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Publisher's Summary

Histories of the book often move straight from the codex to the digital screen. Left out of that familiar account is nearly 150 years of audio recordings. Recounting the fascinating history of audio-recorded literature, Matthew Rubery traces the path of innovation from Edison's recitation of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for his tinfoil phonograph in 1877 to the first novel-length talking books made for blinded World War I veterans to today's billion-dollar audiobook industry.

The Untold Story of the Talking Book focuses on the social impact of audiobooks, not just the technological history, in telling a story of surprising and impassioned conflicts: from controversies over which books the Library of Congress selected to become talking books - yes to Kipling, no to Flaubert - to debates about what defines a reader. Delving into the vexed relationship between spoken and printed texts, Rubery argues that storytelling can be just as engaging with the ears as with the eyes and that audiobooks deserve to be taken seriously. They are not mere derivatives of printed books but their own form of entertainment.

We have come a long way from the era of sound recorded on wax cylinders, when people imagined one day hearing entire novels on mini phonographs tucked inside their hats. Rubery tells the untold story of this incredible evolution and, in doing so, breaks from convention by treating audiobooks as a distinctively modern art form that has profoundly influenced the way we read.

©2016 Matthew Rubery (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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Makes you Think about Audio Books

This is one of those books that makes you think. If you like audio books, as I do, it's stunning to learn the history of this art form.

As a member of the blind community, I am a user of the Library of Congress talking book program. But I also enjoy finding books on Audible that the Library of Congress program does not record.

I have also read books that have been recorded through both Audible and the Library of Congress. I often find that each version has its strengths and weaknesses.

The portion of this book that really stunned me was the chapters devoted to the origin of the audio books. The dreamers who predicted such technologies as the whispering machine could not have guessed that a portable media player along with a headset is fairly close to what was imagined.

The idea of professional actors narrating audio books seems to have been a common thread from the beginning of audio books until now. Many well known actors can be found narrating audio books, and others are narrated by voice talents that may not be as well known, but are very competent and capable.

The book often refers to Dickens in that section, and this prompted me to do a search for Great Expectations. That book couldn't be recorded in the early days of audio books, but today, it's possible to enjoy this book in full. I noticed several narrations of this book on Audible. Any of them would fit on a smart phone or media player with enough memory.

The rest of the book is indeed insightful. It sheds light on the issue of listening versus reading, and it does so in a way that encourages you to think about it.

If you like audio books, it's wonderful to learn about their history and think about where audio books have gone and what they can become.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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This book could have used some editing.

I found the content of this book to be quite repetitive. For example, the sections which discuss how the US and the UK tackled audio books could have easily been merged into a single chapter as they both experienced similar issue.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 07-20-17

A Historical Review of Audiobooks

I have been listening to audiobooks since the 1940s. But since about 2007 I have listened to audiobooks as my primary reading method due to vision problems. I know that audiobooks are becoming very popular so I was excited to read this book about “The Untold Story of the Talking Books”.

The book is well written and researched but is a little dry here and there as it bogged down in esoteric detail and repetition, but overall it was an interesting book. The author spends sometime on a discussion whether listening to an audiobook is really reading. He also went into what part of the brain is used if it is tactile (Braille) audio or visual reading. Rubery discusses books in various formats but spends some time on the relationship of the suburban sprawl and the rise of audiobooks with commuters. Rubery briefly reviews the history of talking books all the way back to Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. The author also covered the books for the blind both audio and Braille. Rubery spends sometime on how critical the narrator choice for the book is. He also states as the books become more popular well-known actors as well as voice- over artists have been recruited to narrate the books. At the end of the book, Rubery attempted to look into what the future of audiobooks and reading habits will be. Generally, I found the book quite interesting.

The book was eleven and a half hours long. Jim Denison does a good job narrating the book. Denison is a voice- over artist and audiobook narrator.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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An In-Depth History of Audiobooks

Would you consider the audio edition of The Untold Story of the Talking Book to be better than the print version?

I can't read the print version.

What other book might you compare The Untold Story of the Talking Book to and why?

No other book is comparable in my opinion.

What does Jim Denison bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Jim's narration enables me to focus on content more than would be possible by a non-audio format.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Appealing to the ear.

Any additional comments?

I agree with the author that it is important for audiobook publishers and listeners to learn about audiobook history. That goal can be accomplished by reading this book. Reading includes listening.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Blackmalkin
  • 10-05-17

Exceptional piece of research

A wonderful and entertaining study but, to my ears, given a flawed delivery by the narrator.