9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Redressing the balance,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Princely Courts Of Europe: 1500-1750 (Paperback)
...those expecting a slow, meadering ride with lots of basic background information will find the book disappointing; it does assume a high level of knowledge about the period. But then this is not a coffee table book by any stretch of the imagination. In a tightly written introduction, Adamson reveals why the court was by far the most important institution in the politics and culture of early modern Europe. Refreshingly, he takes issue with those art historians who see the lavish art and the pomp and circumstance of the period as so much empty showmanship. Adamson believes that all art and ritual means something, indeed means something very specific, and argues convincingly that it is at the centre of how European monarchs defined themselves and those around them. To complain, as many of the previous reviewers have, that this book is simply an extended picture gallery is to miss the point. As any good post-modernist will tell you, the art and architecture of the period is VITAL to understanding how courts actually functioned, and Adamson's slick synthesis of focused argument and stunning pictures (many never before published) is one of the book's most impressive features. He also offers a thorough revision of the work of Norbert Elias, a seminal writer on the courts whose Marxist interpretation has nonetheless dated somewhat.
And then there are the chapters on the individual courts. The range of authors marshalled together is impressive and refereshingly international, although closer to home I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Israel's chapter on the courts of the House of Orange. Each chapter is detailed and thoroughly researched. True, the chapter on the Ottoman courts is missing, and would have been a worthwhile addition, but I feel it is a shame to carp at everything that is wrong with the book while not addressing its strengths. No book can please everyone all of the time, and the subject matter of this particular book is so wide-ranging in its scope that some things will inevitably have been missed out. Numerous PhDs and books have been written about each individual courts on its own, for example. But what The Princely Courts does is synthesise international historical opinion on the subject and bring together a tightly focused, but decidedly academic, collection of essays.
If you know the period well, then, and want to find out more, then this book is an excellent buy. For those with less knowledge, it is still accessible and fun, although you may be put off by the detail of some of the text. But it's unfair to criticise the book for this; what on earth is wrong with trying to cater for the more refined reader?...delve into a book that will thoroughly entertain any inquiring mind.