7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A masterpiece, but not a portrait of neolithic Britain,
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This review is from: Hengeworld (Paperback)
Mike Pitts is an extraordinarily talented writer, able to convey the most technical details with clarity, telling a story with suspense and drama, and enlivening longeurs with flashes of dry wit which, in less expert hands, would strike a jarring note. So why only 3 stars? I've just read this for the second time, and feel more than ever that Pitts was badly let down by his publishers who, whether to reach a wider audience or simply inpursuit of sales, chose a format which tragically fails to do the text justice. "Hengeworld" is published in novel format - thick, with small pages - and the cover picture is a rather sensationalist shot of the Heel Stone with Stonehenge in the background. The presentation, and the fact that Arrow books publish a lot of very popular titles, lead the unwary browser to expect a book which sets out a picture of neolithic culture at the time of the building of Stonehenge, with a final revelation of the truth about the meaning of Stonehenge, Avebury and Stanton Drew.
If you are a standing stone nut attracted by the lurid populist cover, you will find this book a disappointment. If you are the sort of person to whom it will appeal - the serious archaeology enthusiast - you may mistakenly pass it by, unless you click that this is THE Mike Pitts, the main authority on the subject. Pitts is a card-carrying proper, professional archaeologist, fully qualified to write the kind of definitive, dry survey of henge-building and its anthropological context that would have you dozing off in minutes. Instead, he has given us a book that rips along, full of zest and fascination, without succumbing to any of the baseless speculation or circular arguments that we would have found in a book by a mere journalist.
However, this is less a description of the world of the henge builders, more one of the world of the henge-digger-uppers. Though the Manchester Evening News is quoted as saying "reads like a whodunnit", it would be more accurate to say 'reads like a police procedural'. Pitts describes in full the history of the archaeology of henges (minor, less well-known ones as well as the big glamorous jobs), and of the archaelogists who did the work; their in-fighting, their incompetences, their unexpected discoveries. It is a long and complex tale and it is a great testament to Pitts' skill as a writer that he makes it every bit as gripping and fast-moving as he does. By now, Hengeworld is already a classic, and no doubt generations of archaeology students have thanked Mr Pitts from the bottom of their hearts for lightening their load. Out of the tale of archaeological progress emerges, in the latter part of the book a surprisingly vivid picture of just what we were promised; the world of the henge-builders.
Be under no illusions. Despite its accessible style and thrilling anecdotes, this is a serious book and you will, once you have read it, have as good an understanding of the world of our ancestors as anybody. The text is suitable for all ages and readers, from interested schoolchildren upwards. Where the book falls down - and the reason I have given it only three stars - is that the format permits only of the nastiest, tiny, obscure and barely legible plans and diagrams. At times, Pitts' graphs and data are insufficiently interpreted for the ordinary reader. It is good that, for the student, he has included all the technical data in appendices, but a little more effort on maps and photos, a larger format and some colour plates, would have raised this book to another level entirely.
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Initial post: 28 Dec 2013 10:46:45 GMT
Last edited by the author on 28 Dec 2013 10:49:27 GMT
Thanks for a perceptive review; having read the book, I find that I had fallen into precisely the trap that you warn of.
I was looking for an authoritative review of the culture that produced Stonehenge and Avebury, but found instead a detailed analysis of the archeology of these sites.
You're also right about the maps and photos. Although there a fair number of the former, the level of descriptive detail in the text requires a rank amateur like me to repeatedly flip through the pages in a vain attempt to keep a picture of what is being discussed in mind. As a result, I sometimes found myself giving up on the arguments and simply seeking out the conclusion - which rather defeats the purpose.
Overall, I feel that the reviews that suggest that this is a suitable read for the interested layperson are optimistic. Pitts is certainly a good writer, but without some familiarity with the material, it's heavy going.
In reply to an earlier post on 30 Jul 2014 16:38:46 BDT
Sorry about the delay replying - I have been too busy on other work since September 2013. If you find a good book doing what you recommend, do post a comment, I'd like to get one. I've read most of the older ones but they are either missing the recent archaeology or full of mad theories (or both). However, I can say it's worth reading the flawed but fascinating Stone Age Soundtracks, which sheds a particular light on Stonehenge as well as other stone circles.
Posted on 15 Sep 2014 15:03:35 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 15 Sep 2014 15:03:41 BDT]
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