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  • The Hobbit

  • By: J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Narrated by: Rob Inglis
  • Length: 11 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,637
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,941
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 2,949

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of 13 dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an unexpected journey ‘there and back again’. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Loved it!!!

  • By Stuart on 12-06-11

Still as silly as it was when I read at school

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

Reviewed: 20-11-18

The Hobbit was on the reading list when I was at school in the 1970s. Our English teacher thought that the world of hobbits, elves, dwarves and dragons would be just the thing to capture the imaginations of young boys. To be honest, I found it all a bit silly and read it under sufferance to make sure I could answer questions in class when I was picked on by the English master to avoid him throwing a blackboard rubber at my head if I got it wrong, or worse, make me stand with my nose on a chalk mark on the blackboard with my back to the class for not doing my homework. My reading then was aimed at absorbing just the right amount of information to be able to avoid being scolded. I cannot say this was an enjoyable experience and I found the text a bit silly, preferring to spend my free time playing cricket. Some 40 years later I decided to listen to the story again on Audible so I could appreciate it properly. I haven't seen the Peter Jackson films and could not understand how the film maker had managed to eek out a relatively short story into three feature films so it was with this background that I started my adventure back into Middle-earth for the first time since I was a boy in short trousers.
I knew that it would be a bit far fetched but it was difficult to take some of this book seriously. Plus points were Rob Inglis' funny voices for some of the characters which was fun and some of the aspects of the adventure and the descriptions of the different creatures. The difficulty for me was the flashbacks to my school room and the English master bellowing at the class "who can tell me the name of the wolf like creatures that support the goblins?" not knowing whether to put my hand up as a bluff so I wouldn't get picked or to look at the floor so I didn't catch his eye. Either way, re-visiting this book did little to dispel the demons from my school days as I had hoped.

  • The Handmaid's Tale

  • By: Margaret Atwood
  • Narrated by: Joanna David
  • Length: 10 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,014
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,580
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 3,584

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed . If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A favourite

  • By Raison on 10-11-13

This was not as good as I have hoped

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

Reviewed: 08-11-18

Having read a couple of Margaret Atwood's other novels and being a fan of dystopian fiction, the Handmaid's Tale has been on my "to read" list for a while. I opted for the audio version as I could listen to it on my daily commute in the car and was excited when I saw that it was available on Audible. I found the story to be interesting but not as compelling and haunting as, say Orwell, Huxley or Vonnegut and unlike these classic authors I felt that the Handmaid's Tale has probably not aged too well since it was first published in the mid 1980's. Parts of the story came over a bit giggly school girly and the world that Margaret Atwood created in her vision was a bit unfathomable. It may have been the narrator Joanna David that was the issue here, I have no problem with an English person reading this but her BBC diction did not seem an appropriate voice for the main character.

  • How to Read and Understand Shakespeare

  • By: Marc C. Conner, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Marc C. Conner
  • Length: 12 hrs and 6 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 45
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 42
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 42

Shakespeare's works are among the greatest of humanity's cultural expressions and, as such, demand to be experienced and understood. But, simply put, Shakespeare is difficult. His language and culture - those of Elizabethan England - are greatly different from our own, and his poetry, thick with metaphorical imagery and double meanings, can be hard to penetrate.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Great Guide To Shakespeare for a Dummy (me!)

  • By Farniboy on 19-08-14

Good overview of Shakespeare left me wanting more

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

Reviewed: 06-08-18

I had Shakespeare drummed into me as a child and I did not particularly enjoy the experience of analysing Macbeth, Merchant of Venice and Mid Summer Nights Dream in a classroom. Since then I have learned to appreciate the richness of the language and the cleverness of the characters and plots by attending real life performances of several plays and also read up a bit about the Bard and his life and works. I approached this course with an eagerness to learn more and I was generally pleased with the content of these lectures. There is plenty of contextualisation in terms of putting the plays against the backdrop of Shakespeare's life and times and there are some interesting comparisons between the plays which is helpful. The bit that jarred with me a bit with this course was the continual reference to "tools" that can be applied to help the reader understand Shakespeare. When I first heard the reference to "tools" it immediately reminded me of the Alexei Sayle quote about "workshops" and I could not get this out of my mind. Other than that, I am looking forward to watching a production of the Tempest on stage in a couple of weeks and will see if the "tools" provided here help to heighten appreciation of the work.

  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz

  • By: Heather Morris
  • Narrated by: Richard Armitage
  • Length: 7 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 7,096
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,468
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 6,456

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Superb

  • By Claire on 21-02-18

A compelling and chilling story

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

Reviewed: 31-07-18

At the end of this book the "Audible hopes you have enjoyed this programme" announcement seemed familiar but ill-suited. How can anyone truly "enjoy" a programme such as this? Yes it is compelling and absorbing and horrific but I cannot see anyone actual derive any degree of pleasure from hearing the very human story of this infamous Nazi concentration camp.
It is also hard to critically appraise such a book as the subject matter is so horrific, particularly when you learn that this is the story of a real person who has lived through the hell of Auschwitz to tell the tale. This is a very human story.

