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.