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Christopher

Otis, MA, United States
  • 16
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  • 491
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  • 38
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  • The Sot-Weed Factor

  • By: John Barth
  • Narrated by: Kevin Pariseau
  • Length: 41 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 183
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 153
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 156

Considered by critics to be Barth's most distinguished novel, The Sot-Weed Factor has acquired the status of a modern classic. Set in the late 1600s, it recounts the chaotic odyssey of the hapless, ungainly Ebeneezer Cooke. Cooke is sent to the New World to oversee his father's tobacco business and to record the struggles of the Maryland colony in an epic poem. On his mission, he is captured by pirates and Indians; loses his father's estate to roguish impostors; falls in love with a former prostitute; and meets a gallery of treacherous characters who continually switch identities.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • An adventure full of bawdy humour, wit and wonder

  • By Janice on 01-10-12

Perhaps less Postmodern than merely Contrived

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

Reviewed: 05-30-18

"Life is a shameless playwright," the protagonist Ebenezer Cooke is fond of saying in reference to the bewildering array of miraculous coincidences and mistaken identities that hold the plot of The Sot-Weed Factor together. But the winking irony in this – that it is in fact not life at all, but John Barth who is the "shameless" creator here – is perhaps not enough to excuse the novel's over-reliance on such contrivances. And though, in a shorter work, the fact that these devices are intended to parody the 18th century picaresque novel may make them more amusing than infuriating, in a work of such staggering proportions they simply become tedious. The joke, in short, gets old.

Fans of Sterne or Fielding may find Barth's pastiche of such writers compelling, but I came to this book as a fan of postmodern fiction, and came away disappointed. The narrative is almost relentlessly linear and chronological, always follows Ebenezer, and relies on characters telling stories to fill in past events. No postmodern puzzle-box fragmentation here. And yet it doesn't possess the greatest strengths of a traditional narrative, either: it fails to create any really sympathetic characters, or to evoke an emotional response in the reader – at least not this reader. (It is fun, for a while, to watch the buffoonish protagonist get himself into trouble, but even this pleasure wanes in a 40+ hour work.)

Nevertheless, this version of the book does possess one great merit, without which I probably wouldn't have finished it (though I love long novels). That is, the voice of Kevin Pariseau, who does a fantastic job giving unique voices and appropriate accents to an expansive cast of characters.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Rise of Rome

  • By: The Great Courses, Gregory S. Aldrete
  • Narrated by: Gregory S. Aldrete
  • Length: 12 hrs and 16 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 293
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 269
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 265

The Roman Republic is one of the most breathtaking civilizations in world history. Between roughly 500 BCE to the turn of the millennium, a modest city-state developed an innovative system of government and expanded into far-flung territories across Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. This powerful civilization inspired America's founding fathers, gifted us a blueprint for amazing engineering innovations, left a vital trove of myths, and has inspired the human imagination for 2,000 years.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Very good, but doesn't stand out

  • By Christopher on 02-08-18

Very good, but doesn't stand out

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

Reviewed: 02-08-18

This is a very solid course, and if you're new to Roman history or to The Great Courses, it would be a fine place to start.

But if you're like me – a long time fan of TGC on Audible, and something of an ancient history enthusiast – then there is not a lot here that you haven't heard already from TGC's other ancient history offerings, namely Garrett G. Fagan's excellent two-part survey course, composed of "The History of Ancient Rome" and "Emperors of Rome", and Robert Garland's course on "Daily Life in the Ancient World."

Though the focus here is on just why the Roman republic became so powerful (And it IS just about the republic – it leaves off right as Octavian/Augustus seizes power, whereas a lecture on the "Rise of Rome" really ought to take you through at least to Trajan.), it's really not much more than another (admittedly very decent) survey course of Roman history. And that's a bit of a shame, as Aldrete has written books on such specific things as Greek linen body armor and floods of the Tiber in antiquity. TGC's ancient history offerings could use more specificity of focus, and Aldrete is perfectly qualified to give that to us… But that's not what happened.

To sum up: it's a perfectly enjoyable course, but don't expect any major revelations if you're already familiar with the subject.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean

  • By: Kenneth R. Bartlett, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Kenneth R. Bartlett
  • Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 271
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 245
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 244

Take a riveting tour of the Italian peninsula, from the glittering canals of Venice to the lavish papal apartments and ancient ruins of Rome. In these 24 lectures, Professor Bartlett traces the development of the Italian city-states of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, showing how the modern nation of Italy was forged out of the rivalries, allegiances, and traditions of a vibrant and diverse people.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • European political history taken to the next level

  • By Quaker on 02-27-15

Could've Used More Culture + Color

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

Reviewed: 05-05-16

There is a lot of detailed information here, but it is very dry: old-school history focused on political and military matters – to the exclusion of all else.

