-04-19

William Dufris gives a wonderful, and to my mind almost perfect, reading of this tragic, and to my mind almost perfect, novel by F Scott Fitzgerald. Every character has a distinctive voice, and coming to the recording as I did with no prior knowledge of the novel, each voice seemed to fit like a glove.

The style of the novel is similar to that of This Side of Paradise. There is a mixture of straight narrative with scripted dialogue, the narrative switching point of view and going from past to present tense as the story requires. The dialogue is razor sharp and utterly convincing.

Is it autobiographical? I don't know enough about Fitzgerald to say. It seems to me it would be hard for someone to consume the gargantuan quantities of alcohol described in the book and still be able to create a work of art of such depth.

I took the novel on as an “assignment” (I often give myself reading assignments), but I found myself captivated by the characters and the world they were trying to inhabit - and by William Dufris’ voice.

  • The Republic for Which It Stands

  • The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896
  • By: Richard White
  • Narrated by: Noah Michael Levine
  • Length: 34 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 82
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 77
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 76

At the end of the Civil War the leaders and citizens of the victorious North envisioned the country's future as a free-labor republic, with a homogenous citizenry, both black and white. The South and West were to be reconstructed in the image of the North. Thirty years later Americans occupied an unimagined world. The unity that the Civil War supposedly secured had proved ephemeral. The country was larger, richer, and more extensive but also more diverse.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Be wary of narrator

  • By Kate on 05-25-18

Outstanding

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

Reviewed: 12-30-18

I have some bones to pick with White about his treatment of Ulysses Grant. White doesn't think much of his Presidency: he seems to be in line with the William McFeely school of thought on this, rather than the more recent views of Ron Chernow (and Ronald White and HW Brands), which are far more sympathetic.

But it would be hard to imagine a more gracefully written, analytically elegant, and detail-studded account of the period than this one. White uses the concept of “home” as a unifying theme: the idea of a nuclear family, with the mother managing home and children and the father supporting and protecting all, served as an ideal across racial and economic lines. “Capital” is another theme, more loosely organized, and White gives a vivid account of this new driving force and the way it used and corrupted the workings of democracy.

Noah Michael Levine does an excellent job with the narration, matching White’s pace and keeping the details flowing. His narration is so good that I *almost* listened to the full two-hour-long bibliographic essay that closes the audiobook.

This is without question one of the finest entries in the Oxford History of the United States series, both as book and as audiobook.

  • Reconstruction

  • America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877
  • By: Eric Foner
  • Narrated by: Norman Dietz
  • Length: 30 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 187
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 170
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 165

The period following the Civil War was one of the most controversial eras in American history. This comprehensive account of the period captures the drama of those turbulent years that played such an important role in shaping modern America.

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Outdated edition!!

  • By Bruce on 11-02-17

Eye-opening

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

Reviewed: 12-23-18

Foner’s account of Reconstruction is a detailed analysis of events beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and ending with the election of James Garfield in 1876. It’s full of surprises, especially for someone like me who grew up in the South with tales of vicious carpetbaggers and scalawags and black-majority legislatures that resembled minstrel shows. Simply put, we were lied to.

As Foner makes clear, slaves in the South did what they could to assume control of their own lives even before the Union armies gave them a place of refuge. The Reconstruction legislatures that rewrote state constitutions were, even when dominated by newly enfranchised blacks, conventional bodies that engaged in dignified, serious debate. (Anyone who doubts this should spend some time reading transcripts of the 1868 South Carolina constitutional debates.) Their goals included black suffrage, hospitals for all, universal access to public facilities and the courts, and universal public education. For that, the leaders were defamed, terrorized, and sometimes murdered.

The scale of white Southern violence against freed slaves was appalling. In one incident, white supremacists broke through windows of a building where black leaders were meeting and opened fire, killing dozens. In another, a small town was decimated and its leaders hung from nearby trees. Women were raped, men were castrated, babies had their brains dashed out on rocks. The Klan began its murderous campaign against black voting rights during this period.

It was a situation that required military intervention, and at first the North supplied this. But it took only a few years for Unionists to lose interest and for the white supremacists in the Democratic Party to gain control of Congress. After the three “Reconstruction amendments” were passed and ratified, even William Lloyd Garrison believed the job was done. The troops were withdrawn, the state constitutions were rewritten to give power back to the plantation owners, and the black codes, which had held sway briefly in 1865 before Congress took over the process, were reinstated in even harsher forms.

The problem was not that Reconstruction was ill-advised. The problem was that it wasn't given a chance to work. At one time I would have said it took another hundred years to complete the job, but it's become clear in recent years that after 150 years the job is still not done. Blacks in America remain disadvantaged, ghettoized, incarcerated, and murdered at shocking rates.

Norman Dietz hasn't gotten a fair shake for his excellent job narrating this audiobook. As one example, he's been criticized for pronouncing “hegemony” with a hard G; but according to Merriam Webster, this is one of the acceptable pronunciations (although it is more typically British). In any case, his occasional mispronunciations have been exaggerated. He is an engaging narrator and is able to keep a good pace through the mass of details.

The audiobook has also been unfairly criticized for not being the most recent edition of the book, the 2014 reissue. But as with many such “revisions,” the new material consists of an additional chapter and bibliography surveying the research done since 1988, when the book first appeared. The bulk of the book remains the same as in the first edition.

  • Journal of the Plague Year

  • By: Daniel Defoe
  • Narrated by: Andrew Cullum
  • Length: 10 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 6
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5

First published in March 1722, 57 years after the event that struck more than 100,000 people, Journal of the Plague Year is a compelling portrait of life during London's horrific bubonic plague. Through the eyes of H.F. (speculated to be Defoe's uncle, Henry Foe, from whose journals the book was supposedly adapted) we witness great grief, depravity and despair: crazed sufferers roam the streets, unearthly screams resound across the city, death carts dump their grisly loads into mass graves, and quackery and skulduggery feed on fear. But there is kindness and courage too, as mutual support and caring are upheld through the worst of days.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • The novel as journalism

  • By Tad Davis on 12-22-18

The novel as journalism

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

Reviewed: 12-22-18

A Journal of the Plague Year isn't a novel in any conventional sense; it's a collection of statistics and anecdotes made by someone who identifies himself as a merchant, and who stayed behind when others fled. Defoe may have based it on a relative’s actual journal. The anecdotes are interesting, the statistics less so. What I found compelling about the book, even more than the facts it related, was the narrator's journalistic efforts to separate truth from falsehood by interviewing people and reviewing official documents. (The latter effort was frustrated by the Great Fire of London that swept through the following year and destroyed many of the city records.)

One aspect of the plague is dealt with at length. With the richest people fleeing for the country and with commerce at a standstill, hordes of the working poor lost their positions. Only an extensive effort at gathering and distributing charity saved these people from starvation. Otherwise the authorities would never have been able to keep the peace: the thousands of deserted houses would have been attacked by desperate mobs looking for plunder. As it was, masses of the poor fled the city and camped out in fields near a village, until they were chased down the road to a new one.

At one point as many as seven thousand people a week were dying of the plague - 50,000 dead in the space of two months. In another two-week period, 30,000 died. Funerals were impossible. Bodies were gathered by dead carts that made their rounds at night; the bodies were dumped into common pits. One drunken piper was picked up alive and thrown into the dead cart. At the last minute, about to be dumped into the pit, he came to and insisted he wasn't dead, and fortunately for him, he was believed.

Adding to the terror was the absence of any understanding of how the plague spread. It was known that being near someone who was infected made it more likely that you would get it. But no one knew the actual mechanism. A huge effort was made to rid the city of all dogs, cats, mice, and rats, but it appears that no one suspected the real culprit: fleas. (One theory was that the stench of death itself could spread the disease, so one defense was to carry around a pouncet box.) Churches closed down; if one person in a house caught the plague, the whole family was boarded up in the house and left to die. The streets were eerily quiet. An abandoned purse was left untouched until someone had the bright idea of igniting the purse with gunpowder and letting the coins it contained drop into a pail of water.

Ultimately the plague just burned itself out. No one knew why and most were left with only one explanation: God’s judgement had sent the plague, and God’s mercy ended it.

Andrew Cullum’s narration is well-paced and friendly. The book is a humane exploration of a time of great suffering.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Pickwick Papers

  • By: Charles Dickens
  • Narrated by: David Timson
  • Length: 32 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 204
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 185
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 187

The Pickwick Papers, Dickens's first novel, is a delightful romp through the pre-Reform Bill England of 1827. Samuel Pickwick and the rest of the Pickwickians are some of the most memorable of all Dickens's creations, and it is a joy to hear of their adventures in search of "interesting scenes and characters", and the repeated efforts of the quick-witted Sam Weller to rescue them all from disaster.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Fledgling Dickens Flaps His Wings of Future Genius

  • By Jefferson on 04-03-14

A delight

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

Reviewed: 12-17-18

One of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors, read by one of my favorite narrators. Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller are the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of 19th century English literature. A delight from start to finish.

  • Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite

  • By: Anthony Trollope
  • Narrated by: Tony Britton
  • Length: 7 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 52
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 38
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 38

On the death of his son, Sir Harry Hotspur had determined to give his property to his daughter Emily. She is beautiful and as strong-willed and high-principled as her father. Then she falls in love with the black-sheep of the family.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Sometimes a Great Fall

  • By Joseph R on 08-29-09

Sweet and sad and marred by prejudice

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

Reviewed: 10-27-18

One of the sweetest, saddest stories of Trollope that I've read. Cousin George, who is a bounder beyond redemption, convinces himself that he loves Emily, and convinces her too; but as her father Sir Harry suspects, he really just wants her money. The result destroys more than one person, emotionally if not physically. Tony Britton gives a wonderful reading.

One thing has to be said, though. One of the darkest crimes charged against George is that he’s in hock to the Jews. Were he in debt to good Anglicans, it wouldn't have been held against him, at least not to the same extent. Reading Trollope can be exasperating.

How could someone who writes such genial fiction, with such engaging characters, continually mar his writing with this ugly prejudice? It's not a question of Trollope simply being a man of his time. The same period gave birth to novels with deeply drawn, sympathetic Jewish characters: novels like Daniel Deronda and Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. Enjoying Trollope, as I do, can sometimes be a cringeworthy experience. I would have given the story 5 stars otherwise.

  • Daisy Miller

  • By: Henry James
  • Narrated by: Penelope Rawlins
  • Length: 2 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 2
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars 1

Daisy Miller is a young American girl travelling Europe with her mother and younger brother. While in Vevey, Switzerland, she becomes acquainted with Frederick Winterbourne, an idle expatriate, of well-to-do Americans. Winterbourne, who observes and critiques young Daisy through their brief acquaintanceship, is infatuated with her irreverent behavior. Daisy flaunts society's rules and uncompromising standards; she is charming, spontaneous, and unpretentious, and her audacity shocks the Europeans, who consider her an uncultivated flirt. The sophisticated Winterbourne remains smitten with Daisy, but his classical values stand in his way.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Odd story

  • By Tad Davis on 10-18-18

Odd story

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

Reviewed: 10-18-18

I’m not a great fan of Henry James, and this odd story didn’t do much to change my mind. Daisy Miller is a charming young flirt who seems oblivious to the disapproval her “reckless” behavior evokes in others. To Daisy, the worst insult you can offer is that someone is “stiff.” She is definitely not stiff.

The impression she creates depends a lot on how old you think she is. James never says. Late teens, probably; but even at that age the interest taken in her by the 27-year-old Winterbourne is creepy. She thinks nothing of going off to visit a castle with Winterbourne and without a chaperone; or of visiting the Colosseum in Rome at midnight with an Italian gentleman - and without a chaperone. James is a closet prude, and so naturally she comes to a bad end.

Penelope Rawlins does a convincing American accent. But her voice for Daisy makes her sound 12 or 13, which makes the interest other men take in her even creepier. I don’t think that was the intended effect.

The story is, mercifully, a short one. I give it four stars mainly because of the elegance of James’s prose.

  • P. D. James BBC Radio Drama Collection

  • Seven Full-Cast Dramatisations
  • By: P. D. James
  • Narrated by: Greta Scacchi, Hugh Grant, full cast, and others
  • Length: 16 hrs and 37 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 125
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 112
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 111

Seven BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatisations of P. D. James' acclaimed mysteries, plus P. D. James in Her Own Words. This collection includes: Cover Her Face, A Taste for Death, Devices and Desires, A Certain Justice, The Private Patient, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and The Skull Beneath the Skin.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Desert Island drama

  • By Zaubermond on 02-13-18

Classy

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

Reviewed: 10-16-18

These are classy, full-on adaptations of several PD James novels: mostly Dalgliesh stories, but there are two Cordelia Greys here as well. The collection includes the story I think of as James’s masterpiece, A Taste For Death. The adaptations follow the plots of the originals closely, though POV is often changed to better meet the requirements of the medium. (Most commonly, third-person narration is changed to first-person.)

I really have only one complaint: as with many recent BBC omnibus collections, there is no index of tracks, nor is there a comprehensive list of cast members. There really should be a PDF with this information.