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The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt
The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt
by Ian Shaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scattered dry spells, 18 Aug. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Although there is much to learn from this book, the use of several authors makes it (inevitably) a very inconsistent read. While some write lucidly and evocatively about this fascinating subject, others are too prone to descending into arcane, archaeological jibberish. Referring to coded layers does little to enlighten the general reader, and the first chapter on Prehistory is rendered virtually unintelligble by the author's inability to stand back from the detail and summarise the conclusions that can be drawn for the period as a whole. What was needed here was a single voice with a rational, coherent but engrossing style who could really inspire the readership as well as convey a sound knowledge of the subject. Ian Shaw's chapter was so good, perhaps he should have written all of it.


The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire
The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire
by Andrew Wheatcroft
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Could have been smoother, 17 Sept. 2013
An interesting and enlightening glide through the history of this fascinating and extraordinary family, who are still very much with us today. Despite the different and interesting perspective that he takes on their story, he still provides enough information to give the novice (like me) a useful insight into the subject, and a sense of their character as human beings. Even so, Wheatcroft tends to be needlessly verbose at times (do things really need to elide when they can merge?), and even a fairly experienced reader may feel the need to interrupt their reading to reach for a dictionary once in a while. The positing of the Battle of Sempach in 1386 at the beginning of the work, covering a total of some 18 of its first pages, is also a needless distraction. Over all, there are times when one suspects that Wheatcroft wishes to say more about himself than his subject matter.


I'LL CRY TOMORROW:REGION 2 IMPORT~SUSAN HAYWARD~
I'LL CRY TOMORROW:REGION 2 IMPORT~SUSAN HAYWARD~
Dvd ~ Susan Hayward
Offered by *Rare-Film-Finders*
Price: £7.95

3.0 out of 5 stars All in all - pretty good and worth a watch, 21 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Dating from 1955, this has aged reasonably well. Hayward puts in a good performance as alcoholic Lillian Roth, though this errs on the melodramatic at times. Effective and quite absorbing, it succeeds in making you engage with her struggle against addiction, even if the Fifties faith in experts seems a little naieve today.

Technically, the DVD soundtrack was badly synched, which somewhat marred my enjoyment, though this seems to have eased as the movie progressed (unless it was a playback glitch).


Lords of the Horizons : A History of the Ottoman Empire
Lords of the Horizons : A History of the Ottoman Empire
by Jason Goodwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but perhaps too quirky for some, 3 Mar. 2013
Although this is an enjoyable read, those who like their histories tautly rational and highly disciplined might find Goodwin's rather discursive, eclectic approach intently irritating (as some obviously have). In fact, some might come to the conclusion that as an historian Goodwin is a wonderful travel writer. And while he clearly knows his stuff, there are times when his insight fails him or his enthusiasm for the subject matter blinds him to telling details.

First, while he mentions the Emperor Charles V's need to placate the Protestants to muster enough force to counter the Ottoman threat, he never once reflects how this example of centralised control influenced the development of absolutism in the decades and centuries that were to follow. He also glosses over the extent of the slaughter after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and while pointing out that an Italian cannon ball did it for the Acropolis in Athens at the end of the 17th century, he fails to mention the fact that the impact would never have had its devastating affect if the Ottomans had not used it as a dump for their gunpowder in the first place.

Even so, your knowledge will increase as a result of reading this, though perhaps not as thoroughly and as extensively as some would like.


A Concise History of France (Cambridge Concise Histories)
A Concise History of France (Cambridge Concise Histories)
by Roger Price
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful, 18 Jan. 2011
I found this is a useful introduction to the subject, but with two reservations. First, he should have chosen a tidier and far more definite end date (for example, the end of the Mitterand Presidency) rather than straggling on into what used to be the present, thus committing himself to speculations and observations that have since become ridiculously out of date. Moreover, he tends to lose his impartiality, and get more contentious, the nearer he gets to the present, so this untidy ending is not only that, but also inadvertently undermines his authority somewhat. Apart from anything else, finishing in the 1990s would have given him the opportunity to produce a more chronologically balanced work, as other reviewers have pointed out.

