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Peasant (Deepest England)
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Bernard Spilsbury: His Life and Cases
Bernard Spilsbury: His Life and Cases
by Douglas Gordon Browne
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but necessary, 21 Dec. 2015
I was surprised to find, when attempting to get more detail on some of the many murders referred to in this book, that there was nothing much available on the internet apart from contemporary newspaper columns. For this reason, this book is an essential item on the bookshelf of any reader with an interest in 20th century murder cases and the origins of forensic science.

Unfortunately, the book is far from ideal. The authors seem to assume that readers will recall most of these murders personally from their coverage in the news of the time - perhaps feasible in 1951 but obviously impossible for the modern reader. Details of cases are skipped over, moreover, anything which, by the rigid standards of the time, was considered salacious, is omitted. Anyone hoping for a gore-fest wil be very disappointed; on several occasions the author simply says things like 'the nature of the injuries is unprintable' or 'Spilsbury's findings could only be detailed in a medical textbook'. While a huge number of murders are covered, few of them are dealt with in detail and even in the most notorious cases the researcher will have to resort to books such as the 'Famous Trials' series for a full account even of the forensic evidence.

To make matters worse, the text is incoherently organised and skips about a good deal. Readers are repeatedly referred to events which will be mentioned later, or have been dealt with earlier - without page references being given. The events of Spilsbury's career are arranged niether chronologically nor thematically, but in a chaotic mixture of both. The writing style is not as lucid as it might be either. Spilsbury's personal life, as distinct from his cases, is hardly outlined except in the barest essentials. It is not a book which one would read for the story.


Sacred Land: Decoding Britain's extraordinary past through its towns, villages and countryside
Sacred Land: Decoding Britain's extraordinary past through its towns, villages and countryside
by Martin Palmer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.88

2.0 out of 5 stars Not a good start - and it gets worse, 14 Nov. 2015
I picked up this book with high hopes. It dealt with an area of study I found fascinating and the author's credentials seemed promising. I am at page 18 and am now pausing while steam comes from my ears and I resist the urge to hurl it against the wall (it is a library book). [ Later I read on; sadly the sorry story continued.]

If some one is engaged in a worldwide project to increase our appreciation of the sacred context of our landscape and surroundings, I would expect them to be free from religious bias and reasonably well-informed about archaeology. So to reach page 18 encumbered by a whole fistful of solecisms isn't promising. Let's just note them so far. As early as page 5 in the introduction, Palmer says '"The same is true of those places where people were burned to death for their faith, uch as Tyburn in London, where many Catholics were brutally executed in the sixteenth and seventeenth century". Here it would seem we are peddling nothing less than propaganda. No-one was executed in England simply for being Catholic. At a time when the Papacy had issued a fatwa on the English monarchs, Catholic priests were banned from entering England under the anti-terrorist laws of the time. There were a large number of Catholic plots (the most famous of which was that of Guy Fawkes) and no doubt at times priests whose agenda was strictly spiritual were caught up in the state's reaction to the threat. However, Catholic victims, whether matryrs or terrorists, were executed under treason laws by hanging, drawing and quartering. It was the 300 plus PROTESTANT martyrs executed in the three years of Mary's reign - unmentioned by Palmer - who were burned. To see a contrasting Protestant view try http://www.otteryreformed.freeola.net/rc-prot.htm.

We are not on sounder ground when we get onto prehistory. We are told on page 15 that we have a 'collective ancestral memory' of icecaps advancing across the landscape time and time again over the past hundred thousand years. In fact a brief spell at Google would have told him that the only time modern humans (Homo sapiens) were threatened by icecaps was in Southern Africa nearly 200,000 years ago - people migrating out of Africa stuck to tropical and temperate areas, only moving into glaciated areas after the icecaps had gone. Certainly no modern humans lived in Europe before the last iceage and there was no business of them being there while the ice caps were 'advancing across the landscape time and time again'. That human evolution was affected by glaciation is probable, to suggest that we have a collective ancestral memory of things that happened 200.000 years ago is pushing things beyond credibility.

As I turn the pages I am told that by the late nineteenth century 'it became embarassing to praise old customs' - exactly the period when the educated were desperately trying to preserve and indeed ressurect old folklore, folk song and customs which had in fact been lost much earlier, from the Commonwealth on, and then that Stonehenge was built at the behest of 'a small elite who believed that their power was divinely authorised', a view which may still be found in 'The Ladybird Book Of Archaeology' but which is severely out of kilter with modern research. Palmer's slight acquaintance with archaeological discussion is revealed again when he refers to "four-thousand-year-old stone circles which were sacred trading and meeting areas" - a reference, we must presume, to the theories of Prior and others about the function of CAUSEWAYED CAMPS - very precisely NOT those of stone circles.

