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P. Bolwell (Hastings, England)

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A History of Ancient Britain
A History of Ancient Britain
by Neil Oliver
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.95

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slightly flawed masterpiece, 30 Jun. 2012
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This is the book I have been waiting for! The antecedents of the British people is a subject that has long fascinated me and at last we have a proper, full-length yet approachable and easily-understood study of the subject.

A word of warning however: I know nothing about Neil Oliver (I gather from comments in his "introduction" that this book is a spin-off from a television series which I did not see). He says he is an archaeologist, and for all I know a very good one: we non-specialists have to take him on trust so far as that goes. I was disturbed however to discover that when he strays from his particular field of expertise, he is surprisingly prone to rather basic errors of fact.

For example, who on earth told Neil Oliver that before the inter-planetary collision that formed the moon, the earth's orbit around the sun would have been circular rather than elliptical? As any A-level physics student knows, all planetary orbits are, must be, and always have been elliptical: remember Kepler's First Law of Motion? (see me afterwards, Oliver!) Also, it is absolutely not true that the crescent moon is caused by the earth's shadow falling on it. That cannot possibly be the case in fact since the new moon only appears when the moon is closer to the sun than we are! Oh and by the way, Krakatoa was actually west of Java, not east (don't rely too much on Hollywood to teach you teh facts of geography!)

These are minor quibbles in what was otherwise a fascinating and informative book, which is particularly good at really getting under the skin of the people who lived in ancient Britain and imagining their world and the kind of society they lived in. To adopt the rather over-used cliche, the author really does "bring the past to life". However I confess it always makes me uneasy when the only facts in a book which I am able to check, or which I know something about already, are demonstrably wrong. It would be good to see another archaeologist do a review of the book as regards its archaeological reliability.
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