Top critical review
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Breezy and easy to read but lacks detail and focus
on 20 April 2011
If you know little about the War of the Roses and the emergence of the Tudors then this is a good place to start. Starkey writes here in an easy, conversational style as he takes us through the historical background and the reign of Henry VII.
However, if you have anything more than a passing acquaintance with the Tudors, this book adds hardly anything to the picture. The childhood and adolescence of Henry VIII which is promised by the book only happens at a fairly distant and undetailed way. Henry's marriage to Catherine gets little more than a brief chapter, and his male friendships not that much more.
One sexual liaison is referred to, Wolsey is introduced - and then the book ends.
I found Starkey's 'speak to the camera' style rather coy and irritating - he has a continual verbal tick where he ends a paragraph with a statement ("it looked like becoming a Howard family preserve"), leaves us hanging for a beat, then kicks off the next paragraph with a refutation of what he's just said ("Or it would have done if it had not been for Henry"). His alternative is to ask a question to which we all know the answer e.g. "But would he love her [Catherine of Aragon] always?" This tended, in my eyes, to give the narrative a rather amateur tone as the author tips us the nod and wink, and we all have a little snigger.
So if you're looking for a popular history which doesn't concern itself with scholarly arguments or too much detail, then this will probably suit admirably. But if you want something either more sophisticated in terms of history writing, or with precise detail, then this might well be a disappointment. Consider it a TV documentary in book form, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what it consists.