Ho Hum, I shall have to read the rest. But if it carries on in this vein it will be going back to the library with its pristine pages untroubled, and I will certainly NOT be buying myself a copy for Christmas!

. . . . Well, by page 58 I am now aware that whatever else the author did for this book, background reading before writing the section on our prehistory wasn't among it. I have read past various dodgy statements - that iron breastplates and human bones were often found beside the votive swords and spears from Iron Age sacrificial deposits in water (the lone BRONZE breastplate found in Spain was in a burial ground, not in water, for starters) caught my eye, also that the Romans 'banned' (good name for killing, that) the Druids because they carried out human sacrifice not, as was the case, because they were the focus for organised military resistance. Then on page 58 I found to my astonishment that the Roman Empire fell partly because of attacks by hordes of Anglo-Saxon invaders coming in their longships from Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

To confuse the Germanic/Frankish tribes who pushed across the Rhine with the Viking raiders who attacked ANGLO SAXON KINGDOMS (the first Viking raid was in 793) nearly 400 years later is like muddling up the Spanish Armada with the Second World War.

I took a look at the end to see what bibliography there was. No bibliography as such, just 3 pages of notes. Just 20 books are cited in all, several of them volumes of poetry and one of them an ancient Chinese text. Of the 6 archaeology books, 3 are popular treatments by Francis Prior and Barry Cunliffe. Having read the books in question myself, I can only suppose that Palmer has merely skimmed them. No sources at all are cited for the Roman period or later.

To call these 'schoolboy errors' is to insult schoolboys - a better understanding of British prehistory could be acquired through watching Time Team and Horrible Histories. I regret to say I have come across sloppiness of this kind before. It is a sad fact that some people think they are qualified to write popular non-fiction, even semi-academic popular non-fiction like this, after doing less background research than a historical novelist would consider the bare minimum. The trouble is that this slap-dash approach devalues the rest of the book. If we find glaring howlers in the bits we are familar with, how can we trust the author when they tell us their theories and deductions about areas which are new to us?


Beginning of Social Understanding
Beginning of Social Understanding
by Judy Dunn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £33.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating reading for us all, 27 Oct. 2015
Though it contains details of experiments and observations which are aimed at the academic, this is a book which the lay reader can learn a lot from. Dunn takes an existential view of the development of our relations with others during the firt three years of life, when the groundwork for the adult's understanding of and operation within society is laid within the family unit. The text requires concentration but is free of jargon and completely accessible to the ordinary reader.

Dunn's argument is that it is the emotional situations which occur in infancy which drive the child's cognitive development and ability to function in society - we are not 'wild children' or laboratory rats, developing in a social vacuum, but instead the innate abilities that are emerging in the brain are shaped and elicited by the everyday interchanges of family life. It is an interesting observation that she felt is was necessary to say this!

This book was written in 1988 and, as a non-academic I cannot say how much these ideas have now become mainstream - I suspect this is very much the case, however. I strongly recommoend this book for anyone who is interested in how we develop our social senses, anyone involved in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy whether as a patient or professional, and anyone with small children or approaching parenthood! Unlike some books on the subject, there is nothing here to make the new parent nervous and much to reassure.


The Well-tempered Garden by Lloyd, Christopher (1970) Hardcover
The Well-tempered Garden by Lloyd, Christopher (1970) Hardcover
by Christopher Lloyd
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and charming, 15 Oct. 2015
Long before his death, Christopher Lloyd had already become a cult figure. Gardeners who haven't read his books may wonder if it's all hype. Read this, the classic to end all classics, and you'll realise what the fuss is about. Here, in a book the size of a holiday novel and as entertaining, Lloyd takes us by the hand and, like a charmingly enthusiastic uncle, leads us skillfully through every aspect of gardening. Whether you are a beginner or flatter yourself you're an expert, you'll learn a lot of useful things you'll use year after year in your own gardening.

Technical matters are tackled with common sense and originality; we learn more than we ever thought possible about those tips and secrets it otherwise takes a lifetime to master. Matters of taste are dealt with from a personal and highly engaging perspective. Difficulties are mastered, disasters admitted to with a wry smile, false idols toppled with brio. Lloyd's style is often described as "chatty", which does it an injustice. It is informal, confiding, vividly descriptive, but at the same time elegant and carefully structured. Here is a man who can write with an exceptional talent, yet it is all aimed at getting things across, there are no egotistical flourishes.

