Listening to an audiobook while doing something else is a great way to multitask, and it’s especially satisfying if you get a little bit smarter and more informed while doing it. So, I suggest you start the new year off by listening to The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel E. Lieberman, a renowned professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard. Steadfastly narrated by Sean Runnette, the book is an exciting, comprehensible and somewhat alarming journey into our origins, into how we came to have the bodies we have, and a provocative look at how our history, with its major transformations, influences our well-being. Cultural evolution, which moves more rapidly now than biological evolution, has created environmental conditions that our Stone-Age bodies are not always in sync with. This fosters obesity and several chronic “mismatch” diseases, like osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, where symptoms, not causes, are treated, leading to a pernicious feedback loop. Can we fix it? Maybe. As Lieberman says, your “body’s past was molded by the survival of the fitter,” its “future depends on how you use it.”

ALL'S WELL . . .
Elizabeth George’s latest, Just One Evil Act, read by Davina Porter, is billed as “a Lynley novel,” but this time it’s Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers—smoking too much, eating too much, dressing in her inimitable style with high-top sneaks, baggy pants and message-bearing T-shirts—who’s on center stage. When Barbara’s neighbor and dear friend, Taymullah Azhar, a Pakistani microbiologist, discovers that Hadiyyah, his beloved 9-year-old daughter, has been whisked away by her beautiful, capricious mother, whom he never actually married, he’s devastated. Havers, without regard for her own position at Scotland Yard, hits the ground running and gets herself, and Lynley, totally entangled in an increasingly complex miasma of kidnapping, murder, betrayal and jealousy. The scene shifts back and forth from London to the wonderful walled city of Lucca in Tuscany, with Havers careening out of control on a risky rampage to save her friends. It’s a long tale, with un po’ too much Italian dialogue, but if you’re a fan, you’ll be there to the very end, waiting expectantly for the next installment.


The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s extraordinary, best-selling novel, with its coincidences and reversals of fortune, has been called Dickensian by practically every reviewer. It’s that and also a grandly plotted bildungs­roman that moves from New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam, all brilliantly evoked, and back. The tale follows its narrator, Theo Decker, 13 years old when we first meet him, for the next 14 years, through dislocation and loss, always searching for a place for himself within a world full of moral ambiguity. The story also follows the fate of “The Goldfinch,” the small, eponymous masterpiece painted in 1654 that becomes Theo’s talisman, passion and burden, as well as the conduit of Tartt’s meditation on the transcendent immortality of beauty and the transience of life. I read the book before I listened to this fabulous audio version, and the ears have it. Narrator David Pittu is superb, giving every character—especially Boris, Theo’s infectiously charming, Russian-accented, druggy, vodka-swigging, lifelong buddy—the perfect voice.

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