Spoken word reviews

Facing Up Read by Bear Grylls | Nature's Numbers Read by Ian Stewart
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The Independent Culture

Facing Up Read by Bear Grylls (Macmillan, c.3hrs, £8.99)

Bear Grylls should, by all the odds, be well and truly dead by now. His parachute failed to open during a freefall exercise and he fell to the ground, breaking his back. While he convalesced, he found himself longingly eyeing a photograph of Everest given by his climber father. A few years later, he was high on its slopes, aiming to become one of the 30 or so Britons to reach the summit of the world's most famous mountain. Attempts are now almost indecently numerous. But Everest is evidently not just a mixing-pot of all nations but a model of co-operation and generosity, with tents and oxygen freely offered and heroic venturings to find lost companions.

Grylls explains all the small practicalities of high altitude life, not omitting the slightest gory detail of the highly technical but still terrifyingly risky business of modern climbing. Especially haunting is his account of the tangle of ropes at the last ridge - and the swinging corpse of a climber who trusted himself to the wrong one. His reading is low key and (unsurprisingly) a little amateur at first, but as he gets into his stride no one could fail to be gripped by his heartfelt excitement and emotion over what was the adventure of a lifetime.

Nature's Numbers Read by Ian Stewart (Orion, c.3hrs, £9.99)

Over the next eight months or so, 20 audiobooks in a series called "Talking Science" are being released by Orion. Each is a version of an influential work of popular science and, more often than not, the reader is the author. The first four tapes are concerned with the Laws of Nature and offer a colourful procession of stimulating models and metaphors.

Bertrand Russell's famous ABC of Relativity is read, perhaps a shade too respectfully, by Derek Jacobi. John Gribbin presents his own Almost Everyone's Guide to Science with vigour and conviction. Steven Weinberg starts off his Dreams of a Final Theory sounding like a company chairman, but suddenly cuts the cackle and gets into his stride. My own favourite was as Ian Stewart's Nature's Numbers, read by the author with an infectious sense of wonder.

I'm sure the tapes will be lapped up eagerly by children whose imaginations exult in being stretched. But there is a real danger that they will be put off by the drab look of the covers. And why not add a slim booklet with text and a few diagrams, or even cartoons, for those who also need to see what people mean? The guiding genius of the series is Richard Dawkins, whose River Out of Eden will be a June release.