At the start of their Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything, the authors confess the title is a fraud, pointing to the tiny asterisk and the word “abridged” that appears in the printed version. But if scientist Adam Rutherford and mathematician Hannah Fry’s latest work turns out to be less than comprehensive, it is at least interested in the concept of comprehensiveness.
In a chapter entitled Endless Possibilities, they discuss the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges’s short story The Library of Babel, in which every word ever written, spoken or thought has been committed to paper. In 2015, Jonathan Basile built his own Library of Babel in digital form using an algorithm. But how in this library of all knowledge, asks Fry, do you find anything? And how would you know what you read was true? All you will find in Basile’s library “are random letters of incomprehensible twaddle … A library containing all possible knowledge may as well contain no knowledge at all.”
Many listeners will know the authors from the Radio 4 reeks The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry, and it’s no surprise that their narration comes with the same easy chemistry and cheerful tone. This is, they reveal, down to their writing process, which involves reading their contributions out loud to each other “to see what makes the other person laugh or think or disagree or nod approvingly”. All the ideas here are rooted in science and maths and are designed to skewer long-held myths and preconceptions while remaining entirely accessible. Further boggling topics include: how nothing can be truly round, why dogs love us and the origins of time.
Rutherford and Fry’s Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything is available on Penguin Audio, 7hr 2 min.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano, Hodder & Stoughton, 7hr 29min
Originally published in 1789, this re-recorded version of Equiano’s memoir of life as a slave is read by the actor and rapper Ben Bailey Smith and features a foreword written and narrated by David Olusoga.
The Women of Troy
Pat Barker, Penguin Audio, 12hr 18min
The unflinching story of the aftermath of the siege of Troy, told from the point of view of Achilles’s slave Briseis, is narrated by Kristin Atherton, who also read Barker’s The Silence of the Girls.