27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
My kingdom for an editor,
This review is from: The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages (Penguin History of Britain) (Paperback)
The book 'The Hollow Crown', by Miri Rubin, is a fascinating text. It covers the mid-to-late Plantagenet time, beginning after the pivotal time of famine in the early 1300s, continuing up to the beginning of the Tudor era - this is a time that may be best known generally thanks to Shakespeare's plays, although the plays do exhibit poetic license taken by Shakespeare to heighten both the dramatic art and the political regime of the Tudors.
This is an interesting period, with the dynastic stability of Edward I giving way over the generations to inter-family strife, better known now as the Wars of the Roses. Rubin's chapter divisions follow the reigns of the major monarchs in rough outline: Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV & V (combined into one chapter), Henry VI, and the finish (Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, and into Henry VII's reign). As this is a fairly standard way of dividing British history, it makes things accessible to the general reader as well. Within these broad divisions, however, Rubin carries various themes across the periods as needed - economic, geopolitical, cultural and other kinds movements and shifts are reflected by more than the rise and fall of particular monarchs. Rubin also takes a fairly even-handed approach, without taking sides in particular controversies (Was Henry IV's rise to power a legitimate one? Was Richard III's reign legitimate, and did he have the princes in the Tower murdered? - Rubin references such controversies without taking a partisan stance).
As others have noted in their reviews of this book, it wants a good editor, and unfortunately modern publishers have been cutting back on their editorial services to authors under the mistaken reasoning that computer editors can do an adequate job - alas, such is not the case for scholarly writing, and Rubin's text is most assuredly scholarly writing. Despite the fact that Rubin states in her introduction that this is not intended as a book for other professional historians, the reading can be heavy-going and detail-oriented at times, but other parts have a wonderful narrative flow.
I am one who can never get enough of history, and perhaps now qualify (as a newly-hired adjunct professor of history) as one of the professional historians for which this book was not intended, but I am very glad to have read it. Rubin's scholarship is careful, and her final essay, a narrative bibliography of sorts, is in itself a pleasure to read. Rubin lists the extended bibliography on her professional webpage (Queen Mary College, University of London, search for her name among the staff), and this is a wonderful resource for further reading as well. There are useful maps, some colour plates in the centre, and a genealogical chart tracing Edward II to Henry VII. The index is well done (always a plus in scholarly writing).
Perhaps one element that sets this apart from many standard histories is the concentration on issues of daily life and work of the common folk by Rubin - many royal and official histories detail the great movements of state or the personalities of the high and mighty, with only glancing care toward the greater mass of people living during the times. Rubin gives good account of the way in which people worked, traveled, traded, and acted in religious, social and political ways. This is an element not to be missed.