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Narrator lacks insight

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

Reviewed: 03-05-19

I sought out this book after having listened to Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, narrated by the great George Guidall. In it, the author, Aaron Lansky, says that of all the Yiddish books, the members of his organization agree that this book is probably the most deserving of a wide audience. As you may know, Fiddler on the Roof was based on these stories.

I found two version of this book on Audible. This one, narrated by Neville Jason, was the longer of the two, and the sound quality on the samples was a bit better than the other, narrated by Theodore Bikel, so I selected this first. Unfortunately, Jason plays Tevye as a continually self-mocking, mostly fatalistic schlmozzle, and lacks insight and subtlety in the reading. Almost all the text, with the exception of a few passages, is read in the way that Jackie Mason delivers a one-liner, with the rise in intonation at the end that says, "Can you believe it."

The stories are still so good, and so moving, that the book is not terrible, but they were also so good that I wanted better narration and so got the version narrated by Bikel (titled Tevye the Dairyman). The differences between the two works is vast. Bikel's Tevye is a complex, real person with deep passions, and he really communicates the sense of struggle of a 19th century Russian Jew. The two versions are simply not comparable, and Bikel's rendition is so far superior that it should be your choice.

One other things, the selection of stories presented, and the translations, are also different between the two, so if you love these stories you may want to listen to both, but be prepared to tire of this narration as it is far too sing-songy and uncoupled from character to be tolerated for long stretches.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Mundane and boring

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

Reviewed: 08-24-16

Having never read Grisham before, but being aware of his prodigious output and general popularity, I was interested to finally become acquainted with his work. I was truly shocked at how relentlessly uninteresting the story was, how flat and pat the characters were, and how generally pointless entire exercise was. I listened all the way to the end, expecting all along that something of interest would happen, redeeming the time I had already put in, but it just limped along and died, not with a bang but a whimper.

Great history - flat characters - ok narration

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

Reviewed: 06-26-16

I am a big fan of historical fiction. I love learning about historical events through the eyes of ordinary people who live through them. Such stories are able, when told ably, to reflect the complexity of a situation in a way that often eludes historical non-fiction, which is usually concerned only with the chain of events, and seeks to fit them into neat explanations.

Wouk is a remarkably perceptive and nuanced writer where politics, war, and strategy are concerned. The Winds of War is full of fascinating observations about the view of history and mission of each of the combatants. The book covers the interval between just before the German invasion of Poland (Sept 1939) up until the entry of the USA into the war following the Japanese attach on Pearl Harbor (Dec 1941).

The protagonist, Victor "Pug" Henry is a naval officer who serves as attache in Berlin beginning in 1939. Thanks to a tip from a German naval officer with whom he makes a friendly acquaintance, he is able to predict the Hitler-Stalin pact at a time when few if any in the US could conceive of it. This draws the attention of Franklin Roosevelt, who comes to rely on Pug Henry's to help be his eyes and ears overseas. Henry travels to England, where he has occasion to meet with Churchill, and is present for the first German bombing of England. He also serves as an informal emissary of the President in Italy, where he meets Mussolini, and in Russia, where he meets Stalin. Of course he meets Hitler in Germany on a couple of occasions, and has the opportunity to have a private meeting with him and Goering to discuss receiving another emissary of the President.

Through these experiences and through the lives of his family members who are scattered about the globe, the reader sees the war and the American experience of it through many eyes, from many perspectives. including those of the leaders of each of the combatants. One of Henry's sons marries a Jewish woman, Natalie, who does not really register her own peril as a Jew in Europe until remarkably late in the game, and whose uncle, a scholar living in Italy, is similarly myopic about his situation. This subplot is intriguing, if infuriating. Time and again Natalie heads into the heart of conflict, apparently taking for granted that her privilege will see her through, and oblivious to her recklessness.

We see how opposed to entering the war the American public was, right up until it was attacked, despite tales of atrocities in Europe, and how until that point Roosevelt had to finesse his support for Britain in the face of a hostile Congress that wanted to remain neutral. We see the careless, normative antisemitism throughout European and American society. Intriguingly, we read the fictional memoirs of a fictional German general, Armin von Roon, writing from prison after the war, about the strategy of the war from the German military perspective. He describes the beliefs of the German people, why they were so connected to Hitler and willing to follow him, and how they rationalized their atrocities as no more nor less dramatic nor objectionable than what the Americans did to its indigenous population, nor what the British did in India. These were just the things that a powerful people did to the less powerful when they wanted to grow in power and land. And von Roon also treats at length what he attributes to be Roosevelt's brilliance and ruthlessness in preparing for an outcome that would leave America the great world power and would leave Britain as its subordinate in the aftermath of the conflict.