Originally published in 1970, and revised in 1985, the revised edition is exceptionally well-illustrated for its day. High quality plates are distributed through the text, about half colour and half black and white. The pictures act as a garnish to the text and are fully annotated; you don't have to refer to them while reading or find the relevant place in the text to understand them.

Lloyd followed up this book with The Well-Chosen Garden, which deals entirley with planting schemes and combinations. It makes an excellent companion and I can strongly recommend it.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2015 3:07 PM BST


The Well-tempered Garden (Penguin handbooks)
The Well-tempered Garden (Penguin handbooks)
by Christopher Lloyd
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and charming, 15 Oct. 2015
Long before his death, Christopher Lloyd had already become a cult figure. Gardeners who haven't read his books may wonder if it's all hype. Read this, the classic to end all classics, and you'll realise what the fuss is about. Here, in a book the size of a holiday novel and as entertaining, Lloyd takes us by the hand and, like a charmingly enthusiastic uncle, leads us skillfully through every aspect of gardening. Whether you are a beginner or flatter yourself you're an expert, you'll learn a lot of useful things you'll use year after year in your own gardening.

Technical matters are tackled with common sense and originality; we learn more than we ever thought possible about those tips and secrets it otherwise takes a lifetime to master. Matters of taste are dealt with from a personal and highly engaging perspective. Difficulties are mastered, disasters admitted to with a wry smile, false idols toppled with brio. Lloyd's style is often described as "chatty", which does it an injustice. It is informal, confiding, vividly descriptive, but at the same time elegant and carefully structured. Here is a man who can write with an exceptional talent, yet it is all aimed at getting things across, there are no egotistical flourishes.

Originally published in 1970, and revised in 1985, the revised edition is exceptionally well-illustrated for its day. High quality plates are distributed through the text, about half colour and half black and white. The pictures act as a garnish to the text and are fully annotated; you don't have to refer to them while reading or find the relevant place in the text to understand them.

Lloyd followed up this book with The Well-Chosen Garden, which deals entirley with planting schemes and combinations. It makes an excellent companion and I can strongly recommend it.


The Well-Tempered Garden
The Well-Tempered Garden
by Christopher. Lloyd
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and charming, 15 Oct. 2015
Long before his death, Christopher Lloyd had already become a cult figure. Gardeners who haven't read his books may wonder if it's all hype. Read this, the classic to end all classics, and you'll realise what the fuss is about. Here, in a book the size of a holiday novel and as entertaining, Lloyd takes us by the hand and, like a charmingly enthusiastic uncle, leads us skillfully through every aspect of gardening. Whether you are a beginner or flatter yourself you're an expert, you'll learn a lot of useful things you'll use year after year in your own gardening.

Technical matters are tackled with common sense and originality; we learn more than we ever thought possible about those tips and secrets it otherwise takes a lifetime to master. Matters of taste are dealt with from a personal and highly engaging perspective. Difficulties are mastered, disasters admitted to with a wry smile, false idols toppled with brio. Lloyd's style is often described as "chatty", which does it an injustice. It is informal, confiding, vividly descriptive, but at the same time elegant and carefully structured. Here is a man who can write with an exceptional talent, yet it is all aimed at getting things across, there are no egotistical flourishes.

Originally published in 1970, and revised in 1985, the revised edition is exceptionally well-illustrated for its day. High quality plates are distributed through the text, about half colour and half black and white. The pictures act as a garnish to the text and are fully annotated; you don't have to refer to them while reading or find the relevant place in the text to understand them.

Lloyd followed up this book with The Well-Chosen Garden, which deals entirley with planting schemes and combinations. It makes an excellent companion and I can strongly recommend it.


The Well-Tempered Garden: The Timeless Classic That No Gardener Should Be Without by Lloyd, Christopher (2014) Paperback
The Well-Tempered Garden: The Timeless Classic That No Gardener Should Be Without by Lloyd, Christopher (2014) Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and charming, 15 Oct. 2015
Long before his death, Christopher Lloyd had already become a cult figure. Gardeners who haven't read his books may wonder if it's all hype. Read this, the classic to end all classics, and you'll realise what the fuss is about. Here, in a book the size of a holiday novel and as entertaining, Lloyd takes us by the hand and, like a charmingly enthusiastic uncle, leads us skillfully through every aspect of gardening. Whether you are a beginner or flatter yourself you're an expert, you'll learn a lot of useful things you'll use year after year in your own gardening.

