8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The book of books,
This review is from: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Paperback)
Read any secondary account of early Anglo-Saxon England and the authors are unanimous in their praise of the Venerable Bede. However, it wasn't until I read the book for myself that I realised how true it was when historians claim that, for information, the only reliable source from this era is Bede. I noticed how all the secondary accounts I have read on this period sprung from this book which makes it one of the most influential historical texts ever written. From the departure of the Romans in 409AD until the time Bede finished his work in 731, with the possible exception of Gildas; he is the only game in town for the 21st century Historian.
The book is very readable which is surprising as usually primary histories are harder to read than secondary histories as they are not aimed at the modern history reader, but his short and easily digestible chapters are a credit to his genius. The only tiny disappointment for me was the speed in which he got to the 600's, the vast majority of this text deals with the era from 601-731AD which almost makes it a history of his lifetime. Bede lived from 673-735 so a lot of the information he got will have been from experience or the living memory of those around him. However it would be wrong to blame Bede for this, if the information prior to the 600's was scant then there wouldn't be much he could do about it. It also cannot be forgot that this is an ecclesiastical history and so Bede's interest in pre-Christian Britain would be minor.
Bede's monopoly on early Anglo-Saxon history means we have to trust him unreservedly to a certain extent but this monk is (obviously) biased towards the Catholic religion. This book in large chunks reads like a theological as opposed to historical text with lots of references made to healing miracles performed by holy men of the age. This brings up the question if one does not believe these miracles actually took place can we trust Bede in the historical parts of his texts? Archaeology seems to have proved Bede largely correct in a purely historical sense - which gives us a basis for hope. As an Atheist I certainly do not believe that the miracles took place in the religious sense in which they were reported, however, I am more inclined to believe that Bede never had any intention of misleading the reader. His belief in the miracles he spoke of came about by his unquestioning faith in Catholicism rather than a desire to be manipulative. Therefore, the historical side of his account can be, for the most part, trusted as accurate in my opinion. His mix of theology and history makes for a more interesting read anyway.