Farnborough, United Kingdom
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1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-12-17


Audible has no mechanism for reporting techniocal issues in its recordings. So I have to use this review in the hope that somebody reads it and does something to fix this one. It is not the first like this that I have found and I am sure it will not be the last. But this one just got really annoying.

The recording truncates chapter 9 of the book. I don't know how much is missing but it is enough to exclude the suicide of one of the central figures after a sex scandal and half of the dynastic implications that it caused. Annoying in itself but doubly so when the rest of the book makes continuing references to that period for which, as a listener, you have been given no information. Its a 47 hour book and about every 20 minutes for the last 37 hours of it an oblique reference is made to a conversation that you have not been allowed to hear.

The book is fine. The narrator is fine. The recording is massively frustrating and substandard. Audible needs to pay a bit more attention to QA or at least let its listeners do the job effectively for them.

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67 of 68 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-30-17

I gave up

It is rare for me to abandon a book. I listen to plenty of fiction from this era but this one just defeated me. I think I need to avoid Verne in future as I only just made it through 20,000 leagues. (Although I enjoyed "..80 days" and "journey to the centre..")

So what is the problem?

At times listening to Verne feels like sitting through a very boring powerpoint presentation with Neville from accounts telling you about his day at the Zoo and explaining the chemistry behind the making of gunpowder.

It might well be interesting but it is probably a bit weak on narrative and suspense.

There is also a rather basic problem with castaway stories like this and Swiss Family Robinson. If a character on one page says "What would be really handy is if we had a Gas Cooled Fast Breeder Reactor" you can bet your sweet life that on the next page one will wash up on the beach or fall out of a tree as he walks through the forest. At least Robinson Crusoe had to occassionally find an alternative way to satisfy his needs.

And my last straw was when this group of enlightened soldiers fighting against the perpetuation of slavery turn the last survivor of a group of apes that they have slaughtrered into a slave / servant without wages and start to dress him in human attire.

I get it. Different times different minds. But I just finally got so fed up of wishing they would all contract a virulent disease and die that I decided to kill them myself with the off switch.

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3 of 13 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-15-16


I haven't been to exactly these places in my head but I have been close enough , often enough, that some parts of this astounding work were almost too uncomfortable to listen to.

I expected the sort of florid and meandering poetry of too many of the explorations of "feelings". This is full of the tight prose and focused language of "mind". Even if all you are interested in is the English language you owe yourself this listen.

And if your interested in how the English language should be read out loud, Maggie Gyllenhaal may be one of its best exponents. She reads with rare clarity and inflection. If she doesn't love this book she certainly manages to act out enjoyment, turning the narration from a mechanical to an artistic activity.

It is beautiful, frightening and technically brilliant. You should listen to it now.

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11 of 14 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-15-16


This book annoyed me.

It would have annoyed me less if the "We" in the title was changed to the "I" that it should have been. Then I wouldn't have touched it with a bargepole.

I make things and am going to flatter myself that this gives me at least the right to hold an opinion.

One of the advantages that I have discovered of making things is that it brings me more into contact with other people who make things and , my experience is, that we all do it for different reasons.

This guy appears to do it because it lets him adopt a superior view of his own importance. I do it because it lets me avoid having to deal with people who adopt a superior view of their own importance. And because I can spend all day listening to audiobooks.

For every maker out there, there is a mix of reasons for the choice. This book, despite the "we" of the title, is interest in just one of them. And it is one of the less interesting ones.

I didn't expect woodworking but I think I hoped for something just a bit less self centred and pompous

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4 of 5 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-08-15

Three threads-1st 5 star - 2nd 3 star - 3rd 1 star

This is my first de Waal listen. The bits about primates are interesting, informative, amusing and thought provoking. The guy knows his stuff and I wish there had been more of it.

The bits about the art of Hieronymus Bosch are a bit here nor there for me. They probably serve to give some kind of framework to the observations on morality, empathy etc from the primate bits but to be honest the whole "etenal verity of art" vibe goes straight past me in a blur. I'm sure the paintings are fascinating to study but I felt that they added little to this work.

The atheism bit was depressing.

In a world where people are still in the thrall of imaginary beings to the extent that they are willing to kill each other over them, de Waal's characterisation and interpretation of the "neo-atheists" is at best disappointing and at worst dangerous. He cites primate examples showing where, how and why this mindset can be evolved and completely misses the point that the local and small scale sanctions imposed by a troop of chimps or bonobos loses its efficacy if the bad chimp is armed with an AK-47.

