Books: Spoken Word

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The Independent Culture

read by Alan Bates

HarperCollins, 5hrs 30mins, pounds 9.99

IAN McEWAN'S Booker Prize-winning novella takes to spoken word like a duck to water, not least because it is so short that no abridgement was needed to fit it on to four cassette tapes. It is the story of the consequences for three high-flyers of their very different liaisons with the woman with whose untimely death the story opens. The plot, which McEwan unfolds with the consummate skill of a conjuror, is playfully topical in its portrayals of a candidate for prime minister, a broadsheet newspaper editor and an eminent musician struggling with a millennium composition. Alan Bates, his voice gruffly wry and authoritative, is the perfect choice as reader.

Science and Discovery

Newton, Darwin, Einstein

Simon & Schuster, 9hrs, pounds 20

ENLIGHTENMENT TAPES are finding their feet as a novel and easily assimilable medium of education and self-improvement. This particular set is an excellent introduction for ignorant arts-trained minds like my own to Newton, Darwin and Einstein. Each pair of cassettes introduces the great men biographically, sets their ideas in context and explains their lasting value. They are also richly furnished with contemporary comment - John Donne on Copernicus, for example. Although I found presenter Edwin Newman's important intonation a shade soporific - Mr Chips on a Friday afternoon - the generous sprinkling of quotations read in other voices makes the overall effect bouncily upbeat.