  • Medical School for Everyone

  • Grand Rounds Cases
  • By: Roy Benaroch, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Roy Benaroch
  • Length: 12 hrs and 5 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 62
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 59
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 59

There's an art and science behind how doctors diagnose and treat medical patients. Where do doctors get these skills? The Grand Rounds experience, where they practice how to make accurate diagnoses by examining real patients. And with Dr. Benaroch's 24 unique lectures, you'll explore how a master physician solves medical problems just like a detective.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Good

  • By mr on 03-07-14

Entertaining insight into the life of a doctor

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

Reviewed: 29-06-18

The most telling part of this course book is the very long disclaimer at the beginning that goes into intricate and exhausting detail of the use of the contents of the course and a denial of all responsibility whatsoever from the author and publishers regarding use of its contents by non medically qualified persons. We live in a society of law suits against medical practitioners and "no win no win" ambulance chaser lawyers who take a sizable cut out of any settlement so I can see why the publishers are a little jittery about anyone potentially using this for self diagnosis and trying to make a claim, particularly in the USA. Perhaps calling the course "Medical School for Everyone" is asking for trouble.
What this book doesn't do is make you a qualified medical doctor. That would be some achievement in 12 hours. What is does do is provide the listener with an insight into the mind set of a typical doctor and how he / she uses the evidence to make a "differential diagnosis". It all comes over as being a bit like a mystery solving task and will appeal to those with an inquisitive mind. Each of the 24 "cases" is presented by Dr Benaroch by giving some of the history of the patient and the initial complaint eg "I never feel good" and "I can't stop coughing". The good doctor then discusses the background to the patient and the symptoms that they present with before analysing and further questioning prior to coming up with a solution to the riddle.
It is all quite entertaining in a strange sort of way and makes for good listening. It also encourages the listener to become a better patient. I had not appreciated that doctors do not actually read much of the patient's medical history prior to a consultation and one should not assume that the doctors actually knows what other treatments or complaints a patient may have. I am not sure that I have any more faith in the medical profession after listening to this course though. Much of it seems to come down to guess work or hunches about potential linked causes of complaints. A recent study has shown that a computer app can perform more accurate diagnoses than a qualified medical general practitioner and, listening to this course, I can believe it.

  • Great Music of the 20th Century

  • By: The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Professor Robert Greenberg PhD
  • Length: 17 hrs and 50 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 20
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 16
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 16

The 20th century was a hotbed of musical exploration, innovation, and transformation unlike any other epoch in history. Ranging across the century in its entirety, these 24 lectures present a musical cornucopia of astounding dimensions - a major presentation and exploration of the incredible brilliance and diversity of musical art across a turbulent century. Far more than simply a series of lectures, the program comprises a huge and many-sided resource for discovering the endless riches of 20th-century concert music across the globe.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Wonderful Piece of Work

  • By ColonelJames on 20-03-18

Amazing sounds, astounding music brought to life

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

Reviewed: 29-06-18

Professor Greenberg makes an interesting and profound point at the beginning of this book. It goes something along the lines of "we are now approximately one fifth of the way through the 21st century and most people haven't yet come to terms with the music of the 20th century". And how right he is. So much of it is bewildering and extraordinary and complex and obtuse. It is also beautiful and amazing and sublime and, yes, challenging and rewarding.
I listened to this having already heard the Professor's excellent "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music" and was particularly intrigued by the final chapters on 20th century music. I have been interested in 20th century music for a while and had already heard early Stravinsky works such as Right of Spring and Firebird and had tried to listen to Edgard Varese, Anton Webern and Pierre Boulez which I enjoyed but found "difficult" shall we say.
There is no doubt that it is a tough gig presenting this book. Not only is some of the music completely un-describable (Collon Nancarrow anyone!) but the Professor is further hindered in that, unlike his other courses, this one has no music. What? I hear you cry? No music! Well, the story is that because many of the composers on here have not been dead for 75 years (some of them are still alive) the royalty fees for putting excepts of music on the course would be prohibitively expensive. However, Professor Greenberg has helpfully put a series of URL links on his website with the pieces he describes in the course. This means that you do have to put a bit more effort in to fully appreciate what is going on here but, believe me, it is worth it.
I had never really listened to the music of Arnold Schoenberg before hearing this course thinking that it would be "too difficult". I am now converted. It has also opened my ears to the later works of Stravinsky and the "new pluralism" of Rouse, Ades and Kernis and for that I am thankful.
The only negative I can think of for this course is that it has cost me a fortune buying some of the recordings so I can have them to listen too. I have spent many pounds so far on the Complete Works of Schoenberg, the Complete Works of Webern and some Pierre Boulez that I had not heard before. I like the piece at the end where the Professor talks about his own musical tastes and it seems he is, after all, a fairly regular guy. Fairly.
This is a truly exceptional course covering some of the most extraordinary sounds.

