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3.0 out of 5 stars Very Dry and Uninspiring - Despite (Occasionally) Relying on Works of Fiction as Sources., 20 May 2014
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This review is from: The Godwins: The Rise and Fall of a Noble Dynasty (The Medieval World) (Paperback)
Although this book, after the index, appendices, bibliography, two prefaces and genealogies are subtracted - has a little over 100 pages, even though the source notes are at the end of their individual chapters, accounting for 10 to 15 pages of the 100.
So it is a very short book by any standards but felt like a long one to me.
I disliked the writing style, which never gripped me or made me take an interest in any of the characters. Frank Barlow often uses obscure vocabulary (where more common English usage would serve equally well) and he occasionally includes terms or phrases of French or Latin without giving the English translation.
For these reasons this books fails as a history book aimed at popular consumption such as the books of Marc Morris, Tom Holland or Ian Mortimer. In fact Marc Morris' The Norman Conquest covered a great deal of the same pre-conquest political material in a way that was far more entertaining.
Often it feels as though the author has squeezed every last bit out of the relevant sources but still has more pages he must somehow create. He does this by devoting pages to the fictional accounts of the Godwin's (usually Harold) from Alfred Lord Tennyson, in the 19th Century, to the historical fiction of Julian Rathbone in the 1990's.
I would have been more forgiving about this book on the grounds of there being so few sources, but Marc Morris made a point of explaining how few 11th Century sources were available to the historian (compared to how much material he had when researching Edward I, who lived two centuries later) before going on to write an account of the years preceding the conquest that was highly enlightening without ever being dull or relying on the fictional accounts of writers who lived at least 800 years later.

If, like myself, you are hoping to be educated and entertained by this book, you may be disappointed. Although packaged and marketed to appeal to the amateur historians who enjoy David Starkey, Robert Hutchinson or Adrian Goldworthy, it never comes close to having the entertainment value of these authors. Frank Barlow states the facts with little effort at writing a work that is accessible and enjoyable. In fact he sometimes seems to make an effort to be inaccessible.
Before reading this I had never come across the word 'encomiast' (basically a Eulogist). By the end it had appeared at least 30 times.
'Faute de mieux'. which translates as 'for lack of anything better' was used without translation. Why no translation was given or no English idiom - such as 'Scraping the barrel' or 'Any port in a storm' wasn't used is unknown to me but I do feel an author should always try to inform his readers with the use of plain English where ever possible. To use such inaccessible language does little more than confuse the reader and, in my opinion, is a sign of elitist, intellectual snobbery.
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