Greg Milner is very passionate about music he likes and how he likes to listen to it. The (unfairly) simplistic premise of this book would be "Analog/LP = Good, Digital/CD = Bad". And he turned almost every stone around America to prove his point, from Edison's single minded-obsession with improving the recorded sound quality to explaining in detail how modern, internet based compression formats are destroying the sound we now listen on a daily basis.
It is rather obvious that he had his mind made up long before he started researching for this book. Warmth, wittiness and houmor of his writing about early days of cylinders and vinyls turns quickly into bitter sarcasm every time he mentions CDs, and Digital seems to be a dirty word for him. Artistic and technological advancements in Europe are largely overlooked, except when they are either nicked or exported over the Atlantic. I couldn't stop wandering, if by any chance CD wasn't invented by an European and a Japanese company, would it fair a bit better in his views?
Accounts of audio developments are detailed and to the point, but some might find them too technological. Milner wastes no efforts to prove his point - that since the 80s over-produced and over-compressed rock and pop music doesn't sound 'natural' any more, exclusively due to digital recording technology and digital sound processing. But when he gets to explain why do we suffer from a digital fatigue, he is still exclusively focused on rock and pop. Classical music is barely mentioned, and even then, Leopold Stokowsky is painted as a charlatan and Herbert von Karajan wrongly(!) labeled as 'Hitler's favorite conductor'. And that's it. Naturally created sound doesn't seem to exist in Milner's recorded world, but it was far easier proving that already artificially created sound of rock and pop music sounds equally artificial when recorded and reproduced. And the fact that Philips and Sony already fixed all shortcomings that 'dirty' CD made such an inadequate sound carrier is also barely mentioned - there are only two passing references about Super Audio CD in the whole book, but nothing about its capabilities to sound like a good old LP.
Everything concerned, this is an interesting read. If you have more than a passing interest in sound technology, this is a must. The unique selling point of Milner's writing should be his ability to build up a very convincing theoretical analysis out of historical narrative. And, at the end of the day, you can agree or disagree with some of his points, but the fact remains that the commercial need for a quick musical buck lowered the sound quality of the (rock and pop) music we listen today to an equivalent of a cold pizza - digestible only if you're desperate.