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on 29 July 2012
Dan Jones makes it clear to the reader in his intro that this history of the Plantagenets is a long read, but he isn't apologetic and neither should he be because this is a thrilling, informative, enthralling experience. If we have preferences in reading then I would say I am a reader of literary fiction and poetry who likes to read narrative history as a change. I have tried Alison Weir, David Starkey, Leanda de Lisle and scholarly historians such as Eric Ives and Eamon Duffy etc but I enjoyed this more than any of the others. Dan Jones tells a brilliant story of the kings with verve, energy and intelligence. He manages to pull of the trick of conveying the canvas of historical events with exhilarating insights into character, political power and the often absurd fatefulness of events. I suppose I'm trying to say that in trying to engage the reader with the drama of history he doesn't sacrifice the more challenging aspects of historical research. He actually made me feel really clever and well-informed.I'd really recommend this exciting, fresh, compelling piece of work. If you can imagine most historical narratives as a pot-boiler of a series made for ITV, then this is the one made for HBO by the creative team behind The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire etc. Does that make any sense ? Forget it, read this book !.
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on 2 May 2012
I told myself that this year I would address my shameful lack of English history. So: Simon Schama DVDs, This Sceptered Isle on Radio 4 Extra and some books, including this one. Jones's splendidly written epic gripped me from start to finish, and filled my head with fascinating stories of kings, queens, wars, schemes, uprisings, invasions, escapes and conquerings. From the opening tale of a future king of England perishing in a Channel shipwreck, I was never once bored as I was taken through almost 300 years of conflict and chaos in England's palaces and parliaments, and on battlefields and battlements both home and abroad (especially France. Poor old France). And yet it's not all men with swords and grudges: Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of several memorable figures Jones brings to life, seems like Cleopatra and Boudicca rolled into one. Highly recommended.
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on 2 May 2012
Dan Jones is a clever guy. I first came across his work when my wife bought me his previous book, Summer of Blood, a rip-roaring chronicle of the events leading up to the Peasants Revolt. What struck me was his deftness of touch, combining sharp historical insight with a freshness and brevity that's all too lacking in many history books, not least those that deal with the Middle Ages.

I picked up The Plantagenets on this basis, though I confess to knowing little of the Plantagenet dynasty beforehand. What he's done here is nothing short of remarkable. While Summer of Blood was highly focused in time and place, this one manages to get its teeth around hundreds of years and eight generations of kings, with a motley cast of the brilliant and the stupid, the heroic and ruthlessly cruel. And yet despite the size of his undertaking, with Jones you still get this lively and compelling jaunt through events, with a judicious probe at the events that matter and some analytical smarts that put events into intelligent context without detracting from the ride. It's a bit like watching a medieval DVD with the director's commentary on (and I mean that in a good way).

To make a book about European medieval history as gripping and compelling as this is no mean feat. Jones gets plaudits from the likes of Starkey and Sebag-Montefiore and you can see why: they know this exciting young historian knocking on the door is the real deal. He's done his research, he knows his stuff, and his prose style is as sharp as his insight. But when he's not writing history books he's clearly enjoying The Sopranos or The Wire.

What's not to like? A total breath of fresh air.
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on 23 October 2012
The aim of this book is to tell the story of the eight Plantagenet monarchs that ruled England between 1154 and 1399. Each monarch in turn has his story told; which wars he fought in, the land he gained and lost, who he married and who were his children.

In his prologue, Jones tells us his intention with The Plantagenets is to tell the story in an entertaining way. In this he is successful. I was gripped by the stories of Henry II, Richard I and Richard II, because these are the reigns I am unfamiliar with. As the book is written to entertain and tell the story of the Plantagenet dynasty, not to analyse, those that are familiar with the monarchs may find this book is not for them. I found I learned nothing new about Henry III, Edward I and Edward II; but this is because I knew about these reigns before reading, it is not the fault of the author. This book would be a good introduction to the Plantagenet dynasty.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Some chapters, as I said above, really held my interest and I loved them, but others didn't really engage me. I found that the author was often very biased, and his love or hate for the monarch in question was really obvious. John is described as a `delinquent', Henry III `feather brained' and Edward II as `England's worst ever king'. These sort of sweeping, judgmental statements I found very off putting. I especially found with Edward II there was no attempt at all to be neutral; he was even blamed for the failings of Richard II. On the other hand, Edward III and Richard II's chapters were very good reading. The author certainly knows his stuff where these two monarchs are concerned.

As this book is a popular, narrative history it was not referenced in an academic way. Primary source material is still used and quoted though, which was a great addition to the narrative. When learning about Henry II, for example, we have a quote from Gerard of Wales; a man who apparently knew Henry well. This was ideal for a narrative book- someone who is reading for entertainment does not want to be bogged down with footnotes. A further reading section is provided at the back of the book, for people that want to learn more about the monarchs in the book that intrigued them.

