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  • The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman

  • A Bone-Shaking Tour Through Cycling’s Flemish Heartlands
  • By: Harry Pearson
  • Narrated by: Harry Pearson
  • Length: 8 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Europe
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (42 ratings)

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Summary

Bloomsbury presents The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman by Harry Pearson, read by Harry Pearson.  

Longlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2019.

Every nation shapes sport to test the character traits it most admires.  

In The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman, committed Belgophile and road cycling obsessive Harry Pearson takes you on a journey across Flanders - through the lumpy horizontal rain, up the elbow-juddering cobbled inclines, past the fans dressed as chickens and the shop window displays of constipation medicines as he follows races big, small and even smaller, through one glorious, muddy spring.  

Ranging over 500 years of Flemish and European history, across windswept polders, along back roads and through an awful lot of beer cafes, Pearson examines the characters, the myths and the rivalries that make Flanders a place where cycling is a religion and the riders its Lycra-clad priests.

©2019 Harry Pearson (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic reviews

"An enormously entertaining cycling journal." (Times Literary Supplement)

"A joy." (Ned Boulting)

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What listeners say about The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman

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Excellent book on a niche topic

Okay I will admit that Flemish cycling might be a bit of a niche topic but I loved it. The style of storytelling was great and it really brought me along for the journey, teaching me a lot about the cycling culture of flanders whilst listening and riding my bike. I thought it was read very well and it was pretty fun in places - reminded me a bit of Ned Boulting (slightly better actually). Definitely recommend giving it a go!

3 people found this helpful

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Great, but one for the aficionados

As a serious sporting cyclist who loves the spring classics I really enjoyed this.

The research is detailed and delves into some of the most obscure parts of Flemish cycling - so many cycling books tend to be rehashes of the same stories, people and anecdotes but this really turns over people, facts and stories that are relatively unknown.

It's more rambling and wayward than any cycling race route. Chapters start in one place and divert by decades into long-forgotten riders and their triumphs or failures before suddenly crossing back into the present. The author reads the book and his delivery is not always the best but it certainly adds passion and authenticity.

If you love the classics and you admire the Flandrian spirit this book will definitely appeal.

1 person found this helpful

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A very entertaining listen.

As a big fan of cycling, Belgium, and their races I loved this book.
So much interesting & entertaining information and stories. All told in a very dead pan manner (by the author), which suited it perfectly.
My only regret was that it didn’t go on longer.
I will definitely listen to this again.

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love it

if you are into the old footage of unknown bike races, with understated commentary, then this is perfect.
The writer narrates his own wonderfully dull experiences of traveling round Belgium to spectate the classics, but also spectating on life and people. His musings are delivered in a perfect northern monotone, that just sets the ambience for me. It's like watching the 1974 world cup with that crackly commentary sent via a telephone line or something worse.
If you are into cycling, and its history, this is a lovely way to pass an afternoon. Harry Pearson is just great; i will look out his other work

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Good of you like the one day classics

The dry humour of the author/narrator was certainly entertaining.
You really need to be a fan of the one day classic cycle races to get the most from this, or at least have a keen interest in learning about the history of these races and riders, as I have.
The author paints a great picture of his time touring through obscure Belgian towns, and also of some of the great Flemish characters of cycling's past.

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A must listen for a fan of the classics.

This is definitely one of those books I will listen to again and again, just to justify the cracking open of another Belgian beer! The narration was excellent and draws you in with its relaxing tone. It was a cultural listen as well as a sporting one and I came away with a much better knowledge of the Belgian people as well as their cycling heroes (and villains!) The only downside is it made me really miss this years cancelled classic season. Here's to 2021. Stay safe everyone..

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A joyous pedal through Belgian cycling

A thoroughly enjoyable detour through the lesser known (to me) races of the European cycling season. Dry wit combined with a deep love for the subject shine through. And really, who amongst us knew just how many Belgian cyclists went on to work in the erotic film industry? Highly recommended.

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Loved it

I've listened to this twice,will listen again and buy the printed edition as the spoken version is hard to cross reference the riders that the author describes so tantalisingly I find myself guessing the spellings of their names to find out more about them on line.
Being a Briton of Flemish descent the authors descriptions of the Flemish ways brought back so many fond memories of my youth and all the trips to St Niklaas visiting relatives in the 60s and 70s. Thank you Mr Pearson.

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It's all about those flat hoots:-)

I love this little, obscure book. I mean, there's never enough info about Belgian cycling, right? I could bemoan the pronounciation of names and places and maybe the delivery is a little dry but hey, this is a book about Belgian cycling. Love it!

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  • Caveat Emptor
  • 23-07-21

Like a Breugel painting

This book is like a Breugel painting but where the serfs and peasants plowing the fields are instead suffering on old iron bicycles. A complete slog. As for narration, the author’s voice is one that would come out of one of H. Bosch’s creatures. All of the register of a baritone horn blown by a depressed demon. The book is meanwhile highly encyclopedic, plodding on like a dour Flemish cyclist. Cycling history and figures of 100 years ago and the contemporary world and riders all blur together in a gloomy Belgian downpour.

That said, the writing is not infrequently beautiful and hilarious. And I learned a lot about cycling and about Belgium, and I now have an interest in seeing the races and scenes that he describes, though I won’t expect much. The races now seem like an entertainment for in between drinking beer.

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  • MICHAEL LYONS
  • 04-03-21

Listened to this multiple times

Loved the story and narration, really captured the essence of Belgium racing and life, feel like I'm there

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  • Martin
  • 05-12-20

Huge fun even if you don't care about cycling

I love Pearson's writing and his wit and I wish that Audible would do his "Racing Pigs and Giant Marrows". This book is great fun, even for someone like me who knows nothing about cycling. I was given an insight into a a very weird passion in a unique part of the world. I loved the way in which the author would talk to strangers who professed to have no interest in cycling but who would then regale him with deeply-held opinions about an upcoming cycling star or the history of a particular event. And I found myself rolling the names of the events around in my head (and sometimes out loud, provoking some odd looks): Liège Bastogne Liège; the Hell of the North; Paris-Roubaix...
Highly recommend
I've just put his latest ("the Farther Corner") into my basket as a Christmas treat.

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  • Colin
  • 08-06-20

Detailed observation and dry humor

Let’s get this straight: Harry Pearson does not like the music played at Flemish races. Other than that he has a passion for the place, people, and quirks of Flemish cycling. Reportage on a single season with historical reflection going back to the origins and key moments and people. Author’s reading sometimes lacks the timing of his own humor but is otherwise apt and preferable to a dull actor’s rendition. A hidden gem for cycling fans and those who like sports writing.

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  • Daniel McMillan
  • 22-03-20

Brilliant

A must listen for those of us who love cycling. Well written and read. Perfect for social distancing.