Tuesday, July 29, 2008

1215 The Year of the Magna Carta - Danny Danziger & John Gillingham

1215 The Year Of The Magna Carta
Danny Danziger & John Gillingham
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 9780340824751

Despite the title, 1215 isn't as much about the Magna Carta as it is about what led up to it in the previous years, such as the behavior of King John. There is a lot about what life was like in the period in Britain: wedding rituals, the structure of the church, clothing etc, incomes and how much things were worth and the like.

If you are simply curious as to what life was like in the period, this is a good book and very readable. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of life, such as 'School' or 'The Countryside'.

1215 was a good book, with lots of good information, but I wouldn't use it in research for any classes. This is it's biggest downfall in my mind. The authors don't give detailed sources and when they quotes a chronicler, they doesn't give a specific translation with page numbers or any other locating marks, something that any student is required to give in their papers.

On the whole though, I liked 1215 The Year Of The Magna Carta, and considering it was a bargain book, I think it was worth what I paid for it.

Other medieval history books I've reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
Life In A Medieval Village - Francis And Joseph Gies
By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Ancient Tea Horse Road - Jeff Fuchs

The Ancient Tea Horse Road
Jeff Fuchs
Viking Canada
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780670066117

The Ancient Tea Horse Road is a fascinating read if you are interested in any of the following: China, Tibet, tea and history. I picked it up out of random curiosity, not being especially interested in the region, but being a fan of history and horses. I couldn't put it down.

Honestly, I'm surprised that this is the first book the author has written. Jeff Fuchs is an exceptional writer, capturing his experiences vividly.

He's following an ancient trade route between China, Tibet and India and capturing the memories of the last generation to do so using the traditional methods. It's fascinating to learn so much about something we all take for granted, whether we like it or not: tea. Throughout the book there is a lot of detail about the various types, methods and history of the substance.

I think one of the things that is so interesting is it's apparent in the book that the author has spent a lot of time in the region before he embarked on the trail, something it appears that no non-native has done before. It would have been good to find out more about Jeff's earlier experiences, I think, and I hope he writes more.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

By Sword And Fire
Sean McGlynn
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780297846789

The amazon.com product description:
For all the talk of chivalry, medieval warfare routinely involved acts that we would consider war crimes. Lands laid waste, civilians slaughtered, prisoners massacred: this was standard fare justified by tradition and practical military necessity. This popular treatment of a grisly subject examines the battles of Acre and Agincourt, sieges like BĂ©ziers, Lincoln, Jerusalem, and Limoges, as well as the infamous chevauchĂ©es of the Hundred Years War that devastated great swathes of France. Learn how these events formed the origin of accepted “rules of war”; codes of conduct that are today being enforced in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This is an all-encompassing portrait of war in the Middle Ages that combines vivid narrative with explanation and analysis.
By Sword and Fire is certainly a different take on medieval history than many of the books I've read. Instead of chronicling the events, beliefs etc quite briefly as a lot of the general history books do, this book looks at medieval warfare, the attitudes of the time towards it and atrocities that occurred during wars. It's not exactly for the faint of heart. However, it's not overly graphic either.

Sean starts out by examining recorded cases of punishment for various crimes and the attitudes of the people towards criminals, then looks at the place of the King in all of this. It's only after he's set the stage with these relatively everyday occurrences that the book delves into soldiers behaviors.

Within the book, the author has chosen to examine specific examples of several different types of warfare: open battle, sieges and then whole campaigns, using a number of examples for each. The examples range from the campaign termed The Harrying of the North after the battle of 1066 to sieges during the Crusades.

All of the examples are well documented from chronicles of the time, generally including chronicles from both sides of the dispute so there is little bias, then the author looks at the statements made in the chronicle, such as death figures and explains how they have been interpreted over the centuries.

This book has more or less disproved the chivalric ideal of the Arthurian Romance and medieval movie.

I do recommend By Sword And Fire for anyone who is interested in medieval history.

Other medieval history books I've reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
Life In A Medieval Village - Francis And Joseph Gies
1215: The Year Of The Magna Carta - Danny Danziger and John Gillingham

Edited in 2013 to add the amazon.com product description. The rest of the review is unchanged.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tolkien And The Great War - John Garth

Tolkien And The Great War
John Garth
Houghton Mifflin
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0618331298

One of a growing number of biographies of the author J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien And The Great War focuses on the years of the First World War (1914-1918).

According to the dust-jacket flap, this book "is the first substantially new biography of Tolkien since 1977" (the latter would be the Humphrey Carpenter volume). However, it's not the last. There's the Ring of Words (Tolkien's years at the OED) and the books by Hammond and Scull.

It's one thing to have read the Letters and Humphrey Carpenter's bio on what Tolkien went through during the War, but the way John Garth does it, by looking at Tolkien's battallion as well as those of his friends from the TCBS really brings what Tolkien experienced home to you.

Tokien And The Great War is not just about Tolkien, but also about his three friends from the TCBS, Rob Gilson, G.B. Smith and Christopher Wiseman.

It's not just the movements of the war that Garth goes over, but also he examines Tolkien's early writings: his poetry and the Book of Lost Tales and demonstrates how they were affected by the War.

There were two negatives to the book, one of which is probably just a flaw in my copy. The blue ink on the dust-jacket is like old-fashioned newsprint. It smears onto my fingers. This was the first book I've had to remove the dust-jacket to read. However, I haven't heard about anything like this happening to anyone else, so I suspect it was just my copy.

The second flaw in my mind is the way the end-notes were set up, and here I'm comparing the book to Shippey's Road To Middle-Earth. Unlike the latter book Tolkien and the Great War doesn't use any note numbers. The notes are simply at the end of the book and listed by page number. It made it a lot harder to find the notes, to the point where I finally didn't even bother.

Overall, however, I found the book to be a very engaging read and I think I learned quite a bit about those years which were so formative to Tolkien and his writing.

Other Reviews:
Bookspot Central: Tolkien and the Great War


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