The other objection is less important, but still a little irritating. Sentences tend to be too long, and despite acknowledging the contribution of his friendly neighbourhood proof readers, there are also some sloppy hiccups (Pope Paul IV succeeding John XXIII?).


The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History
The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History
by Peter Heather
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read but..., 29 May 2009
This is a well written and useful introduction for those - like me - who have a limited knowledge of the subject.

But, like some other reviewers, I have some serious misgivings about how thorough Heather has been in ensuring that he has taken all the latest discoveries and research into account. For example, how can he claim that this is a "New History" when he repeats ideas that have already been challenged, if not discredited? Besides the claims about Carthage and the location of Julius Caesar's assassination, there is also the matter of describing the Roman building at Portchester as a "military installation," when archaeologists have already failed to find any evidence that the compound in question was ever used for that purpose. In fact, the whole assumption that the so-called "Saxon forts" were - indeed - a consciously planned network of defensive structures has been brought into question on both evidential and practical grounds.

He is also rather inconsistent. On the one hand, he devotes much time and energy in emphasising the durability of the Empire while also claiming that its revenue systems were "ramshackle." But how could an Empire last for half a millenium if that was the case? And - what's more to the point - how did the Romans compare with their contemporaries in this respect? Did the Persians, Chinese and American civilisations use revenue systems that were any more sophisticated than those used by Rome? Such a comparison should have been undertaken before Heather drew his conclusions. Similarly, the evidence we have from the Roman period is far from perfect. The imperial archives were burned to the ground on a number of occasions.

Lastly, there are times when he comes across as unjustifiably negative. In his closing argument he makes the passing remark that: "the Roman Empire... saw nothing amiss in feeding human beings to wild animals for the pleasure of the multitude." Maybe so, but given the fact that what we would describe as brutality was the stock in trade of every tribe and polity on the planet at the time, this is a rather pointless assertion to make, especially as he provides plenty of evidence to that effect himself. Admittedly, the Romans' contemporaries may not have had the resources and technology to indulge their own impulses in the same manner, or to the same extent, as the Romans, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that their intentions were just as red in tooth and claw.


The Rough Guide to England (Rough Guide Travel Guides)
The Rough Guide to England (Rough Guide Travel Guides)
by Robert Andrews
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fair and useful, 30 Sept. 2008
Having used this book in practice, I've always found its comments on the locations it covers quite fair and its facts reasonably accurate. Obviously, a book like this can never be as current as the Net, so when looking for somewhere to eat you're best bet is to use your own initiative when you get there rather than sticking slavishly to every word of the text. Even so, I've always found it very useful. My only criticism is that there aren't enough street names on the maps it provides, and that can cause problems.


The Real Middle-Earth: Magic and Mystery in the Dark Ages
The Real Middle-Earth: Magic and Mystery in the Dark Ages
by Brian Bates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and very well written, BUT..., 2 July 2008
This is a fascinating book which is a compelling delight to read, but, like others, I have some serious reservations about the author's accuracy.

For a start, I'd love to know what route he took to the Ankerwycke yew at Wraysbury. I just got off at the railway station, walked straight through the village and beyond it - along the well worn tarmac road - until I saw a road sign to my right bearing the legend "Runnymede." Curious about the name, I turned right and, once among the nearby fields, it only took ten minutes by foot to find the tree (to which people are still tying their offerings, by the way). So much for walking: "for an hour across ancient fields, along trackways and over wooden bridges linking ancient islands once separated by the estuary of the River Thames" (page 42). In any case, you'd have to go back a darned sight further than the Iron Age - when this grand old dear is supposed to have first seen the light of day - to find any part of Berkshire any where near the sea. Estuary? Berkshire and Surrey are nowhere near any river mouths or ocean tides. And it isn't a "small sign from English Heritage," (page 50) it's a small sign from the National Trust. But above all is the really idiotic way he has comes up with a spurious assertion regarding the origins of the place name Runnymede - waffling on that it was coined by ancient Saxons in the deep mists of time to denote an association with runes - and in so doing, completely missed the opportunity to make a far more pertinent observation. In point of fact, evidence relating to the use of the name Runnymede dates no further back than the signing of the Magna Carta. According to the editor of the "Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names" (which you can pick off the shelf of any half-decent reference library) it actually means the meadow in council island, "runieg" being a reference to a council or assembly place. As Eilert Ekwall points out: "Runnymede was evidently an ancient meeting place." Now, the irony here is that his dubious assertion has prevented him picking up on the fact that the parties to the Magna Carta may have recognised Runnymede as a suitable place to assemble and sign a solemn charter based on their knowledge of local traditions which could - indeed - have dated back to those very same deep mists of time.

