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on 2 March 2006
In search of the Dark Ages is a cracking introduction to anybody studying or wishing to know more about this fascinating yet little understood period of British history. Woods use and interpretation of source material, both primary and second is very good especially his insight into the archaeological evidence both past and present. He steers clear of too much speculation and that which he does use is measured and well thought out. Im sure there are some pretty weighty tomes on several of the personalities included, such as Alfred the Great and King Athelstan for anybody wishing to dig out a more in depth history but for a simple introduction you can't go much wrong with this. It can be a little heavy going in places and probably isn't the ideal book to be reading at 7 o'clock, half asleep on the way to work but on the whole I highly recommend it to anybody wishing to explore Anglo-Saxon/Viking/Norman history in the British Isles.
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on 9 February 2002
For some reason the BBC has consistently and persistently managed to find as specialist presenters experts who are also thoughtful and talented communicators.
This is the accompanying book for his 1981 TV series of the same name, and consists of a series of essays (one for each episode of the series) on early British and English history.
Wood is an excellent essayist, and a genuine scholar in his field. In fact of the various books he has written, this one and the more reflective "in search of England" most seem to reflect his own studies and enthusiasms.
This is a fine introduction to the subjects in question. Bear in mind it's a set of essays and not a comprehensive history of the period, and that despite the title only covers Anglo-British history.
This edition was revised in 2001 to take into account more recent historical study.
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on 17 February 2008
I can remember way back in 1981 when a younger Michael Wood introduced us to the Dark Ages and up to the time of King Edward and the legacy of Domesday.
These magnificent books have now been in print for well over twenty years and are amongst the most interesting and well researched books on the period.

Woods a classical Oxford scholar has always been a favorite of mine in his very entertaining yet precise and accurate explanation of a period where little material exists.

It has been many years since these magnificent series have been televised and it is a travesty that both Insearch of the Dark Ages and Domesday a search for England have never been released on either video let alone DVd.

The series were so informative and memorable especially Domesday that i would pay a considerable sum to posses them on disc.

I have even written a letter to the BBC asking on a possible release date but their replie was that they were unsure and would keep me informed.

The books are a timely reminder of how good Woods is at his research.

If you are familiar with his other works,Trojan War,Insearch of Shakespeare etc both which are on dvd,superb as they are but are nowhere near as informative about the period in history as his early series.

Im sure you are choosing Woods book due to your knowledge of his ability as a historian with six BBc series to his credit but if you didnot see In Search of The Dark Ages on television all those years ago you have been robbed of a rare treat.

This book is the equal of any on the shelf of your bookseller,written in a way that makes history more accesable to the masses but when or if those magnificent series become available on dvd then you will realise how good they are,so good that i can still remember them all those years ago.
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on 26 September 2010
Contents: Boadicea; King Arthur; The Sutton Hoo Man; Offa; Alfred the Great; Athelstan; Eric Bloodaxe; Ethelred the Unready; William the Conqueror.
Blurb: `(Michael Wood)...explores the facts and the legends surrounding the Celtic Queen Boadicea and King Arthur and, with them, uncovers the enduring myths of the British world which the great Anglo - Saxons overcame. It was, he argues, under three great Anglo - Saxon kings - Offa, Alfred and Athelstan - that the idea of a united England came about: Offa, who built his dyke along the border with Wales; Alfred, who saved the English from the Vikings and then laid the foundations of a `national' state and culture; Athelstan, who created the kingdom still ruled today by his distant kinswoman Elizabeth II. Wood also explores the failure of Ethelred the Unready to defend England against renewed Viking invasions, paving the way for the Norman conquest of 1066.'
Comment: This book was originally written to accompany a BBC TV series from 1981 and in that context would no doubt have been an insightful source for those wishing to develop on the themes of the TV episodes. As such, this book focuses on certain key periods of Anglo - Saxon England based around certain protagonists, and as such a rather simplified linear development of Dark Age England is presented. In his defence, the author does try to put the events and people he discusses in context, but those references beyond the scope of the book are often lost on the reader. Snippets from the Anglo - Saxon Chronicle are welcomed additions to the text and give the reader a more contemporary, if biased perspective. One particular problem is how rarely the author examines kingdoms concurrently, which distorts the view of Britain as a whole; only ever the dominant kingdom of any period is explained and little reference made to the development of Wales and Scotland.

It also appears odd that an entire chapter of a book professing to deal with the Dark Ages, typically referred to as the period 410 - 1066, is spent evaluating the Boudicca revolt of 60/61. Despite literary fiction from authors such as Manda Scott speculating on the impact of a successful revolt, this Iceni rebellion had little direct bearing on eventual Anglo - Saxon Britain. Perhaps the inclusion is to illustrate the effect of myth and legend which is later explained in the chapter on King Arthur?

