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Category: Audiobook and course review


“The Histories” by Tacitus. Read by James Adams.

It is presumptive and ridiculous to comment on the text, since there is no way to validate its truth. True or not, however, this work is a vital component for knowing what we know about the fall of Nero and what came after in the Roman Empire.

Still, the production here left much to be desired. The reader was okay but had some weird pronunciations of commonly known names and words. If forced to describe it in one word, ‘workmanlike’ would be the best one. Still, it’s essential listening for anyone wanting to understand the Rise of the Roman Empire. Grade: A.


“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer. Unabridged audiobook, read by Grover Gardner.

46 cds and more than 50 hours of listening time and the best I can say for this history is that for 1959 it was probably pretty good. It is rare that the reader of an audiobook actually makes the book better, but such is the case here. The reader is brilliant. The book…not so much.

For all you Civil War buffs, or those looking for gift ideas for a Civil War buff…

GENERAL LEE’S ARMY FROM VICTORY TO COLLAPSE by Joseph T. Glatthaar, read by Robertson Dean. Unabridged.

A terrific biography of the Army of Northern Virginia and its relationship with its commander, R.E. Lee. The narrative sometimes gets bogged down in minutia of demographics that becomes boring very quickly, although it is necessary for the story and the background to the events that enveloped the army, but for the most part it moves quickly and is pretty interesting. The reader also does a fine job. Virtually required listening for the Civil War buff.

The book has a majesty that transcends the topic; as much as Lee and his legendary army have been romanticized, the truth is that serving in the Army of Northern Virginia was a harsh, often horrid experience fraught with many types of danger. Food was often scarce, clothing threadbare, good shoes worth their weight in gold and disease rampant. This book brings these realities home to the reader (or in this case, the listener) in a fashion that makes them seem quite real.

Even the most astute student of the Civil War will find much new in this book. This reviewer already knew a lot about the subject, having just written a paper on almost this very topic less than a year previously, and yet at least 30% of this book was new to him, and the parts that were not new were explained in a new way.

Hannibal, Scipio and the battle that could have changed history, but didn’t.

THE GHOSTS OF CANNAE Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert L. O’Connell, read by Alan Sklar. Unabridged.

When Hannibal Barca led his small army of Carthaginians over the Alps and into Italy at the beginning of the Second Punic War, nobody on either side foresaw that he would rampage through Roman territory for nearly a generation. And, if such knowledge had been known beforehand, the seers would have considered it even less likely that the Roman Republic could withstand having an enemy army tearing up its hinterland for almost twenty years. And yet, this is precisely what happened.

This incredibly fine audiobook centers around the pivotal battle of Cannae, where Hannibal dealt Roman a crushing defeat, a defeat so complete, so total and so demoralizing, that it should have won the war for Carthage. Had that happened, history would forever have been changed and the rise of the Roman Empire would have been unlikely. That would have made the ascendancy of the Catholic Church impossible, since it was formed around and then built upon the skeleton of the Empire, and had the Church not been spread throughout the west by the Romans, then the modern western world would not have happened.

But Cannae did not force Rome to the bargaining table, as it should have, and that is the most fascinating part of this narrative. Sweeping and informative, of necessity the author has to use conjecture to figure out many details of the period that are now lost to history, but he does so in a fascinating, entertaining and scholarly manner. This was a terrific book that was very well read. If you have a history buff on this year’s gift list, you could do much worse than buying them this audiobook.

HELL TO PAY Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 by D. M. Giangreco

HELL TO PAY Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 by G.M. Giangreco. Unabridged audio, read by Danny Campbell.

For some reason, there still seems to be a controversy over whether or not dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was necessary, or whether an invasion would have had far fewer casualties than is usually thought. This line of reasoning typically begins with the United States imposing a lengthy starvation blockade on Japan, or going ahead with invasion plans, and that either one would have produced far fewer Japanese casualties than the A-bombs did, and American casualties would have been minimal.

This book is the definitive response to that argument. The author refrains from any speculation, using only actual documents and histories to map out what would have been a terrifying and incredibly costly fight to the finish. This is a scholarly book, although not a boring one at all; it will hold up to the closest academic scrutiny. I learned something new on almost every page, including how the casualty rate in the Pacific influenced Eisenhower’s decisions in Europe. The reading is passable, there are a few instances of words being mis-pronounced, but in fair Campbell also handles Japanese words very well. All in all, this is a shockingly mandatory book for anyone with even the most remote interest in the Pacific Theater. A definite ‘A’ effort.

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