Technical matters are tackled with common sense and originality; we learn more than we ever thought possible about those tips and secrets it otherwise takes a lifetime to master. Matters of taste are dealt with from a personal and highly engaging perspective. Difficulties are mastered, disasters admitted to with a wry smile, false idols toppled with brio. Lloyd's style is often described as "chatty", which does it an injustice. It is informal, confiding, vividly descriptive, but at the same time elegant and carefully structured. Here is a man who can write with an exceptional talent, yet it is all aimed at getting things across, there are no egotistical flourishes.

Originally published in 1970, and revised in 1985, the revised edition is exceptionally well-illustrated for its day. High quality plates are distributed through the text, about half colour and half black and white. The pictures act as a garnish to the text and are fully annotated; you don't have to refer to them while reading or find the relevant place in the text to understand them.

Lloyd followed up this book with The Well-Chosen Garden, which deals entirley with planting schemes and combinations. It makes an excellent companion and I can strongly recommend it.


The Well-tempered Garden (Penguin gardening)
The Well-tempered Garden (Penguin gardening)
by Christopher Lloyd
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and charming, 15 Oct. 2015
Long before his death, Christopher Lloyd had already become a cult figure. Gardeners who haven't read his books may wonder if it's all hype. Read this, the classic to end all classics, and you'll realise what the fuss is about. Here, in a book the size of a holiday novel and as entertaining, Lloyd takes us by the hand and, like a charmingly enthusiastic uncle, leads us skillfully through every aspect of gardening. Whether you are a beginner or flatter yourself you're an expert, you'll learn a lot of useful things you'll use year after year in your own gardening.

Technical matters are tackled with common sense and originality; we learn more than we ever thought possible about those tips and secrets it otherwise takes a lifetime to master. Matters of taste are dealt with from a personal and highly engaging perspective. Difficulties are mastered, disasters admitted to with a wry smile, false idols toppled with brio. Lloyd's style is often described as "chatty", which does it an injustice. It is informal, confiding, vividly descriptive, but at the same time elegant and carefully structured. Here is a man who can write with an exceptional talent, yet it is all aimed at getting things across, there are no egotistical flourishes.

Originally published in 1970, and revised in 1985, the revised edition is exceptionally well-illustrated for its day. High quality plates are distributed through the text, about half colour and half black and white. The pictures act as a garnish to the text and are fully annotated; you don't have to refer to them while reading or find the relevant place in the text to understand them.

Lloyd followed up this book with The Well-Chosen Garden, which deals entirley with planting schemes and combinations. It makes an excellent companion and I can strongly recommend it.


Scotland's Stone of Destiny
Scotland's Stone of Destiny
by Nick Aitchison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough study, 15 Oct. 2015
Anyone looking in this book for support for ancient legends will be disappointed. Myths that the Stone of Scone was Jacob's Pillow, or was brought from Egypt/Spain/Ireland/Iona in ancient times are examined but discounted. This is a clear-sighted study with no fluff. For anyone interested in the place of the Stone of Scone in the long tale of Scottish independence, it is essential reading. Aitchison makes a potentially dry subject accessible and intriguing without resorting to gimmicks.

More myths have perhaps become attached to the Stone than any other object in the United Kingdom. They contradict each other, of course. One chapter of the book is devoted to outlining them, tracing their origins, and pinning down the earliest date they can be traced to. Many date back only to centuries AFTER the Stone was brought to Westminster Abbey. What becomes clear is that the early history of the Stone is shrouded in mystery, but that nothing in the myths provides any credible source for illuminating that mystery.

Aitchison moves on to physical examinations of the Stone, and the earliest of these take place in the Victorian period. Here again we have contradiction and the attempt by some 'experts' to prove an origin for the Stone in the Holy Land or Egypt. Sadly for such fantasists, the only coherent match for the stone of the Stone is in quarries a short cart journey from Scone itself. It seems even potentially credible ideas that the Stone came from Ireland, Iona or even Argyll have to be abandoned. Examination of the wear and working of the Stone's surface does reveal, however, that it was already very old when Edward I had away with it in 1296. As so much of the mystery has already been dispelled, I won't spil the reader's enjoyment by revealing Aitchison's conclusions here.