Professor Bartlett has a difficult task, as Italy between the fall of Rome and the Risorgimento was divided into many states, each with their own history and identity. He chooses to organize these lectures regionally more than chronologically. This has its drawbacks: many historical figures (like the Borgias) or international events (like the Plague) appear in the narrative of multiple states, and so we hear about them again and again, but only in little snippets each time – it can be disorienting.

This approach would make much more sense if he spent any time describing the states' individual cultures – he says over and over again that they were unique, but does little to illustrate what made them distinct beyond political organization. When he does mention something cultural, it's still dry: he might say that the Sienese developed their own painting style, but not say anything about what that style was or what made it special.

The lectures are also strangely limited in chronological scope: the (500+ year!) period between the fall of Rome and the first crusade is quickly glossed over (a single lecture!), and the lectures largely stop at the 16th century, long before Italian unification.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • The Death of King Arthur

  • A New Verse Translation
  • By: Simon Armitage (translator)
  • Narrated by: Bill Wallis
  • Length: 10 hrs and 18 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 13
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 12

First appearing around 1400, The Alliterative Morte Arthur, or The Death of King Arthur, is one of the most widely beloved and spectacularly alliterative poems ever penned in Middle English. Now, from the internationally acclaimed translator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, comes this magisterial new presentation of the Arthurian tale, rendered in unflinching and gory detail. Following Arthur's bloody conquests across the cities and fields of Europe, all the way to his spectacular and even bloodier fall, this masterpiece features some of the most spellbinding and poignant passages in English poetry.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Hardcore Arthur Fans and Medievalists Will Love It

  • By Christopher on 04-14-16

Hardcore Arthur Fans and Medievalists Will Love It

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

Reviewed: 04-14-16

Probably hardcore Arthur fans and Medievalists will be the only ones seeking this out, and to them I say, "what are you waiting for?"

The really cool thing about this book that the official blurb doesn't make clear is that the 10 hour length INCLUDES BOTH THE TRANSLATION AND THE MIDDLE ENGLISH ORIGINAL, as well as some short introductory essays. That means you get to hear it first in Modern English, (It's a nice translation that preserves the alliterative verse; Middle English isn't really all that different from Modern, so the translation does much less violence to the work than a verse translation of poem in a truly foreign language.) and then in Middle English… And that's great – once you've absorbed the details of the story, you can savor the sound of the original.

Though I wouldn't know correct Middle English pronunciation from wrong, (does anyone, really?) Bill Wallis seems as fluent in Middle as Modern English, and his somewhat ragged-sounding voice suits the tone of the text perfectly.

As for the story: this is a more active, classically-heroic Arthur than you see elsewhere – he fights in the front lines and wrestles with monsters. And Mordred, though still the villain, is interestingly reluctant about it at first. Lancelot has only a very minor role. It's a strange, and somehow still fresh-feeling, take.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • The Mysterious Etruscans

  • By: Steven L. Tuck, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Steven L. Tuck
  • Length: 12 hrs and 42 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 244
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 215
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 216

How much do you know about the Etruscans? Many people, even those who are fascinated by ancient history, are less familiar with this intriguing culture than with the history of Greece and Rome - but the story of the Etruscans is equally captivating and far more important than you may have known. This ancient civilization prospered in the region of modern-day Tuscany, maintaining extensive trade networks, building impressive fortified cities, making exquisite art, and creating a culture that, while deeply connected to the Greeks and Romans, had striking contrasts.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Does What it Can with Limited Material

  • By Christopher on 02-22-16

Does What it Can with Limited Material

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

Reviewed: 02-22-16

This is a good course, bound to expand your knowledge of the Etruscans, as well as of the Romans and Greeks. But you may need to adjust your expectations to really enjoy it. As the title suggests -- and Professor Steven L. Tuck is up-front about this -- much about the Etruscans remains mysterious even to scholars.

As a people without a literature, the Etruscans didn't leave us much in the way of stories or contemporary accounts; those we do have come from biased Greek and Roman sources. Thus, scholarship leans heavily on archaeology (chiefly tomb paintings, it seems) to tell us about their culture, and Tuck does an admirable job extrapolating. The supplied PDF is useful for images, but you'll probably want to image search the various tombs mentioned for full-color photos.

