I have been looking for an audiobook that explains the Napoleonic period. So I tried Andrew Roberts’s epic, Napoleon the Great.
I have many audiobooks to choose from, as I have finished over 200. In that amount, you may not be surprised to find that I ran into audiobooks that I regretted buying. I ended up listening to a few bad audiobooks, as Audible places limits on the numbers of audiobooks that can be returned. Audible does this to prevent people from abusing their system. As otherwise, people could simply return audiobooks after they had finished them and never pay for them. As I wanted my money’s worth, I ended up listening to them.
In my experience, bad audiobooks suffer from two common flaws. Starting off, with bad narration usually provided without enthusiasm, in a boring and dull manor. Just as it is with potentially good movies ruined by bad acting, the same goes with audiobooks. The other flaw being the books themselves, as no amount of good voice acting can save them. The most common flaw with books comes when they are stretched out way too long, to fill an excessive page count.
However most of the time the narration is brilliant and brings the book to life, usually done by a very enthusiastic narrator. Furthermore, the costs of narration if done by a professional actor, will limit the numbers of books that will become audiobooks. The same selective process happens when it comes to which books that are turned into films. Take for example the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movie franchise that started out as books.
By the way, this is just my opinion and I do not intended to take away any enjoyment from these who liked these books. Below are the three worst books I have so far come across:
Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906
Let us start with the least worst of the three, Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906 by David Cannadine. It is a brilliant example of a good book ruined by poor narration. If you do not believe me, follow the hyperlink in reference for the book above and you can hear a sample of the narration on the purchase page. The narration almost seemed to be design to put you to sleep, with its very monotone and robotic deliverance. You can tell that the narrator has very little enthusiasm for the book, almost as if he was doing a paint by numbers job.1
However if you can look past the narration, the Victorious Century itself is well written and highly informative. Otherwise, it would have been farther down this list, as the narration is the worst that I can remember. Furthermore, I was still able to finish the book, even if I had to use a lot of stops and starts.1
I would give Victorious Century overall 1/5 star rating, being zero stars for the narration, and three starts for the book itself.
London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing
London in the Eighteenth Century written by Jerry White suffers from many of the same problems of the previous book but lacks its redeeming features. The book has a much narrower focus than the previous book, being only concerned with the history of London instead of entire country in the 18th Century. The level of detail contained within the book, means that it could easily be used as a time traveller’s guide to the city. Which sounds good, until you realise there was nothing of real interest going on back then, or White just could not find it. Unfortunately, the book just ends up covering insignificant minutiae that quickly gets boring. To like this book you really have to like narratives on everyday life.2
London in the Eighteenth Century is divided into five sections starting with how the city expanded over the century and ending with how the city was governed. Therefore, the book tries to tell its story with mixture of personal accounts and description of what was happening. However saying that, the story is not poorly written, just not very interesting.2
The narration was by Neil Gardner and was slightly better than the previous book, but not by much. His monotone performance completely fails to bring the London in the Eighteenth Century to life, even if the book was good to start with. Nevertheless, it is less monotone than the previous’ book performance.2
I would give London in the Eighteenth Century a 0/5 star rating. Luckily, I was able to return this one.
Becoming a Great Essayist
Now for the worst audiobook by a clear country mile, Becoming a Great Essayist by Jennifer Cognard-Black. It fails at every hurdle, from its audio narrative to its substance. The aim of the audiobook was to help people create great English’s essays. Which seemed to be the very thing I needed, when I was doing my masters dissertation. I had no idea how wrong I could be. I really tried to finish this book, but I just could not do it.3
However, Becoming a Great Essayist provides little more than ideas different for essays. Which could at best inspire you, or worst be of no relevance to you. I was in the latter. I suspect most people will gain little from the book, which is a real shame, given the subject area. Especial given the name of the title and the numbers of students who want to produce good essays. If she had gone through the process of writing essays, from beginning to end, it could have been a different story entirely.3
The Great Courses, who published Becoming a Great Essayist, specialise in producing professional lecture series. Before this, I would not have believed that they could have produce something so uninformative. Especially since professional lecturer series are my go to source for learning, as they are usually jammed packed full of information.3
Unfortunately, Jennifer Cognard-Black’s lectures feel like they are coming from a schoolteacher. Yes, she is passionate, but just like so many schoolteacher before her, she completely fails to make the subject interesting. She unfortunately comes across as a bit wishy-washy and overly proud of her essays. In sort the very type of speech that has put many schoolchildren across the globe to sleep.3
Becoming a Great Essayist is so bad it is almost an achievement. It puts you back in one of those boring meaningless school lessons that you had thought you had left behind.3
I would give Becoming a Great Essayist a -1/5 star rating, it is that bad.
Therefore, what should you look out for to avoid the mistakes I made?
Starting with avoiding bad narration. Listen to sample on the purchase page, and if you start to lose concentration, this book is not for you. Then check what the book is actually about, by reading the reviews and using content page on amazon to get a glimpse of the content behind the title. However if it is a fictional book be careful not find out too much about the story.
By Arran Wilkins © 2021 (text only)
(1) Cannadine, David (Author). Dyer, Kris (Narrator). Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906 (Audible Studios, 2017). Amazon audible, Available at: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Victorious-Century-Audiobook/B075Y57GPM?ref=a_library_t_c5_libItem_&pf_rd_p=da5752e8-6ae2-4c79-a3e2-1ab92e079358&pf_rd_r=0TAB0STK1CHZFT03DBFV [Accessed at 23 December 2020].
(2) White, Jerry (Author). Gardner, Neil (Narrator). London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing (Audible Studios, 2019). Amazon audible, Available at: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/London-in-the-Eighteenth-Century-Audiobook/B07WDDKHKX?qid=1608731624&sr=1-1&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=c6e316b8-14da-418d-8f91-b3cad83c5183&pf_rd_r=148NH7YE7MD4Y59Y1EN0 [Accessed at 23 December 2020].
(3) Cognard-Black, Jennifer. Becoming a Great Essayist (The Great Courses, 2016). Amazon audible, Available at: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Becoming-a-Great-Essayist-Audiobook/B01GW3QJYO?ref=a_library_t_c5_libItem_&pf_rd_p=da5752e8-6ae2-4c79-a3e2-1ab92e079358&pf_rd_r=NX02MJ6ZVYJD369G99S9 [Accessed at 23 December 2020].