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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford World's Classics)
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142 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on 6 December 2001
Although many would probably doubt my sanity in implying that this book is one of the greatest ever produced by mankind along with other great and more well-known works,I will attempt to justify my point...
Primarily, I first encountered this last year, whilst doing a course on Anglo-Saxon history, and we studied the Historia Ecclesiastica in great detail, which not only attempted to outline the historical content of the Early Dark Age in England and other parts of the continent, as well as trying to lay a Christian foundation of permanence in England at the time (731, when the Church here was undergoing a moral crisis), but is also written in an extremely professinal manner by Bede, even compared to modern standards. For example, Bede not only gives us an introduction, but also names his sources, and was one of the first historians to start dating events from the birth of Christ. (By all accounts his Latin was excellent too, although this is obviously done in an English translation). He doesn't start from the Anglo-Saxon invasion either, but goes right back to the arrival of the other groups on the island, such as the Celts and the Romans, as well as stating some geographic facts about Britain too.
From here, he guides the reader with clarity through the exciting, and often bloody, history of 'the English' right up until his own day.
So impressed was I with this book that I returned to do another course on the Early Mediaeval period, and bought another copy of this spectacular work to read for pleasure, and no doubt I'll return to it again and again.
Undoubtedly the only real source of historical documentation in this period in Northern Europe at this time, as well as trying to persuade the reader to learn from history's mistakes and lessons to become a better Christian, Bede sums up the book with a micro-autobiography of himself.
Not only was this a great historical 'fountain of knowledge', but it is also full of juicy 'goings-on' in this era, with battles, blood, conversions, paganism, etc, but as a contribution to world literature, its greatness is underlined by the fact that it has never been unavailable/out of print since it first appeared in 731, which is an achievement in itself.
To end with, I would personally endorse the Oxford World Classic version (Colgrave), as not only do you get more for your money, i.e. 'The Letter to Egbert', etc, this translation is the most authoratative versions available, with clear notes at the back for the more studious reader. Definitely five stars...only because I can't put more!
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2007
It's hard to overestimate the importance of the Venerable Bede and his Historia Ecclesiastica. He was the first to catalogue and write down the early English history, and in doing it well he set a real standard to live up to for future historians.

Although written in 731, Bede's history (at least in this version) is an easy read, moving from Roman times to Bede's own day, taking in the squabbles of the several English kingdoms, the missions of Augustine in the south and the Celtic saints in the north. It's a fascinating period of history, not least because history courses often seem to start with 1066 and take it from there.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2010
We are so lucky to have this book. Lucky that a man of Bede's remarkable ability should undertake such a detailed history in an era when the gathering of information was a phenomenally painstaking task, lucky that Bede writes in such a readable style, and lucky that a book written 1300 years ago should have survived through the ages. Without Bede we would be hugely the poorer in our knowledge and understanding of the British Isles during the major part of the first millennium. This is not a conventional history; it is very much a history of the growth of Christianity and the Church in England (and the rest of the British Isles) during the period, written from a priest's perspective. However, in the setting out of Bede's account of the English church we also get a fair slice of more general history of the times, as well as a feel for its culture. I am generalising here a bit, but early books have a tendency to feel like they have been written by a committee (which or course may be true!) and with no sense of the author's own views. That is absolutely not the case with this book. Bede's personality and views shine through on virtually every page - he is writing the ecclesiastical history from his viewpoint and his personal interests (such as the dating of Easter - disputed for many years) shine through. This makes the book all the more interesting to read. As mentioned above, Bede's is not a difficult style of writing to read and appreciate, but it is not a book to be torn through like a novel (in the way that, for example, Churchill's History Of The English Speaking People's can). The reason for this is that Bede includes a huge amount of detail about individuals' names (and dates) but, as many of the names are similar, and as characters appear and disappear very quickly, it can be difficult to keep track of the narrative thread at times and to remember who is being talked about and to whom they are related either by blood or events. My advice is not to try too hard to connect everything up, but to enjoy the overall flow of the book and to concentrate on the facts and details of each of the many short chapters, treating them as vignettes that make up a greater whole. Finishing the book I felt tremendous sense of satisfaction at being lucky enough to be able to glimpse into the past through the eyes of a such a remarkable man as Bede.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2009
It has been said that the Saxons were the most advanced and sophisticated of all the Germanic races. This book certainly lends credence to this claim.
Written in the midst of the 'Dark ages' by a monk of Jarrow monastery, Northumberland, this book is more than a historical text, it is the story of a people, and their embryonic nation.
Through his chronicle Bede gives us a glimpse of a people with a developing national identity, making the land they had conquered their own.