This book never professes to be a comprehensive guide or historical narrative to Dark Age Britain. Instead it is accessible to the generalist reader who is interested in an overview of what England was like between the Roman withdrawal and the Battle of Hastings. As an entire chronology much is unexplained, but for those kings that are covered there is great detail examining their military, political, social and religious undertakings. An interesting read summarising the main stages in Anglo - Saxon development, but those looking for a comprehensive guide to the Dark Ages will have to continue their search elsewhere.
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on 12 October 2014
This is a very readable and entertaining overview of "Dark Age" Britain (concentrating almost exclusively on what is now England) through the stories of the main protagonists of the period. Starting with Boudica and ending with William the Conqueror, neither of whom are strictly Dark Age people, the book charts the development of England through the fall of the Roman Empire, the Anglo-Saxon invasion, the Viking era and eventual unification under the house of Wessex, culminating in the Norman Conquest in the years after the Battle of Hastings.

In telling the story of the major characters, we also get the bigger picture filled in and so many more characters are brought to life in the narrative. I would have liked a bit more detail on figures like King Edgar and the Northern Kings such as Oswald, but this is a good starting point.

Understandably, the story becomes more detailed as the centuries go on and the sources become more numerous, but I enjoyed the speculation and discussion of the sources around the earlier Kings such as the elusive Arthur and King Offa and the identity of the person buried (or perhaps merely honoured) at Sutton Hoo.

The book is very easy to read in a few sessions and mainly feels up to date, although there are a few references to 'the third word' which show that it was originally written a few decades ago, as does 'outdated' spelling such as Boadicea (which is explained) and Canute (which isn't). I would certainly recommend it to anybody who wants to start to learn the history of pre-Conquest England or wants to try to understand a bit more about the Anglo-Saxon or Viking periods, and it's made me keen to get out and walk along Offa's Dyke again as well as visit Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard amongst other historic attractions.
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on 3 August 2009
An excellent book, exploring a thousand years of history through the lives and legacies of key figures. Boudicea, Alfred the Great, Offa, William the Conqueror and others.
Wood charts the development of Anglo-Saxon England, from a series of fractitious, warring kingdoms on the boundaries of the civilised world, to the wealthiest kningdom in Europe, with the oldest monarchy.

Throughout Micheal Wood bases his information on the latest archeological and historical evidence and analyses these to give a clear and accurate picture of events.

I gave it four stars only because the book can be rather hard-going at times, and a little too technical, but the reader can get past that, to appreciate this fascinating book.
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on 17 May 2007
I have always been interested in history and recently my passion has grown, not least since reading this book. A very informative text it is also easy to read even for someone who knows little detail about the era; like most of my generation I thought the so called 'dark ages' were a time of chaos and constant war leading up to the death of King Harold at Hastings and the ascent of William the Conquerer to the throne of England - little did I know of the rich history leading up to these events and the politics that existed even one thousand years ago.

Michael Wood deftly brings to life intriguing historical figures like Alfred the Great, King Athelstan and Ethelred the Unready and his book has lead me on to explore this era in greater depth, finding myself drawn into this world that once was.
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on 16 June 2009
I wholeheartedly agree with the review of Mr P J R Lewis. It is ridiculous that the television series to which this book is companion, has not yet been released on DVD dispite having been available on video in the 1980's. To my mind this is the best study of the Dark Ages ever to have been produced. Come on Michael, chase somebody up a bit so that we can buy it!!!In Search Of The Dark Ages
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on 11 August 2011
Despite having more pressing historical degree reading at hand at the moment, I found myself getting distracted by In Search of the Dark Ages by Michael Wood. The Dark Ages are a period that were never covered at school or even during my university degree (by my own choosing partly) and I feel that I missed out on rather a lot! I first encountered Michael Wood's work when reading his book Conquistadors, which, like this, I found to be very interesting, informative but also more readable than many other dusty old historians. I'm sure many historians would want and perhaps require greater depth than Wood provides, but to ask for that is to demand the unreasonable of what is essentially an introductory book to the period. Each of the chapters gave me an insight to Britain from the fall of Rome to society post-Norman invasion. I really never quite knew the extent to which Britain had been colonised, and it throws racial prejudices of the modern day into clear perspective! Surely the majority of current Brits are some combination of Celt, Dane, Norwegian, Roman and Norman - a mixture that really confuses one seeking to gain some knowledge of their actual heritage!

Overall I preferred Michael Wood's Conquistadors book, though that was largely due to having the hardback edition in full colour, with far more documentary supplements in image as well as actual photographs. However, this book is the equivalent for this period of history, though of course it encompasses a larger range of events due to the time scale of the book. One interesting feature for myself, a huge fan of Tolkien (well, the Hobbit and LOTR primarily), was to see that he was obviously inspired to a large extent by the names of people and places in this period. I won't hark on any further, other than to say that this is highly recommended, very interesting, and a perfect place to start for anyone interested in the history of Britain (or Scandinavia/France to an extent) between the conquests of the Romans and the Normans in 1066.
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on 19 June 2011
This book and the TV series ignited my passion for history 30 years ago and steered me to a history degree and a lifelong interest in the past. Should be required reading for every school child not the P C rubbish they're given now. Thankyou Mr Wood for putting me on the path and the wonderful things I have subsequently discovered.
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