Some of the most interesting info here is about cultural exchange in the ancient Mediterranean. For instance: a vast majority of the Attic vases found to date were found not in Greece but in Etruscan tombs. And many of the cultural practices we think of as quintessentially Roman (triumphal processions, gladiatorial combat) had Etruscan origins.

By no fault of Professor Tuck's, you'll walk away with only a sketchy understanding of the Etruscans… But your knowledge of the Greeks and especially the Romans will be deepened significantly.

21 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • A Brief History of Misogyny: the World's Oldest Prejudice

  • Brief Histories
  • By: Jack Holland
  • Narrated by: Cameron Stewart
  • Length: 9 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 731
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 651
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 652

In this compelling, powerful book, highly respected writer and commentator Jack Holland sets out to answer a daunting question: How do you explain the oppression and brutalization of half the world's population by the other half, throughout history? The result takes the listener on an eye-opening journey through centuries, continents, and civilizations as it looks at both historical and contemporary attitudes to women.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Unique Take on History

  • By Adaya Adler on 08-06-16

An Excellent History of a Repulsive Subject

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

Reviewed: 01-22-16

First off, this is an important book that everyone -- particularly men -- should read. It does a good job revealing the long, grizzly history of misogyny, a necessary endeavor given how often the purported inferiority of women is taken for granted even in contemporary Western culture. It is often so disturbing that I imagine it would scare a lot of casual sexists into reexamining their views, were it incorporated into, say, a high school curriculum.

There are some shortcomings. For one, any history that begins with the kindling of Western civilization and proceeds to the present in a mere 10 hours is going to be somewhat generalized at times. Some of the bits on Greek and Roman history tends to treat these as somewhat more homogenous than might a book specifically about one of those topics, for instance.

The concluding chapter may be divisive among feminist listeners because it comes down on the side of there being innate differences between men and women, and claims that to deny this is to deny part of women's humanity. Holland's justifications for this view are unsatisfying, and I question the need for such a book to espouse any opinion on this matter -- the thesis feels tacked on to what is otherwise a brilliant work of research and observation.

Excellent narration.

47 of 56 people found this review helpful

  • SPQR

  • A History of Ancient Rome
  • By: Mary Beard
  • Narrated by: Phyllida Nash
  • Length: 18 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,453
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,233
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,207

In SPQR, world-renowned classicist Mary Beard narrates the unprecedented rise of a civilization that even 2,000 years later still shapes many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, and beauty.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent Reexamination of the History of Rome

  • By Christopher on 12-17-15

Excellent Reexamination of the History of Rome

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

Reviewed: 12-17-15

Every prior reviewer of this book has called it some version of messy and disorganized. It is neither. But its approach is more interpretive than narrative, and those readers new to Roman history will likely be lost. The goals of this book seem to be, above all, to question assumptions, and to apply rigorous skepticism to the standard version of Roman history. Thus, a reader who knows the standard version will get far more out of it.
A few examples include:
-Were Hannibal's tactics at Cannae as innovative as they're cracked up to be?
-Were small farmers really a vanishing breed in the time of the Gracchi?
-Did the bad emperors (Caligula, Nero, et al.) really have much of an impact on life at Rome?
She brings to bear all sorts of new and newish research, showing her work by explaining why we know what we do, and what evidence we actually have, vs. what assumptions have been spuriously made in the past. Nothing is simply stated as fact, as in so many older accounts. This is presumably what has lead others to call it disorganized, but it is in fact the book's greatest strength.
Her examination of the legendary, or pre-historic period of Rome -- the times of Romulus and the kings, is particularly insightful: the best assessment I have read of a period at which most historians simply throw up their hands and say, "we just don't know."
All told, this may be my favorite book on Roman history… It's not for beginners, but I'd recommend it to anyone as the SECOND book on Roman history to read!

105 of 115 people found this review helpful

  • Great Mythologies of the World

  • By: The Great Courses, Grant L. Voth, Julius H. Bailey, and others
  • Narrated by: Grant L. Voth, Julius H. Bailey, Kathryn McClymond, and others
  • Length: 31 hrs and 36 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,652
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1,468
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,456

The deep-seated origins and wide-reaching lessons of ancient myths built the foundation for our modern legacies. Explore the mythologies of Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Learn what makes these stories so important, distinctive, and able to withstand the test of time. Discover how, despite geographical implausibilities, many myths from across the oceans share themes, morals, and archetypes.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • mostly awesome

  • By Dan on 03-16-16

Three Fantastic Lecturers, + one iffy one.

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

Reviewed: 12-03-15

Multi-lecturer courses are always prone to fluctuations in quality… But 3 out of 4 ain't bad!