Although there are some doubts of the validity of some events that Bede records, which sometimes confuse legends with history, it's very existence bears testament to a complex, literate and multi-faceted society, far removed from the savage, backwards barbarians they were once considered to be.

From the invasion of Julius Ceasar to his own time Bede tells the story of Britain in his own words.
Focusing upon the coming of the Saxons, and their conversion to the Catholic religion under Augustine, Bede's voice permeates this text. Sometimes praising the warrior Kings of Legend and history, passionately recording the conversion of his countrymen, or pouring scorn upon the 'Britons', it is an authentically human account.
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on 25 October 2014
This is certainly an important book, for all the reasons described elsewhere, but is it a good read? Well... it’s quite dry in places, particularly the transcripts of letters to and from the Pope.

It covers the period from Julius Caesars’s invasion of Britain in 60 BC (sic) to Bede’s own time of 731 AD. However, the first 650 of these years are covered briskly, and somewhat disjointedly, in the first 37 pages. The bulk of the book recounts the 135 years immediately prior to its writing.

Secular affairs are covered, particularly those concerning Northumbria. Kings come and go and the kingdoms of Britain squabble amongst themselves. Generally, though, these events form a kind of weather, against which the central drama takes place: the rise of the English Church. Augustine arrives from Rome in 587 AD, after which bishops and monks spread across the land, converting Kings, founding monasteries, and pulling the established Irish clergy into line regarding matters of doctrine that seem entirely trivial today. Some of the tales Bede tells have since become famous; a few are genuinely affecting, such as that of White Hewald and Black Hewald, martyrs for the faith.

There are probably modern accounts of this period that are more comprehensive and more objective. What you get from this contemporary account is a greater immersion in the character of the age. You’re fully exposed to Bede’s enthusiastic pedantry regarding the date of Easter, for example, and the general passion for miracles and relics (Bede describes how soil from the graves of saints is consumed with a glass of water, like antibiotics). There is also a certain irrational thrill from reading such a key text in English history, one that was written before the Vikings arrived. It’s a very subtle thrill, though, and you’ll need some patience.
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on 8 May 2014
Bede provides many accounts within his writings that can't be found elsewhere, as such, it is a great source to have for inspiring historians such as myself. I recently studied Bede in depth and found that you need to read between the lines quite a bit, this book provides a great account of topics such as the conversion of Christianity in Northumbria, and the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms, while Bede's book is a difficult read, it is extremely educating and I recommend it to anyone just looking to educate themselves a bit more in the medieval times covered in this book. Overall, I would have still read this book even if it was not a requirement, and will continue to read it even now that my module is over. Opinions may be segregated in regards to Bede himself, but it is undeniable that he provides a magnitude of information that will occupy any reader!
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on 26 August 2014
I read this in the original delightful medieval Latin as part of my university degree in history. I needed to check some facts recently and decided to buy this English translation. I was able to find the information I needed, but the experience was as uninspiring as a bowel movement. If only I had not been too lazy to get the Latin version. It is, of course, no fault of the product, but you realise just how terminally boring Bede is if you haven't got the titillation of the original Latin to season the dish.
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VINE VOICEon 26 October 2013
It is wonderful to me, to dip into this excellent edition of this book, to hear the voice of Bede, recounting what was recent Church history to him. It brings a precious part of UK history to life. The book itself is beautifully produced - it will become a treasure on my shelves, and very well read.
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on 27 February 2014
This is one of the greatest books in the history of English writing and still studied in universities today. This is one of the major sources for learning about the history of England, being bound as it was with ecclesiastical history. It is scholarly but readable and this is a great translation.
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on 23 July 2015
A very useful resource for anyone starting to study Anglo-Saxon history or who wants to expand their knowledge of Venerable Bede and the rich culture of the Celtic Monasteries and Monks of Northern England in 6th/7th Centuries
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