  • The Magician of Lublin

  • By: Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • Narrated by: Larry Keith
  • Length: 7 hrs and 27 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 8

The Magician can dazzle the crowds with his sleight of hand, climb to any height, open any lock. Fearlessly, he does death-defying tricks in theaters all over Poland. At home, his sweet Jewish wife waits for him to return from the city. In the city, his adoring mistresses wait for him to return from home. He holds the key to all hearts, but his own is beset with confusion.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Magical story of a complex character

  • By papapownall on 28-06-18

Magical story of a complex character

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

Reviewed: 28-06-18

This is an intriguing tale of a Jewish magician in late 19th century Poland who is torn apart by his own greed, lust and religious confusion. It is narrated by Larry Keith who brings out the characters in the story expertly.

  • Natives

  • Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
  • By: Akala
  • Narrated by: Akala
  • Length: 10 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 988
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 907
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 895

From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers - race and class have shaped Akala's life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today. Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives speaks directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain's racialised empire.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A Very Interesting and Challenging Listen

  • By Ross Clark on 10-07-18

Should be part of the national curriculum

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

Reviewed: 07-06-18

I bought the book not knowing much about Akala but had heard good things about this. Having now listened to the Audio Book read by Alaka himself I like it even more. As a person who is racialised as being white this, at times, makes for uncomfortable listening, and quite rightly so. This is essential for anyone who is interested in class and race in early 21st century Britain. This should be part of the national curriculum.

  • A Guide to the Good Life

  • The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
  • By: William B. Irvine
  • Narrated by: James Patrick Cronin
  • Length: 8 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 483
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 419
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 406

One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great follow up to the Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

  • By KarlK on 10-09-14

I always thought that "stoic joy" was an oxymoron

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

Reviewed: 07-06-18

I had never thought of philosophy as a concept of something you could subscribe to but that is exactly what the ancient Greeks did. They would join a school of philosophy and adhere to its ideals in a similar way that we follow a sports team and were proudly territorial about their chosen path. In modern day society we merely study philosophies rather than actually put them into practice but this book explains how you can follow the philosophy of the great stoics. During the first few chapters I found that I was huffing an puffing a bit with my finger hovering over the !fast forward" button as my eyes rolled into the back of my head as the narrator explained the fundamentals of stoicism; it all sounded a bit dull to be honest and I chuckled to myself that I had to be stoic to sit through the whole reading. Things got a bit more interesting during the section on the lives of the four great stoic philosophers and their motivations. I didn't really buy into the parallels between stoicism and Buddhism, it seemed a bit tenuous to me.
I do not see that this will change my life as others have claimed but it was interesting enough and explained well a subject that I previously knew little about. It doesn't seem much fun being a stoic and the concept of "stoic joy" sounds like an oxymoron to me. I will, however, look further into this and my next book will be the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

  • Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion

  • By: Bill Messenger, The Great Courses
  • Narrated by: Bill Messenger
  • Length: 5 hrs and 59 mins
  • Original Recording
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 46
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 40
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 40

Jazz is a uniquely American art form, one of America's great contributions to not only musical culture, but world culture, with each generation of musicians applying new levels of creativity that take the music in unexpected directions that defy definition, category, and stagnation.

Now you can learn the basics and history of this intoxicating genre in an eight-lecture series that is as free-flowing and original as the art form itself.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A nice introduction but needs more content

  • By Chris on 03-07-17

Great jazz primer but could have been much better

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

Reviewed: 11-05-18

I'm a jazz fan and ordered this instantly when I saw that the Great Courses series had a course on jazz. I had previously listened to Bob Greenberg's excellent course on How to Listen to and Understand Great Music so my expectations were high for this. Bill Messenger isn't as exuberant or as articulate as Greenberg, few people are, but I was a little disappointed by his, sometimes hesitant, delivery style. Having said that, this is a good romp through jazz history from Cakewalk through to Swing, Bebop, Free Jazz, Fusion and very briefly even touching on (shock, horror) non-American jazz styles. The demonstrations are well delivered and Messenger obviously knows his stuff and is more fluent when playing than speaking. Sadly this is the only jazz course available on Great Courses and it seems that this was recorded some time ago. There is a gap in the market here for a more comprehensive course that has greater depth.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful