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Anthony Beevor's The Second World War

Posted November 5, 2012 into Books by John Birmingham

A couple of months back I picked up a subscription to Audible, partly thanks to Clive James, and partly to Leo Laporte. Clive had just been diagnosed as dead or dying and in an elegiac frame of mind I thought it might be nice to grab his memoirs. Leo is forever pimping out Audible on his podcasts, which wouldn't normally influenced me except that he and Andy Ihnatko seemed to genuinely love audio books. Moko too.

I'd always thought that audiobooks, including my own, were prohibitively expensive compared to hard copy or e-book formats, but an Audible subscription effectively gives you one free book each month, which is about all I have time for, so in I jumped. I think I've discussed how much I enjoyed Clive James' memoirs before. Therbs even caught me wandering through Sydney one day, chuckling at them inside my headphones. I particularly enjoyed fact that they were narrated by Clive. Put me right back in my childhood, it did, listening to his voice. I'm glad I will now always have them. (Unless Amazon, which owns Audible, decides arbitrarily to delete them from my system).

The next book I got was also a memoir, this time by Stephen Fry. Again, the experience of listening to the book was amplified, so to speak, by having Fry himself narrate it. He's a polished performer and I can't think of anybody more suited to telling his own story. I made my way through that book while we were on holiday down in Byron Bay.

For my next title, however, I decided to go with something other than a memoir. Anthony Beevor's The Second World War. Beevor came to prominence after my huge research binge on World War II for Weapons of Choice, so although I was aware of him – he was hugely popular talent at a couple of festivals I attended – I'd never dipped into his work. All of his books are massively and exhaustively researched, and they tend to run long. I didn't feel that I had the time.

Enter Audible. A lot of people get into audiobooks during their daily commute. That's not an issue for me, because I work at home, but I do have long stretches of time each week that could be put to better use. Walking the dog, watching kids sport, some forms of exercise. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but increasingly found myself drawn to audiobooks after the experience with James and Fry. Beevor's war history has had some great reviews, like all of his books, and it promised to be the sort of thing that would deliver a lot of value for money. I think there's something like 20 or 30 hours worth of listening.

So, bought it, loved it. Or am still loving it because at the moment I am only up to the battle of Alamein. He's a great writer, of course, with a strong clear voice. He doesn't make the mistake of letting the writing gets in the way of the story, and 1939-45 did serve up some great stories. There are any number of reasons to love this book, but two stand out for me. Firstly he doesn't allow any one nation to hijack the story. Everybody gets a look in, from the USA and the USSR down to New Zealand and Romania. All of his reporting of Australian war history has so far been so accurate that I'm willing to credit him with commensurate accuracy about everything else. Second, when telling such a vast story it can be tempting to get caught up in the great sweep of events, while skating over the little details. Longtime readers of Anthony Beevor will know one of his strengths is painting a grand canvas with small flourishes. From the woebegone tale of the Korean man which opens the book – this poor bastard ended up fighting in almost every theater of the war – to the gruesome details of daily life on the Eastern front, the granular detail of history is never lost in the broad brush strokes.

If you're looking for some slightly heavier summer reading, or listening, I couldn't recommend it highly enough. I'd be tempted to set it as a book club title, but it is very long, and I suspect it would drive away a lot of people who have no interest in this sort of thing.

17 Responses to ‘Anthony Beevor's The Second World War’

Spanner ducks in to say...

Posted November 6, 2012
I have commute time to burn. Speak to me more of this audible.com feature. Me have credit card and wants to listen to stuff.

Oh and where is me next ebook? Ug Spanner want more Stalin hammer.

Me should haul self off to bed. Red wine is bad even when have cup day off. Ug.

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Spanner mumbles...

Posted November 6, 2012
On a less drunken note.

I consider audio books (unabridged) pretty good value for money. I can read way quicker than someone can read it too me. So 40-50 hours of audio is not bad value per hour of enjoyment in the car. I'll pay for a good book with a good narrator and be very happy with it.

Oh yeah ug.

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w from brisbane reckons...

Posted November 6, 2012
When I speak to my mate in the Kimberley, he often mentions an audio book he has recently listened to. He loves them and got into them because it is quite standard practice in the Kimberley where 8 to 10 hour drives are normal. He said to me, if I doubt how popular they are up there, all I would need to do was wander into the Broome public library and see the size of the audio book collection.

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Matthew K swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 6, 2012
Maybe I should give audio books more thought, what with ipods and all those other new fangled gizmos. And the fact that all my reading has left me needing glasses *sigh*.

But it's a slippery slope - next I'll be wanting those godless electric lights.

Explodey goodness is all very well, but maybe there's too much emphasis on that and not enough on the enormous strides made in peace - every school leaver here has heard of the Battle of Britain but how many know about the Great Reform Act?

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Matthew K asserts...

Posted November 6, 2012
Oh and love me some Clive James, familiar fixture of my childhood too! I read his Unreliable Memoirs books - 'cos my my mum said it was full of filth.

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NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted November 6, 2012
Oh that's gotta p!ss you off.

20 minutes of response evapamorated.

Will try again @ lunch.

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Surtac mumbles...

Posted November 6, 2012
Yeah, got into audiobooks in the car a few years back when I had a twice daily 45 min school run / commute combo with Youngest Daughter. Lots of Pratchett Discworld stuff, Simon R Green's Deathstalker series, but also Cornwell's Sharpe and all of the Fleming James Bond titles. And she became quite addicted to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, particularly the epic Fall of the Roman Republic series.

Sadly, I 'm back to a 15 min commute now and it just isn't long enough to get right into this stuff anymore. But maybe I should try again ...

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Suetonius ducks in to say...

Posted November 6, 2012
Beevor's book on Stalingrad is particularly good. I read it a few years ago. It's a meticulous and very well written history - but it's more than that. I thought I knew all I needed to know about Stalingrad and the war on the eastern front. But Beevor not only kept me interested and reading, he made me think about the conflict, and by extension the whole history of the twentieth century, in a new way.

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John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted November 6, 2012
I'm listening to the Stalingrad sections of The Second World War now. Fucking harrowing. we naturally focus on the conflict in western Europe when thinking about the history of the war, but the bulk of the fighting was done in Russia and China.

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NBlob would have you know...

Posted November 6, 2012
Love the story about the Stalingrad Grain Research Centre, who died of hunger rather than harm the science of wheat & barely breeding by eating their samples. Commitment to the science with a capital Comm.

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NBlob mutters...

Posted November 6, 2012
I’m not a big consumer of audio-books. My Dad eats them up due to post-stroke partial-blindness. Recently mum has been looking into downloads as previously they were largely dependent on borrowing from the local library which was good, but frequently the CDs were scratched in the worst possible place, like when Poirot says “Ze murderer can only be schrttzzzzdk dk dk dk dk dk.”

I feel a little like some slightly soiled and smelly manic priest wandering the world, grabbing strangers by the arm and urging them to find salvation in The Pod-Cast. It is starting to embarrass SWMBO when at a dinner party I insist everybody must “Reject their Classic-Rock FM ways“ cast off their “Icy cold cans of coke, nasal delivery technology and another nonstop block of Oz cock-rock with Farnsey, Barnsey and Chisel” embrace the love, the warmth , the community that is Pod Casting. The spittle flecked ranting and the bulging Marty Feldman eyes may be disconcerting but the grabby talons just seem to put people off.

So let me say in my calmest, most reasonable voice.

Podcasts are good.

‘This American Life’ is really good, in fact most things by National Public Radio are AWSM.

‘Conversations with [that nice young] Mr Fidler’ is really Fkn AWSM. I’d recommend you start with Richard de Crespigny. Pilot of that QANTAS A380 out of Singapore which experienced not a massive engine explosion but the “Unconstrained liberation of disc elements.”

