I need to say up front that I’m listening to the audio book. Good in that it is read by the author himself, along with Lalla Ward, but perhaps hindered a little by being abridged. Nevertheless, it still fills seven CDs and gives many hours of “entertainment”.
I’ve only got as far as CD three and the thrilling story of the Herring Gull and the Lesser Black-Backed Gull but I’ve already considered taking the thing back to the library about eight times. I am obviously alone in feeling this way. Before I started searching I was convinced I was going to find horrid reviews of this book but so far all I’ve found is praise and more praise. This book is considered by the internet to be worthy of at least 4.5 stars out of five. So it is just me, ignore what I have to say, please.
I was tempted to listen to this book because I find the subject of evolution interesting and because the author’s atheist views don’t trouble me. It got off to a bad start when it spent around half of the first CD trying to explain to me the way in which the book had been written with the whole backwards march in time and Canterbury Tales thing. Most normally intelligent people could have picked up the gist of it in about 30 seconds but he needed to bang on about it for what seemed like hours. My conclusion was that he was either writing the book for five-year-olds or he was overly impressed with his own brilliance at coming up with such a plot. Further listening provided evidence that the latter is probably correct.
For my taste, the book spends too much time pontificating about Chaucer, rendezvous and other trivia and not enough time talking about evolution. It’s as if the way the story is being told is more important than the story itself, which, considering that the story is evolution, is quite a major claim! Furthermore, the way it is written, and indeed read, is so pretentious, patronising and pompous as to make it downright annoying. I could quote plenty of snippets but here’s a recent sentence that bugged the hell out of me for some reason:
“The legend of the Roc, the fabulous great bird with the strength to shift elephants, is a wonder of childhood, but isn’t the true story of how the very continents themselves have shifted through thousands of miles an even greater wonder more worthy of the adult imagination?”.
Who is he to tell me what my adult imagination should be wondering about? I’ll make my own mind up about whether the Roc or plate tectonics are more or less interesting, thanks very much, so shut up talking down to me and get back to the subject for which I’m apparently wasting my time listening to this book.
It’s not only this. I’m sure at the beginning of the book he banged on about being factual, precise, not making wild assumptions and in the process slagged, in a very nice way, numerous other authors for the mistakes they made. Then he spends the rest of the book making little “asides” that seem to doing exactly what he said shouldn’t be done – speculation. The guy is clearly far better educated than most to do such speculating but I did get more than a whiff of hypocrisy coming through.
I’ll stick with it because between all the annoyances and unnecessary fluff there is some interesting content but I’m really happy I didn’t spend good money on this thing.