STUMP » Articles » Weekend Books: A Few for the Road - Comic Mice, Serious English, and Power-Hungry French » 23 August 2015, 19:54

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Weekend Books: A Few for the Road - Comic Mice, Serious English, and Power-Hungry French  


23 August 2015, 19:54

I’ve been super-busy this past week, getting ready for a road trip from NY to NC (and then a few day excursions in the Carolinas).

And while on this trip, and my usual 750-miles-per-week-total-commute, I’ve been listening to some good audiobooks/lectures on CD.

But first, thanks to this past week’s referrers:

And now some books:


I’ve got three kids, and I had my mother-in-law along for the ride, so I needed at least one family-friendly choice. I let my middle kid pick, and she picked Geronimo Stilton: Books 4-6. This was a 3 CD set, and each CD was one book (each running around an hour).

There are three separate books represented on the CDs:

  • #4: I’m Too Fond of My Fur
  • #5: Four Mice Deep in the Jungle
  • #6: Paws Off, Cheddarface!

Edward Herrmann narrates, and has a lot of fun with the various characters (and there’s plenty of foley, too).

The stories are very wacky, and yes, it’s pitched for the elementary school set. I actually looked at the paper books in the library, and the books are kind of a gentle intro into chapter books. However, I think it’s not really intended for pedagogical reasons – I think the author found a niche and exploited the hell out of it. My kids were certainly enjoying themselves, laughing at several points. And they were quiet, to listen to the story…. that was well appreciated while it took 2 hours to go one mile out of the NJ Turnpike.

In any case, as a parent, it was really convenient to have a CD pop in and be done in about an hour, after which I could pop in what I wanted to listen to.

And what was that?


I’ve listened to this set of lectures before: The Anglo Saxon World by Michael Drout. Drout is an English professor, and he’s done a lot of lecture sets with Modern Scholar.

It may even have been this very set of lectures that first introduced me to Drout, but I think I listened to his Fantasy literature lectures first — Drout is a medievalist, but also big into Tolkein. He’s also got a good series called A Way With Words, which treats with some core concepts of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic — the Big Three of the Liberal Arts.

But back to the Anglo-Saxon World — it covers from the about 500-year period that the Anglo-Saxons dominated England (if we ignore when the Danes semi-dominated).

And I will forever remember this set of lectures because of McGyver.

  • Migration (500s)
  • Conversion (600s)
  • Viking Invasion (700s)
  • Golden Age (800s)
  • Reform (900s)

…and then the fall (1000 – 1066).

I had a really muddy idea of pre-Norman history before I heard the lectures. I had some idea that the Vikings were around before the Romans (…uh. nope. By hundreds of years)

Anyway, good set of lectures, and it’s not just the history — he covers the language, and, being an English prof, is a lot into the literature. FWIW, just like with the Teaching Company/Great Courses, buy these for yourself can be pricey…. but loads of libraries have these lecture sets. I borrowed this from my local library.

And a good followup to the Anglo-Saxon period is….


I browse the audiobooks at the library all the time, and this one caught my eye: The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones.

Now, it’s not a smooth jump from the Anglo-Saxons to the Plantagenets – it’s a gap of about a century. But after William the Bastard (you may know him as the Conqueror) brought his group of French-speaking Germans to conquer the English-speaking Germans, he and his direct descendants had trouble establishing a stable dynasty.

Enter a golden haired man from Anjou, who never stepped foot in England, but married the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England (who had no surviving son when he died).

You may know some of the Plantagenets:

  • Henry II, who married the notorious Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • His boys who became kings: Richard and John (there were a couple others, but it came to grief)
  • A bunch of Edwards
  • … and this one ends with Richard II losing his kingdom because he pushed the Divine Right of Kings in a country where the concept never really “took”

A lot of the Plantagenets tried their power in England, and most found there was a definite limit. Kind of interesting from a practical point of view.

This book is very well-paced, and action-packed. The author keeps things rolling, and he definitely has a lot of material to work with.

He fleshes out a lot of the characters – not only the main royal players, but also notable historical figures, like Thomas a Beckett, the blissful holy martyr whose shrine the Canterbury pilgrims are seeking.

It sounds like Jones followed this up with the Wars of the Roses, which follows the cadet lines of the Plantagenets – the Yorkists and Lancastrians, til the Tudors put paid to the line entirely.

(Oh, and to bring this full-circle with the Anglo Saxons — the Germans come back to rule with the Hanoverians with George I. You never get rid of the Germans, it seems.)

The narrator on the audiobook also narrated one of the series on Churchill I love so well — the Last Lion. I will say this American did have to figure out what he was saying from time to time (place names, that is — I had to look up Blois, which I had never heard of before.)

Anyway, all three have been great listening in the car. I highly recommend!

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