The author goes on to investigate inauguration ceremonies and the role of stones similar to that of Scone in their ritual. This is in many ways the most interesting part of the book, and gives the reader a great deal of insight into how the Stone became such a numinous object. The history of the Stone as part of the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, and the various theorisations and myths that have accumulated around it in the centuries from 1296 on, form the next part of the tale. From this he moves to the role of the Stone in the struggle for Scottish independence, its theft and return in the 1950s, and its final return to Edinburgh Castle in 1996.

There remains, for those who would claim a less mundane origin for the Stone, the theory that the stone carried off by Edward I was a substitute, the real stone remaining hidden. Fuel is given to this theory by the discrepancies between the early descriptions of the Stone and the actual appearance of that taken by Edward I. Aitchison is able to show that most tales of this sort are either modern fantasies or hoaxes, and ascribes the discrepancies to the fact that early writers who had never seen the Stone described what they assumed it ought to be like, including the often-repeated categoristaion of it as chair-shaped, and of marble. Of course the matter cannot be proven, though he does point out that two of Edward's advisors had some experience of the original Stone. The counter to this is that Edward, fooled out of the real Stone, put forward the fake as genuine. A significant argument against the substitution theory lies in the legendary prophecy, however. This said that wherever the Stone was, the Scots would rule, and the general tenor of Scottish opinion (the return of the Stone was never demanded in the pre-modern era) was that Edward had scored an own-goal, ensuring that England would in due course be rules by Scottish kings, Not surprisingly, much was made of this after the accession of James I and VI, when the prophecy was fulfilled.

The book is very well illustrated throughout, with a bundle of high-quality colour plates bound in the centre of the book, and there is a selct bibliography and a very full index


Sex in history
Sex in history
by Gordon Rattray Taylor
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars That was then, this is now, 14 Oct. 2015
This review is from: Sex in history (Paperback)
This book was first published in 1953, and we can see that a work of that vintage on this subject might either be a dry, objective historical survey, or a work so influenced by the mood of its time as to be severely dated. In the event, this book is both, and neither.

Gordon Rattray Taylor sets out to produce that objective survey. Hampering him are a firm belief in Freudian principles which are now more or less disregarded by academics, and an atmosphere of censorship which obliges him to engage in some at times hilarious circumlocutions. Despite, and because of, these handicaps, he has produced a work which is very well worth reading.

The author's aim is to show how and why public attitudes change over time. The 'why' for him is framed in Freudian terms, which the reader may or may not agree with. The 'how' remains clear and valid; he does not distort his subject to make it fit the theory, so the modern reader is free to draw their own interpretations. The main part of the book is taken up with identifying the broad themes of attitudes to sex, specifically and primarily in England but with illustrations from eslewahere in Europe, from pre-Christian times to the mid twentieth century. This element of the book retains its value as an excellent grounding in the subject for the general reader, and is illuminated with many unexpected and intriguing examples. For instance, it is surprising how very late in history the idea of celibacy in the priesthood becomes unequivocal.

The reader is hardly surprised to see how often Rattray Taylor has to find delicate ways of framing his descriptions, especially when dealing with the subject of homosexuality. The author himself has a very modern attitude and clearly regards the law as it then stood as both inhumane and absurd. He is also keen to show how the rigorous prohibition of all homosexual activity is, so far from being an ancient part of our culture, a very recent phenomenom. Most of us are already aware how cruel the law was before the progressive liberalisation which started with the Wolfenden report. What does surprise is how this tightening of the law on sexual activity was paralleled by an increasing suppression of all printed material relating to sex, till this reached absolute absurdity.

From a situation in the eighteenth century when pretty much anything was allowed, if not publicly spoken of, one element in public opinion agitated until the law progressively (and in the face of constant opposition from liberals) banned pornographic works, then works with an erotic element, then popular scientific works and poetry, and finally even serious academic treatises which studied the subject of human sexuality. Rattray-Taylor shows how this trend were accompanied by, on the one hand, attempts to control and ban political and religious dissent, and on the other to impose verbal taboos on all references to normal bodily functions such as perspiration, excretion and pregnancy. While his Freudian analysis may be unfashionable, it is clear that a common thread of fear of that which cannot be controlled was at the root of all three. By the twentieth century this had reached the absurd stage where in 1932 a man was sentenced to six months imprisonment for simply sunmitting to a publisher a manuscript of translations of the poems of classic French authors Rabelais and Verlaine. Greek and Roman classics, together with a medieval miracle play, were banned in subsequent years, and at one point police even attempted to seize copies of Plato's 'Symposium'. In the light of this, Thames and Hudson were being brave in publishing this work, with its arguments for tolerance and unjudgemental approach to sexual mores. A fascinating insight.


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