In a world where an evolved brain has discovered the chemical formula for cemtex it is depressing to meet an intelligent man who thinks that "why can't we all just get along together" is an appropriate response to the kind of mental backwater that produces religious fundamentalism.

Some of his characterisations of the work of the so called militant atheists are completely at odds with my own reading and interpretation of those works. I am perfectly willing to accept that mine may be the erroneous view but am left with a bad feeling that an intelligent man has, at some level, stepped back from a position just because he has faced an argument that he has no chance, at the moment, of winning in a society that is overly reverent of mythical thinking.

And most of the bits about primates are about Chimps rather than Bonobos.

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8 of 9 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-25-14

Orwell's best?

OK. Orwell is one of the most important writers in the English language. 1984 is probably the book that saved us from living entirely in the society it describes. And all of 1984 is here, in embryo, disguised as a book about going back to your youth and it's environs.

Orwell is always at his most fluid when he is describing politics or nature and here he goes full pelt at both of them. The Two Minutes Hate is here. Duckspeak is here. And so is the Golden Country. And here the description of the Golden Country is given full reign. And runs to cover quite a bit of the first few chapters.

I allow myself the conceit that George Bowling, the main protagonist, is actually the father of the Winston Smith of 1984. The timeline is nearly right and there are aspects of Bowling's story that make it just about possible. I'm pretty sure that Orwell had no intention to make it so but the two stories definitely flow into each other in a way that this idea enhances.

The story is however mainly about the coarseness of progress and the loss of rural life to commercialism, speculation and "airy fairynesss" for lack of a better phrase. This novel was published during the period where totalitarian states were taking actions that Orwell recognised as leading to inevitable war but before the actual outbreak of conflict for Britain. As such it is an important window onto that period of history.

The narration is very good and the overall production is excellent.

If you only ever read one Orwell it should be this one, but shame on you if it is.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-05-14

Childhood, welcome back

A very long time ago my infant school teacher read us all Stig of the Dump. Out loud and in its entirety. She was better at it than Tony Robinson or maybe it's just that my 6 year old mind was more impressed by her rendition. Whichever it was, the title has been in my head ever since, along with at least some of the scenes in the story.

It's a simple kind of story but with enough nuance to be interesting and if you are listening along with younger readers nobody will get lost and nobody should get bored. The language is simple without being condescending and Robinson actually does a very good job with it.

It's about the kind of everyday adventures that I had as a boy with just a little bit of extension to make them that bit more exciting. The kind of thing that we certainly used to believe was just about possible before, sadly, we learned better. Share it with a child before they learn better.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-28-14

Now the movie makes sense

I love the movie and remember just how "other" it seemed when it was first release.

But it never made sense.

Now it does.

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4 of 5 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-24-14

An Englishman's ditch is his castle

This is one of the (many) books I have loved. I read it first when I was about 12 and the plot and some of its scenes have lived in my head for a very long time.

It is very English.

It is very 30's.

It is very good.

It's Englishness and it's 30'sness mean that some of its language and some of its sensibilities will jar on many 21st century minds. Get over it. The point of historical texts is to let us see where we came from and this does that well.

The writing is clear and direct. The language is simple and the descriptions are concise. The story is simple in concept but deep enough to stay interesting.

It translates well to audio and Browne's narration is clear and without excessive characterisation.

This will make it to the repeat listen list with no problem.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-24-14

Great performance. Loathsome character

Gordon Comstock may just be the least appealing character in any book I have ever read. Whining, self pitying, grasping (of everything but money) he is almost completely devoid of human sympathy. At one point I nearly abandoned the book because he is such an unsympathetic persona.

But it is an Orwell. You can't give up on an Orwell. It's the law. And Gordon does finally redeem himself for the most human of all reasons. If you love Orwell you need to work your way through all of his work. If you don't love Orwell you need to work your way through all of his work so that you eventually will. This is certainly no "Animal Farm" and "Coming up for Air" is a friendlier read (next please Audible) but it certainly repays the listening time.

Richard E Grant's performance is excellent. Just the right amount of self important sneer in his voice and just the right tone of undeserved and unappreciated privilege in his delivery. All round a very good audiobook.

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful