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The Plantagenets
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on 30 July 2017
Dan Snow is an outstanding story teller and delivers history in an absorbing and informative manner. The Plantagenets is an excellent book that covers the history of the Plantagenet dynasty that not only ruled England but at times large areas of France. My only criticism would be that this is a very large book and I found myself needing a break half way to read some less taxing fiction, but if you are interested in the extraordinary lives of Edward 1, Edward 111, King John and King Richard among others, this is the book to read. On balance I preferred the sequel to this book, The Hollow Crown, perhaps because it seemed more of a whole work, rather than a sequence of individual stories. That said, this is a fine demonstration of how non-fiction can be both entertaining and highly readable. Overall assessment 4/5: (Plot 5, Literary Merit 4, Characterisation 5, Readability 4.)
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on 29 December 2014
This is a relatively straightforward popular account of that powerful dysfunctional family, the Plantagenets. From Henry II who gained power after the death of Stephen (we could have had a King Eustace or a King Theobald) to Richard II, the last Plantagenet king through all the internecine struggles and desperate fund-raising over the two hundred and fifty year's that the dynasty lasted.

I suppose the two best-known Plantagenet kings are John and Richard the Lionheart, because of Robin Hood and because they weren't called either Henry or Edward. Both rebelled against their father, Henry II. Richard spoke the language of Aquitaine, in Southern France where he spent most of his life, and spent little time in England during his reign. John was bad enough to be responsible for Magna Carta where the barons attempted to bring him to heel.

As a whole the Plantagenets were responsible for the setting up of a more formal bureaucracy for government. As in many modern failed states, they saw their kingdom as a means of finance for themselves, mainly to fund the permanent arms economy as they tried vainly to hold onto the French possessions and as they conquered Wales and attempted the conquest of Scotland (held back somewhat by William Wallace and Robert the Bruce).

As such, this makes for interesting reading, and Jones writes well. I don't think there is much that is new in the account (there are no footnotes or references), but the facts are well set out. Jones plays down the famous scandals sensibly. He does not think that the relationship between Edward II and Gaveston (or later Hugh Despenser) was homosexual (though he's correct that it doesn't matter one jot) and it is unlikely Edward II was murdered by having a red-hot poker inserted in his fundament.

For good or ill, many of the features of English life had their beginnings during the period covered in this book and this is a useful guide to the reigns.
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on 31 August 2014
Covering 250 years of English monarchy in 600 pages was always going to be a challenge. With eight reigns to cover, two civil wars and huge changes to society, Dan Jones set himself a real task but this book is a complete triumph. Beginning with the events leading to the ascension of Henry II - the wreck of the White Ship and the resulting wars of succession between Stephen and Matilda - the book charts the ups and downs of volatile ruling family.

I have actually read biographies of all the Plantagenet kings with the exception of Henry III and this work draws on a wide variety of sources including those books plus a good selection of primary sources. What sets this book apart is the quality of the writing. Jones has a really engaging style which doesn't get bogged down in quoting innumerable sources and which doesn't offer a partisan viewpoint. He beds the actions and decisions within the context of the society of the time. Kings were expected to show their power and prowess by war, yet war was expensive and that brought conflict with both the people and, over time, Parliament. The context of the wars with both France and Scotland is explained and so are the antecedents of the Cousins War. That will form the basis of Jones' next book which I am eager anticipating.
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on 24 May 2014
Dan Jones tells a gripping tale and if you're like me who is never sure whether it was Nelson or Bismark who won the battle of Waterloo, this is for you. And will certainly whet your appetite for more history reading.

But... and this criticism does not apply to this book but other history books too. Most readers don't digest these books in one long sweep and consequently need some help when returning to a chapter. There are three problems picking up the narrative: first, names. If a writer is going to say 'Robert, Earl of Leicester' then can we stick one name format and not 'Earl' in one sentence and 'Leicester' in another. Second, antecedents. Talking about 'he' when it is not absolutely clear who 'he' is so the reader has to backtrack a few sentences just to make sure. Third, a little relationship tree in every chapter so readers can grasp how the individuals are linked. This is possible even on the Kindle.
Having said that, this is a rattling good read and it would have been even better if Dan Jones had not let his sentences run away with him creating relationship confusions. By its very nature, a book on the Plantagenets is stuffed with 'Henrys' (French and English) and other popular names. It is rich in marriages, complex interpersonal relationships, skullduggery and betrayals. Weaving this into a dramatic narrative is no easy task. Dan Jones does it well but a bit of hand-holding from time to time would not go amiss.
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on 6 July 2017
The idea of trawling my way through such history was made easier by Dan Jones style that kept the facts at the pace of the narrative, never overloading or going off at a tangent. I found the story a bit repetitive, but history is unfortunately when broken down a set of familiar failings or weaknesses repeated. Very interesting to see the evolving parliamentarians hold over the thrones of England.
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on 21 September 2017
the history of the plantagenets from the normans to Richard II covered in great detail. Every person and event of importance is covered and the various powerplays are explained in an easy to understand fashion and placed in their geo-political context be it English or international. Very well written and an easy and pleasurable book to read.
Dan Jones brings history to life with this book. He is equal to david starkey when it comes to knowing his subject. Great Value for money
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on 5 July 2016
Interesting and better than The Hollow Crown.
However, neither book really works on a Kindle. Almost everybody is known by at least two names (eg. Henry/Arthur/Edward/Richard and/or Suffolk/Norfolk/Essex/Wessex) and without being able easily to refer back to a list of identities and an organisation chart with dates reading the book is something of a mystery tour. Definitely NOT bedtime reading!
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on 10 August 2017
A very factual, mainly unbiased account of the Plantagenets. If you already know quite a lot about them, it puts facts into place as an overview. If want to know what the individual kings were like in themselves, it would be better to read books dealing with the individual kings first.
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on 24 September 2013
The thing I really like about this book is that it tells the story of the Plantagenets as a story, not as a conventional history book. It starts during the wars between Stephen and Matilda and ends with the overthrow of Richard II. It's engagingly readable and gives a true feel for what these, often awful, people were really like.

I have always been interested in history and already have a book or two which cover the period, and even one on the Plantagenets themselves. I am a regular library borrower of such books. But this is the best one I have seen. Once picked up, it really is difficult to put down.

I do hope Dan Jones gets round to covering the later Plantagenets (York and Lancaster) in another book some time. I'll buy it !
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on 27 August 2016
I love history books and this one was great. I found it hard to put down and quite riveting in places. I've never read a dan Jones book before though I have watched him on TV. He's up there now in my top 3 history authors with Morris and Mortimer.
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