Dr Karl is a personal god of mine, he has his own Podcast series, popped into [that nice young] Mr Fidler to discuss the current thinking on how Everything came to be, and pats SE2KB on the head like an endearing, but clumsy puppy.

I know Dan lurks here and will be Jonesing to hear it so; RESTEPC for a neat little Indy Podcast out of Brisbanistan ‘Smart Enough to Know Better.

ABC Radio National, the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Comission and USAnian National Public Radio all put beautiful crafted stories. Some of the independents are just Ranty Mc Rant with a head ful of coke and bad opinions. Part of the fun is listening to a couple of episodes and seing what they do. EG: JB put me on to ‘The Incomparable’ the other day. The first ep I listened to was an hour long discussion of Game of Thrones [Snore-a-rama for someone not into the show] but the next ep was an entertaining discussion of SciFi in SitCom – sort of. Pretty Good.

’Best of all.

Rumours abound in the darker corners of the Intermaweb that *drumroll* Birmo San may be considering, a side line into podcasting. To apply a little Dr Yobbo style tempered hyperbole, I think this is an even better idea than eating meat.

You can quote me, I can see it on the packaging “NBob says “A Birmo Podcast is a better idea than eating meat.” A big claim I know, but hear me out.

His Scribeyness has a good voice. Not what you’d call a classically trained voice, but his adnoids have dropped and his momma smacked him upside the head and made him pick up each and every dropped H. He has diction and clarity. He doesn’t race through a presentation jamming the ideas and words up like an Indy car smash.

He also has the Journo’s skill of extracting story. Most everyone over the age of 40 has a story in them, Birmo can apply the long nosed pliers and bic lighter to extract that story.

He has access to an army of multi skilled GE’d monkeys who could be easily be taken off the typewriters and trained to manipulate basic sound editing software.

I’d vote for the first series of 5 to be 1 hour eps that combine Diggers in the RSL front bar telling personal Xplodey Goodness stories, edited with a historian’s overview of a campaign. We all think we know the story of the Owen Stanley Ranges, or the HMAS Sydney, but how much do we really know, how much could we know - if we could hear the voice of the men who were there. These diggers are dropping off the twig 19 to the dozen. Someone with skill, interest, some knowledge, respect, sensitivity and less hair than them should save their stories before they are lost forever.

And I reckon it'll make him another $quillion.

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Matthew K asserts...

Posted November 6, 2012
Epic post from Nbob there, red bull really works don't it?

Really bJB? You gonna invite us kiddies to settle down at your feet by the fireside as you open a huge leather bound tome?

I guess the popularity of audiobooks is linked to living on an epic size continent, here in Britain we're more of a brief trailer kind of size.

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Dino not to be confused with is gonna tell you...

Posted November 7, 2012
Oh Uncle JB,

Do, do tell us a story, Pleeeeaase Uncle JB tell us a story !

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Blarkon is gonna tell you...

Posted November 7, 2012
I've had an audible subscription continuously since 1999. It's farking awesome (and my library is pretty huge at this point). I've gone through more devices than I can count, but audible always seems to follow me.

Stalingrad is a very good book. I read it between my first and second visits to the city and it provides a lot of context for Russian paranoia. Stalingrad was the meat grinder and people in Volgograd today are still digging up bits and pieces from that battle.

(the war museum there is definitely worth the visit if you find yourself in the area, as is the shrine under Mamayev Kurgan)

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w from brisbane mumbles...

Posted November 7, 2012
JB, Have you considered 'Weapons of Choice', the audio book series, as read by Havock?

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KathB has opinions thus...

Posted November 7, 2012
Love Audible. I listen while cleaning - it's the only thing that makes it remotely bearable. There's some great old-school Doctor Who on there too.

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John Birmingham asserts...

Posted November 7, 2012
Cool! I also listen while cleaning. Especially mopping for some reason.

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