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4.2 out of 5 stars9
4.2 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 August 2012
Interestingly, Amazon reviews of David Bates' biography of William the Conqueror have been contrasted, with the book, first published in 1989, being compared to the much older biography of David Douglas (first published in 1964). US reviewers have tended to prefer the more recent version whereas UK reviewers have been lukewarm in their comments and ratings for this book. I found that both are excellent in rather different ways and I would therefore recommend both to the extent that they complement each other.

I will not pretend to have read ALL of the biographies on William the Conqueror (there are a host of them) but these two are the best that I have come across to date. There are several reasons for preferring David Bates' version. It is more recent. It is targeted at the general reader, as opposed to being mainly a piece of scholarship as David Douglas' version and it is therefore shorter (275 pages versus 375 pages, not counting the annexes). On the other hand, UK reviewers complained that it is "not as meaty and detailed as the David Douglas biography". I guess you cannot have it both ways: scholarly, very detailed and comprehensive and entertaining.

There are also similarities and differences regarding the contents because the each book has a different slant. David Douglas, as the subtitle of his book makes clear, concentrated on the "Norman Impact on England". David Bates, however, is more "a book about a man" who became Duke of Normandy, Count of Maine and then King of England. The contrast should not be pushed too far: both books address what happened before, during and after the Conquest. In addition, David Bates portray of William's personality owes a lot to David Douglas, a debt that he willingly acknowledges.

Despite this, David Bates' biography does differ in substance in at least two respects. First, he focuses more on Normandy before 1066, which happens to be the title of one of his previous books that I can only recommend. This corresponds to the author's own research on Norman records and archives which had largely been neglected by prior historians of Anglo-Norman England. He also has a different slant when considering the latter years of William, once he had become King, and his last years in particular. Here, he tends to see the ageing King grimly battling and struggling on to hold together his Duchy and his Kingdom but losing his grip little by little. Regardless of whether you agree with this interpretation, it is a rather original and plausible one.

Finally, as a reviewer on mentioned, David Bates version has the merit of bringing "a major moment of history to life" together with its main protagonist - William - simply because of the way the book is structured and presented to entertain the general reader while also being a historical biography (no notes and a limited bibliography). This can only make it more attractive for those that want to learn more about an outstanding historical character and his times without necessarily having to go through a PhD dissertation. Note that it does not imply that Douglas' biography is not as good, but only that it is less entertaining than this one which is certainly worth five stars.
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on 26 April 2013
I was extremely impressed by this biography of William the Conqueror. For a man who lived nearly a thousand years ago, and with reliable sources relatively scarce, David Bates has succeeded in constructing a portrait of a king who played such an important role in the shaping of medieval England.

This is not, primarily, a military history. Indeed, Bates devotes very little time to the Norman Conquest itself, preferring to place William in a wider context, both during his time as Duke of Normandy prior to 1066, and as King and Duke afterwards. There is an interesting, although a little tentative, discussion as to the validity of the Conqueror's claim to the throne. However, the scholarship is very good across the book. Bates manages largely to avoid the pitfall that many medieval historians fall into; judging his subject by modern standards. Whilst conceding the brutality of aspects of his character, Bates neither condones nor condemns it, merely explaining that it happened.

This is a good starting point for anyone interested in the period. As I have written above, it is not at all a military history; for those wishing to read an in depth analysis of Hastings or other battles in his career, you will need to go elsewhere.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book (although I can tentatively claim descent from the allies of the Conqueror!) and would recommend it to anyone wishing to get started in learning about the period.
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on 16 September 2012
For a book on the life and times of William the Conqueror it's a good beginners' guide. More time I thought was spent on the times rather than his life, which may be because not enough is known about him to fill the book. Nevertheless it's very good on his background and his life before Hastings.
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on 8 May 2015
A very informative and scholarly book. For anyone interested in this period I would thoroughly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 22 March 2008
A good general introduction to the life of the Conqueror, though it's not as meaty and detailed as the David Douglas biography.
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on 23 November 2014
easy to read, wide ranging, has the benefit of much scholarship, i loved it
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on 21 August 2009
I expected great things from this book as I had never read a full scale biography of the Conqueror. But I was taken in by the arresting extract of the opening page. I thought I was going to learn a lot more about William's mother & upbringing. But I did'nt. What followed set the whole tone of the book by the repetitive phrase "We do not really know..." In short I foumd I already knew as much about William as the author. In compensation I realised that,over many years,I had picked up in a fragmentasry way all that is known about William's story.
The author's style is acceptable and competent. This is a good book for those who do not know anything about William The Conqueror.
Indeed for them it could be an absorbing story. But for me.
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on 20 February 2015
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on 8 August 2009
A very readable book in all sences.

No need for any further report

Just buy if this is your subject.

L J Sicheri
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