Equally bogus is the way he sets the Romans up as the rational, polar opposites to their more "mystical" successors who - alone among the peoples of the ancient world - forged the idea of "connectivity." In point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and it may be the case that Bates is guilty here of tendentiously projecting modern concerns onto the past. This idea of "connection," which is such a buzz idea in some circles these days, was by no means exclusive to the Germanic tribes beyond the Danube. Bates obviously hasn't bothered to read Marcus Aurelius: "All things are linked with another, and this oneness is sacred; there is nothing that is not interconnected with everything else" (ed. Mark Forstater, Chapter 4). And then there's: "the thread of causes was from the beginning of time spinning the fabric of your existence...." (chapter 7). The concept of "connection," and being in harmony with Nature, were integral parts of Stoic philosophy and the Romans were just as familiar with these ideas as their Teutonic contemporaries. And, who knows, perhaps the Romans and the Germanic tribes exchanged more than just gold and goodies over the centuries they were trading with each other on the shores of the River Danube. And to top it all, I'm sure that Sir Frank Stenton, in his history of Anglo-Saxon England, actually remarked that Bates's beloved and "connective" ivy-scroll design actually originated in 5th or 6th century Italy!

So, being engagingly readable is all very well, but it helps if you're accurate in all respects too.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 11, 2013 7:17 PM BST


Life and Times of King John (Kings & Queens of England)
Life and Times of King John (Kings & Queens of England)
by Maurice Ashley
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 30 Jun. 2008
Although, at the outset, Ashley's prose doesn't always flow as easily as it did in his account of William I, he soon overcomes these superficial problems and gives an interesting and challenging perspective on this intriguing character. Mind you, he still has a tendency to sound a little Blimp-ish at times. For example, describing one of the principle figures of the time as a: "veritable Pooh-Bah" and quoting a line from "If" by Rudyard Kipling. And then - once again - we have him elaborating on King John's character before he's finished describing the events of the reign. As in his account of William I, this should really have been left to the end of the work, but if you're willing to overlook these eccentric glitches this is still a worthwhile read.


The Life and Times of The Norman Kings (Kings and Queens of England Series)
The Life and Times of The Norman Kings (Kings and Queens of England Series)
by James Chambers
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Repetition, contradiction and inconsistency, 26 Jun. 2008
Those who buy this expecting the author to concentrate on the reigns of William II, Henry I and Stephen will be disappointed. He wastes three chapters going over the ground already covered in Maurice Ashley's more adept life of William I and - what makes it even more inexcusable - actually contradicts Ashley's assertions in both fact and argument. When he finally gets round to what should have been his principle focus, his writing style hits the skids and he passes from the flowery to the slightly incoherent. Had he concentrated on the 3 post-Conqueror monarchs his obvious lack of originality may have been excusable, but to be derivative in such a way that contradicts an author writing in the same series a few years earlier borders on the ridiculous. Sorry, but same series should mean same "hymnsheet." To be fair, it does provide some insight into the 3 monarchs concerned, but at times he does it in such a rushed and unclear way it's almost as if he got bored with the subject half way through. What a mess.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2010 10:14 PM BST


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