Of course all of these points are things that we can read in drier histories. But when woven together and seen in "real time" from the perspective of people who do not know the future as they live through an unimaginable present, the result is a richer and deeper understanding not only of that time, but a new perspective on our own.

All this then makes Winds of War well worth the listen. It is perhaps asking too much of an author who covers so much ground, then, to also be able to imbue his characters with the same level of complexity and nuance with which he treats politics and strategy. The characters are, by and large, simple and uni-dimensional. They can be summarized in a sentence or two and never really transform as characters. The drama of the story comes not from the interplay of characters, but rather from the events of this most dramatic period of history. This can be forgiven I suppose, though, since what we get in return is so rich in terms of that history.

In general, then, I found the book well worth the time. The one thing that made it irritating over time was the narrator's performance of female characters. His voicing of them makes them always seem flighty and emphatic, very "Oh my!" all the time. Part of this is the writing, but the cartoonish treatment of all the women over time got on my nerves, to the point that I bought the Kindle version of the book and read through many of the sections in which women were the central characters because I just couldn't take listening to the caricatured voicing of them. This was in contrast to the voicing of the male characters, which was, by and large, pretty good, and especially good in the case of the prominent characters of history, particularly Roosevelt and Churchill.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

disappointing narration for a chandler lover

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

Reviewed: 08-04-15

i love raymond chandler's writing. i don't care that the stories are outlandish, nor even that the characterizations of women are so ridiculous and flat (though i notice it more and more over the years). i simply love his way of writing. there are a few writers you read (or listen to) just to here how they describe a scene, and for me, chandler is one of these. that appreciation for his writing craft means i can listen to or read the same story again and again with pleasure.

well, at least, i can with good narration. elliot gould's narrations of his work are pretty good, though often we end up with new york accents plastered on californians. but overall, his pacing and affect are appropriate, measured and flat. the delight in chandler is partly the laconic yet detailed eye with which he observes his scenes and characters. there is no sense of hurry, even when the action of the story is swift.

unfortunately, this is not the way ray porter has chosen to read or interpret the work. he, like too many other narrators, seems to feel an urge to impart urgency and emphasis where it does not belong. he's not the worst narrator i've heard in this regard, but because the approach is so contrary to the way i read chandler, it is jarring. he consistently needs to emphasize in passages where there should be no emphasis. he acts as though significant, important points are being made every few lines and should be punctuated, when in fact it should simply be read flat.

also unfortunately, gould appears only to have rendered abridged versions of chandler's longer works (including The Long Goodbye). so if you want the full text, it's porter or nothing. i keep trying to listen to porter's rendition, but can never make it more than about 10 min at a stretch before giving up in frustration.

listen to the sample. listen for that emphasis...it is there throughout the audiobook. if it doesn't bother you, go ahead and get it...but if you find it a little irritating in the sample, know that it doesn't go away and the irritation will increase. again, porter's not the worst narrator in the world, it's just that his take on Marlowe doesn't match mine, or gould's, or robert mitchum's, for that matter. porter's Marlowe is tense, emphatic and pointed. the others' marlowe is laconic, relaxed, understated.

I listen again and again

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

Reviewed: 06-26-15

This is a book that is good for the soul. The most beloved audiobook and my more than 200 book library. Get it listen to it share it with others.

disliked narration, narrative lacks structure

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

Reviewed: 06-24-15

it is hard to follow this narrative in written form. the different people of bolivars life come and go, and there is an almost random mixing of broad events and personal events. the word morass comes to mind. also, it is very hard to mark the passage of time in the narrative. perhaps the book is better when read than when listened to, but i am giving up after about 6 hours of listening (out of about 20). this is due to a combination of issues with the way the narrative jumps around, and my growing irritation with the narrator, who is very good with the pronunciation of the spanish names, and very bad at almost everything else. he reads with the cadence of one reading aloud a primer for small (and possibly learning disabled) children. the cadence does not typically relate to the content.

because i am very interested in the topic, i am switching to the book, The Bolivarian Revolution, apparently written by Bolivar and Hugo Chavez (which is interesting in and of itself). in listening to the excerpt, i find the narration much better, and at least from the excerpt, the content seems consistent with what is in this book.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

A most important book, well-read

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

Reviewed: 09-19-13

What did you like best about this story?