Kathryn McClymond covers the myths of ancient Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Her lectures are fantastic, offering a good balance of storytelling and interpretation. She tells the stories, then uses them to construct a coherent cosmology of each culture, so you get a sense of their view of the real world and of the cosmos. It's also nice to have a woman's perspective on this stuff; history is still so male dominated, and she calls due attention to the sexism inherent in a lot of the myths, and what it says about the relevant culture.

After her, Julius Bailey, who covers African myths, is a letdown. African myth is a huge subject, so his task is difficult. But he chooses to organize his myths by topic, NOT by culture, so it's impossible to get that sense of a coherent cosmology for any one culture. He's also not a good orator; he trips over the emphasis of every third sentence.

Andre LaFleur's lectures on Asian and Pacific myths picks things right up again though. He provides a good balance of story and interpretation, and he steers clear of the typical pitfalls of a white guy teaching "foreign" cultures -- avoiding essentialism, or romanticizing the role of Westerners in documenting the material, for instance.

Grant Voth's lectures on Native American myths are some of the best of the pack, even though -- according to his CV in the PDF -- he doesn't seem to have any formal experience with the topic. His task is like Bailey's, but he organizes his lectures by broad regions wherein there is a common mythic tradition (with variations), and so it's possible to get a sense of each culture -- or family of cultures, if you will -- and their cosmology.

All in all, I recommend it -- you're bound to learn a lot.

234 of 248 people found this review helpful

  • Famous Romans

  • By: J. Rufus Fears, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: J. Rufus Fears
  • Length: 12 hrs and 26 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 236
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 221
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 219

These 24 lectures retell the lives of the remarkable individuals - the statesmen, thinkers, warriors, and writers - who shaped the history of the Roman Empire and, by extension, our own history and culture. Professor Fears divides his presentation into three "turning point" epochs in Roman history: Rome's war with Hannibal (the Second Punic War); Caesar and the end of the Roman Republic; and the imperial era between Augustus and Marcus Aurelius.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Professor Fears is a joy, listening to him is fun.

  • By Marc on 08-19-14

Not Enough Biography, Too General, and No Women?!

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

Reviewed: 11-12-15

These lectures purport to "retell the lives of the remarkable individuals," but they aren't really biographical... They're much more about political history -- the kind of thing you could hear about in any other source about Roman history -- and very surface level, non-rigorous political history at that. To take an example, the lecture on Hadrian mentions his lover Antinoos only once, and calls him a "beloved friend," which is just not acceptable in a biography of Hadrian.

There are also no women covered in this lecture... Not one. If this were called "Roman Emperors" that could be excused, but surely Livia is a famous Roman. Or, since there's one on Hannibal (not a Roman), one on Cleopatra would've been a great addition.

In the beginning, he's passionate enough that you get swept up and let his imprecisions slide, but even his enthusiasm wanes in the later half.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Cambodia

  • Report From a Stricken Land
  • By: Henry Kamm
  • Narrated by: Walter Dixon
  • Length: 8 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 37
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 34
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 34

Based on his observations over three decades, Henry Kamm, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Southeast Asia correspondent, unravels the complexities of Cambodia. Kamm's invaluable document - a factual and personal account of its troubled history - gives the Western listener the first clear understanding of this magic land's past and present.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A Solid Introduction, but Somewhat Dated

  • By Christopher on 04-21-15

A Solid Introduction, but Somewhat Dated

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

Reviewed: 04-21-15

This book is an engaging and informative look at Cambodia's history, which provides, at its beginning, a quick timeline of the region's pre-modern history before delving into the bloody years of the later 20th century that made the very name of Cambodia synonymous with unspeakable brutality.
The author was an NYT correspondent, and had in his youth experienced some of the Nazi terror, a fact which he mentions a few times in passing. Such an interesting perspective almost makes me wish he had abandoned some of his journalistic impartiality and brought more of himself into the story, but in general his detachment serves him well.
The book suffers a bit from the fact that it is now almost 20 years old -- it was written as a contemporary history, and thus is due for an update. It also suffers for being seemingly the only history of Cambodia available on audible, something which I hope will be rectified soon. It is a short book, and as such is not as detailed as it could be.
I don't agree with another reviewer who claims it doesn't work well as an audiobook; it works as well as any history book, and requires some concentration; I wouldn't listen to it while driving, for instance.
Walter Dixon's performance suits the tone of the writing very well. I think both would have benefitted from a bit more emotional range, but their measured and objective styles are well suited to each other.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful