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on 20 January 2012
Very enjoyable scholarly assessment of the historical perspectives on and contingent development of more modern Druids.
Hutton portrays the origins and alternating fortunes of the Druid, how they have been reimagined, reinterpreted, and reinvented to portray them as patriots, scientists, philosophers and priests, or alternately as corrupt, bloodthirsty and ignorant, fomenters of rebellion, or forefathers of Christian Religion and along the way how they have become either by example or exclusion, guardians of tradition. Such an extensive work merits a repeated reading, here is a brief review of the many areas that he explores.

Setting out with a exposition of the ancient literary references such as that of Pliny, Julius Caesar and etc which cast doubt over the Druid's roles and presented the conquering forces of Rome as that of civilizing a savage and cruel religion, Hutton thoughtfully presents a fascinating and objective assessment of their actual value as historical documents and reveals the many influencing factors at play in them...

Following a period of little interest, the historical threads pick up in the late medieval period, as Hutton explores how subsequent notions of Druids were formed and employed in the service of national prestige and also the reverse engineering of their alleged role in supporting Christianities apparently literal historical accuracy and ensuing spiritual eminence.

At the end of the 15thc the new Humanist movement in scholarship with its aims to recover and build upon the knowledge of the classical ancient world, gave rise to a concurrent celebration of the indigenous peoples as honorable ancestors with a culture of some merit and in this context increasingly presented the Druids as the nearest thing that Europe had had to scientists and philosophers.
Despite the lack of evidence, the German Humanist Conrad Celtes claimed that the Druids had fled there across the Rhine to escape the Romans and hide in German forests, which along with the fact that the Rhineland had been part of the Roman province of Gaul, established their reclamation as of a shared Gallic ancestry.
Basing their accounts on Caesar's comments of the Druids as meeting at Carnute where the Druids of Gaul had met each year, Symphorien Champier seems to have made the case for the druids as French noble ancestors, and in 1585 the French author Taillepied was the first author in any language to devote a book to them.
In this new favorable view, which deftly set aside Caesar's comments about sacrifice as an unimportant fringe activity, the popularity of Druids rose to the extent that by the early 16thC the Druid and Christian cult had been united with claims of the cathedral of Dreux being founded by them following a prediction they had made over a coming saviour and by 1552 Rabelais could refer to them as 'familiar beloved figures'.

They also appeared in a book published in Paris 1526 'Scotorum Historiae' about Scotland written by the Scottish Hector Boece who nationalistically claimed the Druids main meeting place as the Isle of Man and thus shifted their central locus From Germany and France to Scotland.
Whilst the Scots were taking advantage of this new pro-Druid perspective, the Irish already had Druids built into their national literature via Irish sagas and saints' lives recorded by Christian monks where Druids are accorded high social status until the coming of Christianity when the role of the Druid in Irish society was rapidly reduced to that of a sorcerer who could be consulted to cast spells or practice healing magic and their standing declined accordingly , and the Welsh who claimed direct descent and therefore unbroken lineage from the ancient Britons themselves.
The English annexed these various views into their own greater history with a view to establishing cultural supremacy of the whole archipelago, with which they could rival the French.

Tudor England however during late 16thC and early 17thC saw, rather than an ongoing rise in the popularity of Druids, a decline based on a number of factors including that the Irish writers presented the Druids as main opponents of their Roman Catholic Saints, the Welsh were co-opting them from the Scottish, and the English at this time did not wish to associate with the Welsh, plus identification of Druids with the poorly regarded Scottish and French may have been a further deterrent in and of itself.

Following this decline of favor, a resurgence of interest was slow but steady and backed with good credentials.
John Aubrey (1626-1697) was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer best known as author of the short biographical pieces 'Brief Lives'. He was also a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, and is particularly noted as the discoverer of the Avebury henge monument. He presented his findings about Avebury to the Royal Society of London in 1663( The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) .
In 1722 Edmund Gibson's published his enlarged edition of 'Britannica' which established a credible orthodoxy of interpretations of Britain's megalithic monuments as the holy places of its prehistoric inhabitants.

Then the antiquarian Anglican vicar William Stukeley (1687-1765) who proclaimed himself a 'Druid', wrote a number of popular books in which he claimed that prehistoric megaliths like Stonehenge and Avebury were temples built by the Druids.
Stukeley had been inspired by Issac Newtons interest in the cosmological significance of numbers and measurements in ancient Hebrew architecture, particularly the Temple of Solomon which was a subject of wider interest at this time) as representation of the cosmos. Stukeley's view was that these were all in their turn inspired by ancient Egyptians and early Druids, which furthered the growing impression of Druids as nature priests and worthy ancestors devoted to God.
Promoting the view of a powerful relationship between Christianity and Neoplatonism, Druids at this period were claimed to have been both subscribers to, or creators of Plato's philosophy of reincarnation, and the original discoverers of literacy, science and philosophy which they allegedly taught to the Greeks, their religion was thus held to have prefigured that of Christianity and all the alleged Druid symbolism was identified as coded references to the one greater faith that would come.

Soon after the publication and spread of Stukeley's writings, other people also began to self-describe themselves as 'Druids' and form societies: the earliest of these was the Druidic Society, founded on the Welsh island of Anglesey in 1772. Largely revolving around ensuring the continued financial success of business on the island, it attracted many of Anglesey's wealthy inhabitants and donated much of its proceeds to charity, but was disbanded in 1844.
A similar Welsh group was the Society of the Druids of Cardigan, founded circa 1779, largely by a group of friends who wished to attend 'literary picnics' together.
The third British group to call itself Druidic was English rather than Welsh, and was known as the Ancient Order of Druids. Founded in 1781 and influenced by Freemasonry, its origins have remained somewhat unknown, but it subsequently spread in popularity from its base in London across much of Britain and even abroad, with new lodges being founded, all of which were under the control of the central Grand Lodge in London. The Order was not religious in structure, and instead acted as somewhat of a social club, particularly for men with a common interest in music. In 1833 it suffered a schism, as a large number of dissenting lodges, unhappy at the management of the Order, formed their own United Ancient Order of Druids, and both groups would go on to grow in popularity throughout the rest of the century.
The wider British society began to accept the claims for a Druidic role in Biblical times, that they were either noble and inspired forerunners of the Patriarchal fathers of Judaism before Christianity, or alternately that they shared a similar view of Religion and were therefore very ready to embrace 'the word' (of Christ) when it arrived in Britain, either way the Druids Prehistoric and specifically Biblical associations seemed assured.
William Stukely can be seen then as the man who did most to persuade the English that the Druids had been the builders of England's spectacular prehistoric monuments which inturn secured their role in the British imagination as a whole as wise and worthy ancestors.

We also learn of the remarkable and imaginative Welshman Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams 1747-1826), an influential Welsh antiquarian, poet, collector, and literary forger who began to perpetuate the claim that he was one of the last initiates of a surviving group of Druids who were descended from those found in the Iron Age, centered around his home county of Glamorgan. He subsequently organized the performing of Neo-Druidic rituals on Primrose Hill with some of his followers, whom he categorized as either Bards or Ovates, with he himself being the only one actually categorized as a Druid. He practiced a form of religion which he believed the ancient Druids had had, which involved the worship of a singular monotheistic deity as well as the acceptance of reincarnation. Widely considered a leading collector and expert on medieval Welsh literature in his day, he asserted that he had found and translated various ancient medieval and ancient welsh bards texts (which have become standards of subsequent neo Druidical tradition) although after his death it was revealed that he had forged a large number of these manuscripts including the Druidical Triads such as the three triumphs of the bardic order being learning, reason and peace...the three unities of the cosmos being God, Truth and liberty.
He presented Roman Catholicism as the corrupted form of the teachings which had prevailed earlier and so set about a call for revival of the ancient ways by creating the kind of Druid literary evidence which was lacking historically but that he felt should have existed.
Despite the false nature of their origins, his literary contribution has significantly influenced the Welsh Gorsedds , the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain itself was founded in 1792 by him along with much of its rituals.

By the 1860's whilst druids had dominated the perceptions of the ancient Britons, portrayed varyingly as savages or heroes, they had become central to Britain's story of its own prehistory.
Yet, although previously exemplified among the Pre-Raephelites and Romantic Poets, the artistic movement now began its Gothic phase and this prioritized the dark gloomy aspects of nature and existential despair over the earlier romantic immanence and delight of nature and in the Druids.
Further in this downplaying development was the arising of a more critical scholarship in part following on such luminaries as Charles Darwin whose Origin Of The Species decisively removed the stamp of literal authenticity from the Bible as a historical record of early times and in so doing also removed the need for people to identify their Druidical ancestors as related to that story.
Archaeological and Geological Science now replaced theological perspectives and in this light the origins of the many megalithic structures came under a sustained barrage of academia, which found little or no direct evidence for the Druids at these sites.

The rise of late Georgian and early Victorian Britain as a technological and industrial force displaced quaint ruritanian ideologies further, as the culture realigned itself with the earlier Empirical Roman culture, justifying their world wide land and resources grab and subjugation of wider world peoples as a spiritual mission to Civilize and Christianize them for their own good.
In this context the nature Druids were portrayed once again as forlorn savages easily identified with some of the tribes people now discovered around the world and whilst the latter were held to be less evolved morally or culturally, so these sweeping and disparaging generalizations were applied retrospectively to the formerly applauded Druids.
With a view to why the contemporary writers of note had not taken up the Druid cause, Hutton explains how they had apparently become such a standard trope that they did not hold any novel appeal, although less erudite literature salaciously celebrated this fall from grace with imaginative and avid accounts of the atrocities that it was suspected the Druids had carried out, both satisfying the repressions of the age and reinforcing their view of themselves and their culture as superior.
Yet at the end of this period the rise of clubs and societies which also include freemasonry as well as social clubs, brought about an increasing number of new, Druid fraternities, which at start seemed more to be about song and community, but as time wore on and they grew in membership, stature and influence, becoming increasingly akin to benevolent societies, designed to provide assistance to their membership in times of need.

We are then introduced to George Watson MacGregor Reid (1862?-1946), another remarkable and colorful character, this time Scottish, who held a philosophy based on his view of a Universal Bond and who led 'The Druid Order'. The Church of the Universal Bond was a religious group founded in Britain in the early twentieth century by MacGregor Reid, promoting socialist revolution, anti-imperialism and sun worship.
Initially aligned with Zoroastrianism, by 1912, MacGregor Reid was becoming more attracted to Druidry, especially as Stonehenge was at the time being seen as a solar temple. His church began holding rituals there and their worship was permitted to continue when the site was given to the state in 1918. He and his group are first recorded there in June 1912. During the succeeding two summers they clashed with the owner and the police, because of their wish to hold rites in the circle and their disinclination to pay the recently imposed admission fee.
Although only commanding around 50 adherents in its early days, the church was instrumental in forming the link in the popular imagination between Stonehenge and Druids despite the efforts of archaeologists to discourage it. In 1924, the Office of Works permitted the church to scatter the ashes of cremated former members at Stonehenge, which drew significant protests from the Society of Antiquaries, the Wiltshire Archaeological Society, the Royal Archaeological Institute and famous archaeologists such as O. G. S. Crawford. The outcry persuaded the government to withdraw permission and in 1932 the Church officially moved its rites from the monument to Normanton Gorse nearby.
MacGregor Reid thereby made the name of Druid into both a vehicle and metaphor for English Cultural radicalism, and founded the enduring tradition which through succession continues unbroken to this day(perhaps with the current day protests over access and admissions fees to Stonehenge of of King Arthur Pendragon).
After the Second World War, MacGregor Reid's son Robert took over leadership of the church and it was able to regain midsummer access to Stonehenge throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, to the dismay of many leading archaeologists.
When Thomas Maughan was elected chief in 1964, some senior members and the Order's Maenarch left to form the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.
The growing Stonehenge free festival caused the monument to be closed at midsummer in 1985 and the Church faded into obscurity but has maintained a presence at the re-opened solstice festivities since 2000.

Despite the kind of mysterious and magickal account which one might have hoped for in such a book as this, perhaps a 'history' written by Iolo Morganwg would have served such a purpose better, this study provides the most objective and thorough account yet written of the little we know about the ancient Druids and their subsequent reinvention and revival to this day. Throughout the book Hutton's prose is informed by many personal and some humorous details which furnish a much more engaging presentation than either a work of speculative conjecture or one of chronological charting might have done.
Suggesting then that the Druids displacement from the national imagination has occurred because of the earlier success integrating them into established structures of thought against which later artistic, religious and scientific developments defined themselves by contrasting orientation, ethics and methodologies, this book also portrays the far reaching influence of three very imaginative men, William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg and George Watson MacGregor, ranging from classic English eccentrics to reactionary rogues who between them have created and characterized the nature of a Druid as we think of them today.

Highly Recommended ~
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on 5 August 2009
This long-awaited book is, quite simply, a tour de force. Interpretations of Druidry through the ages, treated to scrupulous scholarly dissection, in a masterly fashion. The first chapter, the raw material, should be required reading for all who have ever given credence to the impeccability of original sources...but given their suspect nature, how has Ronald Hutton extracted the truth from any, and given coherence to this book?

From Caesar, a truly machiavellian author, onwards, a succession of agenda-laden activists, scholars and authors have fashioned an image of druids for the popular imagination to suit the political and cultural points they are making. By examining all these written sources in the context of the social, economic, political standpoint of the various authors, a magnificent tapestry is gradually woven of English history and the men who have affected it; with. always, the misty figure of the druid just glimpsed to colour the narrative. This book is fascinating. It is huge. It is really beyond the scope of a short review to convey the breadth and sweep of the narrative.

In the end analysis, all that can be held onto is that the word `druid' has, at significant times in our history, rung with such resonance that men have annexed it, with all its associations, to manipulate or to stir others to their causes. And so through the chapters we run - through the ages, and the gamut of emotional responses to the term druid; from disgust and vilification for a blood-soaked and savage priesthood to awe and wonder at the disseminators of the mystical wisdom of nature, pausing in admiration for them as radical freedom fighters along the way.

The scope is given in the tantalising chapter headings: The raw material; The Druids take shape; the Druids take over; the Druids take flesh; Iolo Morganwg; Interlude: a pair of Williams; the Apogee of the English Druids; Iolo's children; The Downfall of the Druids; Druidic afterglow; The Universal Bond; Druids and archaeologists; conclusion. And, along the way, the Hutton style, ensures that the reader is engaged and intrigued by his obvious delight in the minutia of his source material and vivid descriptive capacity.

Which poet vilified the druids for, amongst other things, halitosis? Which seminal figure was characterised by `truculent radicalism?' Whose companions `strenuously ruminated'? What place does unlikely Dudley hold in Druidry's history, and which Order opened a `Druid school' before being ridiculed with an expose of a ritual involving sulphur and groans to signify hell and an arch druid with a battle axe threatening death to the candidate? Which poet beloved of modern druids actually associated our spiritual forefathers with `howling, wailing, chaos, weeping, torture and bloodshed'? These examples are not intended to tease, but to give a sense in a short review of the journey of adventure one embarks upon with this book.

The matter is dense, the scholarship impeccable, but the effect of Hutton's light touch and engaging style is to draw the reader through a series of druidically-inspired tableaux exposing the manners and mores of bygone times. But be warned; it is best enjoyed in short bursts. This is not English ale, but a fine liqueur, to be savoured and enjoyed, with a respect for the artistry that went into its composition and made it so palatable to the reader.

The truth about the druids, as Prof Hutton regularly points out, will never be known. That they have been the raw material of every social and political dreamer since the advent of written history is the basis of this book. `In the last analysis... this book is about neither archaeology nor druidry, but about the British, and the way in which they have seen themselves, their island, their species and their world.'
And a great book it makes.
My advice is, buy it now.
Penny Billington
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on 22 January 2010
A decade ago, Ronald Hutton produced a definitive history of the development of modern Witchcraft in his 'The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft'. Now he has done the same thing for Druidry. As with his previous books, his research has been incredibly thorough and he conducts us through the maze of evidence with great clarity and erudition. In the case of Druidry the sheer quantity of evidence is almost overwhelming. Since they first came to the attention of Greek and Roman writers more than 2,000 years ago, Druids and Druidry have been the subject of a huge number of books, articles, plays, operas, poems, films, and documentaries. Since, as Professor Hutton makes clear, so little is known about what ancient Druids actually did or believed, the literature about them has ranged from the merely speculative to the outright fantastic. 'Blood and Mistletoe' deals with them all with equal candour.
The main body of the book deals with how Druidry has been envisioned and enacted in Britain and Europe since the Renaissance. The story is dotted with wonderful eccentrics and brilliant scholars in more-or-less equal measure. Several, such as William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg and Dr. William Price, are given extensive biographies that fill out their characters in entertaining detail while whetting the appetite for more. Indeed, that's the one problem I have with this book: I wish it were at least twice as long. I want to know more about Morien, 'Celtic' Davies, MacGregor Reid and others who cry out for full biographies devoted just to them.
One of the author's many triumphs is to so clearly place Druids and attitudes towards them within the context of their times, pointing out the many and varied roles Druids have fulfilled within British society. Among other things, we learn that Druids were central to the British, more specifically the English, understanding of prehistory for 140 years, during which time they were also favourite subjects for poets and artists including William Blake, Thomas Gray and many others.
The author also traces the origins and development of Druid revival groups, from the Ancient Order of Druids in 1781 and the Welsh Gorsedd in 1792, through to the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in 1964. On the way, we learn how present-day Druid groups have been influenced by, among others, the Freemasons, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Gardnerian Wicca. Plus, of course, there's plenty about clashes between Druids and archaeologists at Stonehenge, though these take place perhaps rather earlier than you might think.
Readers of the author's previous books will not be surprised to learn that several popular delusions are thoroughly demolished here. One is the spurious list of past Chosen Chiefs of the Druid Order of the Universal Bond that begins with John Toland in 1717 and includes such luminaries William Stukeley, William Blake and Gerald Massey. This is shown to have been invented in the 1950s, while the Order itself didn't exist before 1909. Given Professor Hutton's reputation as a demolisher of myths, you might expect to find him here attacking the notion that Druids have any valid relationship with megalithic monuments such as Stonehenge. In fact, he does almost the opposite, quoting numerous respected archaeologists who have supported just such a relationship. These include Professors Stuart Piggott, Glyn Daniel and Francis Pryor.
This illuminating, fascinating, brilliant volume takes us up to the 1970s. For Professor Hutton's take on contemporary Druidry, see his previous books, The Druids: A History or Witches, Druids and King Arthur
If you're at all interested in the real history of Druidry, you really can't afford to be without 'Blood & Mistletoe.'
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on 21 December 2009
This book is indeed a marvelous exposition on the way our nation has viewed the Druids, so much of this being mythology and pseudo-history manufactured by eccentrics and rogues with a view to foster Nationalist principles, and vigorous self promotion for the very same individuals of course. The grand sweep of this story, from the 1500s to the present day takes in a dazzling array of characters chock full of swagger, ambition, and dyspeptic single-mindedness, who thrust through to the fore their own ideas on the Druids that caught fire in the collective imagination.
This book, as it fully intended to do, exploded many of the myths still floating around in my skull as to who and what the Druids might have been. You can't help growing up in the U.K. but absorb by osmosis the specious fables that abound and come away with a picture of ancient blood letting seers with sickle in one hand, blood stained dagger in the other, sacrificial victim chained to the slaughter stone...
Gothic literature formed a large part of this misinformation that so many still believe.

Hutton's superbly researched text is a hard slap to the face, giving the real story of what consitutes Druidry in our modern age, but yet oft-times it is just as intriguing a tale as the hoary legends of grove-bound sorcerers.

An excellent and worthy text.
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on 27 April 2011
More accessible than some academic texts, if you want the historic truth about Druids then this has to be the ultimate read. If, however, you are looking for a fantasy tale of magic and witchcraft this is not for you.

Although I had to approach the book in small doses as the language and style is somewhat daunting in places I found I was doing so religiously as Professor Hutton unravels the twists and turns of the Druidic myth methodically and with a subtle humour that lifts what could otherwise be very heavy reading.

Put the effort in and you'll discover as much about mans' ability to manipulate and rewrite history for his own ends as you will about the order of the Druids.
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on 23 May 2010
First, I want to describe an impression when this book came to my postbox - It's really big one, I've expected 3 times thinner!
And it's a 100% great read, however you have to keep in mind, that this book will not open your eyes on the life of ancient druids - as there is little evidence of their lifestyle left - this book focuses on all that followed the times, which came after the druids. People comprehension of them as magicians, servants of devil, holders of sacred knowlidge or just cheaters.
So, if you're about to find more info on druids - read this book, you will find alot of interesting things, but don't expect miracles, it's based on what's left and it's not much.
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on 30 July 2009
I doubt anyone would know more about the Druids than Ronald Hutton. This is - the - history of the druids of Britain from one of our premiere experts. It is entertaining and well written from beginning to end and based on the most scrupulous coverage of the sources...real and invented.
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on 3 January 2016
I love this book, because my husband loves it (whom I bought it for!). It was over a year ago now that he got it, but he has referred back to it many times since reading it in full. There is generally little information available on Druids at all, and this book manages to draw together such a vast array of information, from all sorts of valid sources, so as to compile this extensive and beautiful book with its literary treasures within - a great read, and full of fascinating facts as conversation pieces.
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on 21 November 2010
Of course as all the reviews state this is scholarly and indepth look at the development of Druidry in Britain.

However, as with Huttons other books I can never figure out if he is a) trying to support Neo-Paganism, b) Debunk it all as fabricated lies c) provide an objective historical or sociological study. If it is c) I clearly see in some aspects the authors own opinions come into the study making it somewhat skewed and biased. In the same manner as 'Triumph of the Moon' he makes clear his own personal opinion on certain personalities and orders and therefore *not totally objective* So is at an academic study, popular literature or an incoherent mis-mash of both ? Does it support the Neopagan movement ?

The book starts with a reasonably good chapter on the source material for Druidry in particularly a very well researched and accurate look at Irish Druidry. The main bulk of the book then focusses upon various Druid Orders between 17th century upto about the formation of obod and a little beyond. No comment on modern Druid developments in the last 20 years or so. Personally, I found the middle section chapters which form the bulk of the book to be wranglings about middle class pseudo masonic personalities (mostly male) and orders to be very boring indeed. We have a whole gaggle of Hermetic Druids, Masonic style orders and the like etc. In fact this book is more a study on what Isaac Bonewits termed 'Meso-Paganism' from the 17th century revival upto Neo-Paganism.

Still if you are a Druid buff and want to get into these things its a very good study (of course, just read the other reviews !!). Its just that I found the title to be misleading... it is not 'ancient history' nor 'neo-pagan' history. I would have like more history on the developments in the last 20-30 years.
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on 10 October 2010
For me, lately, there has been a "but" with it comes to work by Ronald Hutton. It seems to me that it is accepted as the worlds of a saint, rather than being looked at as the work of another pagan researcher. This book is a good book and an enjoyable read, but I found it biased in placed which puts me off. Its a history book written by someone who is a Druid, and as such one should expect that level of insider bias, I guess. What worries me is that no-one is questioning the work being put forward by Hutton, and I hope that there will be a new generation of researchers who will go back to source material and look at a wider scope of material than he currently is.
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