Many of us know pieces of the story of the restructuring of the American economy over the past several decades, as well as various sordid details of the recent financial crisis. Hedrick Smith, in this well-researched and clearly narrated book, puts what for most of us are pieces of the puzzle together in such a way that we see clearly the underlying pattern. And seeing it in its full extent is indeed dramatic. Seeing such a pattern is a critical step in beginning the long, arduous, but necessary process of reversing the trends that have drained the wealth of the American middle class.

I think this may be the most important book I have read in years, and recommend it without reservation.

can't stand the sing-song sighing narrator

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
1 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-11-13

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

i regret having purchased this audiobook...i listened to the preview and though i didn't like the narration i was so interested in this classic work that i thought i could overlook it. i was wrong. Brick is one of those narrators constantly inserting himself and his style into the reading so obtrusively that it is distracting. he has a sing-song cadence, and a kind of vague sighing style that is hugely irritating, and gets more so with time. almost like he is relating something with an ongoing sense of vague regret and superciliousness.

i finally got to the point, after only a short while, that i just couldn't stand it any more and decided to read the book instead. i with there were other readings of this series as i would very much enjoy listening to it, but not with this narrator.

obviously, this is a highly subjective judgment and others may enjoy the reading. but listen closely to the sample and if you find yourself finding the reading a bit intrusive, just know that that sense is likely to grow, not diminsh, as you listen to the book.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Scott Brick?

simon vance would have been good.

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

just horrible narration - intolerable

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

Reviewed: 05-28-13

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

a decent narrator

What did you like best about this story?

the action and the humor

Would you be willing to try another one of Frederick Davidson’s performances?

never. the worst narrator i have ever suffered through. seems to have no other "voice" than that of what he imagines a perpetually bored aristocrat might choke out.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

frustration at the horrible narration

Any additional comments?

i listen to a lot of audiobooks. a lot. sometimes i don't finish because the content isn't worth the time. in this case, the content is quite good, and moves with pace. but the narration was so bad i finally gave up. i just couldn't stand listening to the narrator behave as though every voice in the story were a bored aristocrat. all the dialogue is overwrought, and even very funny scenes are flattened by the reading. since i could not find another version, i have switched to reading the book. all the other books in the D'Artagnan series are available narrated by simon vance, who is one of the best, and was indeed the reason i started the series - with The Three Musketeers. i enjoy vance's reading quite a lot and often buy audiobooks i would not otherwise due to his narration. i therefore bought all the books in the D'Artagnan series narrated by vance, without realizing that Twenty Years After is the second in the series, and if one skips it one is lost in much of the story that follows. as a result, i put up with davidson's narration as long as i could, and managed to get through the first third, at which point i gave up and am reading it instead.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

aggravating narration

Overall
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-19-10

i've only managed to get through two chapters of the book so far, so anything said here is based on a limited sample. that said, the reason for the slow progress is bad narration. i always listen to the clips of a book before making a decision on whether to buy it because i am quite sensitive to the quality of the narration. there are a couple of books i would dearly love to have audio versions of, but the narration is so intrusive that i can't buy them (for any who are familiar, the reader Stephen Hoye is a particularly glaring example of a bad narrator). the clip provided for Freefall provides no clue of how the narrator overacts and belabors simple points. through two chapters, the book is mainly a scold, providing little to no data to support the claims, but rather giving a schematic overview, along with a number of value judgments. i happen to agree with much of Stiglitz' analysis, but so far, i've learned nothing of value. worse, the narration is like a cranky grandfather wagging his finger and slowing down ... to... make... each...significant.......point, or gesticulating (aurally) urgently about a fairly straightforward idea. it's incredibly aggravating and distracting narration. i wish narrators would stay out of the way in expository works, and let the words speak for themselves. subtle intonation is fine, but this kind of narration is not.

all that said, because of my respect for dr. stiglitz, i intend to keep slogging through the schematic opening section to try to get to the detailed analysis. i will make one critique here, though, of his position. he argues that many of the policies adopted failed to serve their stated goals. to my mind, the policies and actions that led to the financial meltdown were not failures, they were successes. they succeeded in transferring massive wealth to the financial engineers, and away from everyone else. and i believe that that was their purpose.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful