This is eventually going to develop into a gentle whinge, so whingeophobes should leave smartly. As a background project - more of a private ambition, really, I intend to improve my knowledge of the Thirty Years War sometime soon. I know some bits of the history and some of the names, but my line of thinking is thus:
This was an important period of European history, I don't know very much about it, and I think I probably should know a bit more. It might make me a better, more rounded person (unlikely) and I might find it interesting (less unlikely).
I have Peter H Wilson's highly praised The Thirty Years War - Europe's Tragedy, which I've skimmed and which looks very good. I bought it about 2 years ago. The main problems have been:
(1) The last two years have been a bit hectic for me - very little free time or peace of mind to settle to it, because - with the best will in the world...
(2) ...it is a big book. Substantial. It is a serious piece of work, to be approached with appropriately monastic dedication. Anything less would be selling both me and Dr Wilson short.
So I decided that I might be better to start with something shorter and higher level, so I can find some kind of timeline or skeleton on which I can hang a more detailed study. This is the Foy Approach to problem solving - start with some one-liners and a nice map or two, and then find where are the hooks and trapdoors to get closer to the details.
So I purchased CV Wedgwood's volume on the subject - a bit long in the tooth now, maybe, since it dates from 1938, and our collective view of Germany has evolved a little since then, but Dame Veronica is always a comfortable read, I find, if somewhat over-partial at times. I bought a paperback, American edition which set me back some £12 or so. It is smaller than Wilson's book, and I have actually started reading it. Good so far. The plan is, once I've finished it, to return to the worthy Europe's Tragedy with a few more lights on and greater enthusiasm.
One (debatable) brainwave was the idea that I might augment my efforts with an audiobook - I listen to audiobooks a lot when I'm out in my van, so I thought that might be useful. We might discuss how an audiobook would work without any maps to hand, but you can see what I was thinking. So I went to the excellent website of Librivox, and downloaded a suitably hefty, three-part freebie, which is an unabridged reading of a translation of Schiller's great standard history.
Now that is a very fair pedigree, you have to admit. I could feel the scholarship gland swelling just at the idea - sadly, the reality was less happy. The product is free, so it almost seems above criticism, but I could not warm to the narrator, the language (translated, at that) is ponderous in the extreme. Indigestible. I found I could drive along quite happily, thinking about something else, while the pearls of Schiller droned on in the background. So I'd run it back a bit, and try to locate the point at which I had lost the plot (so to speak), and the same thing would happen. I also had a faint worry that I might become a danger on the roads if I paid more attention to the goings-on in Germany.
In truth, the main problem is the text - in whatever tongue, Schiller's work comes from a period when it was necessary for historians - nay, scholars of all types - to write in a lofty and long-winded manner which demonstrated their stature and their great wisdom. The actual transmission of knowledge seems so much a lesser objective that at times I wonder whether they even thought it was necessary.
Schiller/Librivox - strike. Not for me.
Being a stubborn sort of fellow, or a slow learner, if you prefer, I located an unabridged audiobook version of CV Wedgwood's history, narrated by one Charlton Griffin. I listened to an extract, and it really sounded very promising, though the issue about the maps remains, of course. Good-oh - so how do I get one?
Well, my friends at Amazon offered me a free download copy, no less, but I would have to subscribe to Audible, which is Amazon's audio-book version of the age-old book-of-the-month-club racket, and would cost me £7.99 a month indefinitely thereafter. No, thanks - I do not care if I then have access to 200,000 audiobooks - I do not wish to even think about 200,000 audiobooks. I swerved that solution.
Next up, I found that I could download the same book for about £8 from iTunes. OK - after some thought, I did this. It comes down as M4P files, which will only play on an Apple device and which cannot legally be converted to more mainstream MP3. In fact I had a pretty good idea this is what would happen, and I do have an iPhone and an iMac, and we have the iTunes player app installed on various other devices, but not, alas, on my van. I could, of course, hook up my iPhone to the van's BlueTooth, or even just plug the beggar in, but it is more hassle than I would choose.
Now we get to sanctimony, so I tread warily here. I can understand that audio and music files should be protected in some way, not just to boost Apple's profits, but to maintain any chance of the recorded music industry surviving. It is customary at this point to bleat on about how I have purchased these files, and thus am the owner, and should be able to play them on anything I want - I would quite like it if this argument carried some weight, but the reality is that I have paid £8 for a set of files which are intended only to play on Apple kit or via Apple's licensed software. I knew this before I bought them, and that is what I have bought - I have no further rights.
On the other hand...
On the other hand, it is worth bearing in mind that Steve Jobs, before he became a lay saint, was not the least sanctimonious person in history. It should also be remembered that an operating system upgrade for one of the early iPhones (or it might have been an iPod - I don't actually care which) deliberately deleted any non-iTunes musical files from the customer's device, even if he had purchased the tracks legally from some other source. I believe Apple did get into hot water over this, and rightly so, but the logic was originally that Mr Jobs felt he should protect Apple's financial position by making it impracticable for i-device owners to buy their music elsewhere (though there was no such Term or Condition of use accompanying the sale of the device), and - primarily - because Apple thought they could get away with it. Given the background, I do not find the idea of someone ripping them off so terrible.
If anyone has any idea how to convert M4P files into MP3, so I can listen while I'm driving, then - entirely out of academic, theoretical interest, of course, I would be happy to learn. Not that I would ever do such a thing, you understand.