The author uses his book to bust a few common myths, which I think is great. Henry II ordering Becket's death and Edward II's supposed red hot poker death are both challenged. Again, though, with the good comes the bad. The author states Edward II was kept in a dungeon at Berkeley; not true, he was kept in comfort in his apartments. Edward II did not give Isabella's wedding presents to Piers, he asked him to take them to the Tower for safe keeping. Henry III's attempted assassin broke into his apartments in September 1238, not some time in 1237. (OK, now I'm just nit-picking. Sorry.) We also learn where Jones stands on the `did Edward II escape?' mystery, but I won't spoil that for potential readers.

All in all, a good narrative history book. There were parts I loved, and parts I didn't. If you want an introduction to the Plantagenet dynasty, this is the book to read. Also, I love the cover. Is there a better portrait than Richard II's?
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on 21 June 2012
With florid contextualisation - notably the atmospheric conditions pertaining on the day of a battle - Dan Jones here serves history up as a soufflé rather than a heavy, indigestible, casserole. Ivory-tower academics should not, though, be sniffy at this; the facts are there by the cart-load, while the author's accessible writing style keeps the narrative flowing at a cracking pace. If I note that this was an excellent bedtime read, I mean that as a compliment. The Plantagenets is a magnificent and informative book; Dan Jones should be on television!
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on 23 July 2012
This is an exceptional work of history and really is quite breathtaking in its scope. From the devestating wars known as 'The Anarchy' which brought Henry II to the throne - right through 250 years of empire building and warfare - to the accession of Henry IV, Dan Jones really does capture his subject within an amazing readable narrative. A fabulous, though weighty tome, this is a great read for newcomers and seasoned historians alike.

If you love the history of medieval monarchy then you could not ask for much more in a single volume.
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on 13 October 2012
The author has done an excellent job here, its a huge challenge to cover such an expansive era and subject matter with any kind of intimate detail but do Dan's credit he has achieved this.
The Plantagenets have got wrongly ignored and overshadowed by the supposedly sexier tudor monarchs but each of their reigns is intriguing in one way or another and their ambitions, abilities and personalities truly have shaped England and Britain's destiny.

Given the story is probably a two thousand pager to compress it to 600 pages (dont be put off by the size of the tome, it never drags). Dan jones has the engaging and sympathetic journalistic writing style of Stephen O'Shea but like him combines it with scholarly dedicated research and thoroughness to incorporate the probably limited surviving source material in to a coherent story of the events of the period. It is an epic story at that with all the ingredients of blood, war, intense piety, alliance and betrayal, love, loss, triumph and disaster in epic proportions which defined the reality of the leaders of the feudal age.

Everyone is going to have a king they love and one they hate, for me I admire King Stephen (not technically a Planatagenet but still covered in this story) for his decency, dignity and determination to rule be the best king he could under horrendous circumstances he had to confront when he claimed the crown, even if it probably want too joyful to be an englishman during his reign.
The villan has to be King John, exactly the kind of individual you'd least want in a position of power who managed to undo so much of the good work of his predecessors in his fairly dispicable reign.
Thats the nature of kingship though and its inherent flaw, the divergence of personalities of the man with the crown is staggering, even from one generation to the next the contrast is remarkable. That is what makes the book such a fascinating read, as there are always twists and turns in fortune from one decade to another.

Cant wait for the sequel!
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on 6 February 2015
Packed with detail this book describes the rise and fall of the Plantagenet dynasty. Moreover it places into context some of the despotic background of individuals who by an accident of birth or military power became the most powerful individuals in England.
On reflection it makes you wonder about how history might have been different in respect of our Anglo- French foundations.
By today's standards you'd be forgiven for describing the early British monarchs as nothing more than dictators and scoundrels.
Time has an interesting way of allowing the atrocities of our royal forbears to mellow into extremely soft focus.

It almost makes you want to adopt a republican view with regard to the dissolution of the monarchy. It's better that their roles are merely constitutional. In analysing their ancestral backgrounds, they have no right to be anything other than figureheads of the state.
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on 21 June 2012
The book (together with Dan Brown's paperback on the Peasants Revolt) was quickly delivered after ordering.

I am about one third of the way through The Plantagenets (upto King John) and am thoroughly enjoying it. I was pretty well upto speed on Henry the Second and his mother Matilda but am now understanding John a little better. Not too sure why Richard 1 (given he spent hardly anytime in England) is so revered.

The book is easy to read, informative without being too academic or burdened with too many footnotes.

Thoroughly recommend it.
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on 25 February 2017
I started to get interested in this period after the excellent TV series based on Shakespeare's history plays. This book is written in an easily accessible style that brings the period to life without going overboard. I found myself watching David Starkey's Monarchy and following all the ins and outs of the period with (relative) ease - looking forward to starting the sequel 'Wars of the Roses'
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