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A thorough and solid but rather dated textbook.
on 30 August 2001
Acclaimed in its day, this is a reissue of a volume nearly sixty years old from the Oxford History of England series. Compared with the engaging style of popular television historians, it seems ponderous and dated. A work of exhaustive scholarship, it concentrates on political history and pays scant attention to the newer fields of economic, social and archeological research. Nevertheless Mr Stenton gets off to a good start with the Saxon invasions, but during the subsequent chaos his narrative drifts into a catalogue of obscure kings with even obscurer names. (An Anglo-Saxon pronunciation guide would have been helpful and a glossary of unfamiliar terms.)In their profusion these minor characters begin to resemble the heathen gods as " figures which have names but no attributes." We are informed that they are of the Heroic Age but we are not entertained with many anecdotes to shed light on their manners or personalities. Such is the wealth of detail that it is possible to trace one's own local history where one's partiality lends more interest. The author's approach improves when he comes to literature and betrays an evident enthusiasm that inspired me to re-read Beowulf in Seamus Heaney's excellent translation. Likewise the treatment of the progress of Christianity is rich in insight and sympathy. As the 11th Century dawns the pace quickens and,perhaps because of the course of events described, I found the material more accessible.The suspense builds towards the Norman Conquest which makes a satisfying finale to this long text. I do not wish to be overly critical. This is a substantial work of reference and is good value for money at the price and well printed.It may be better suited to the serious student than the general reader such as myself.