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on 28 June 2017
3 Stars because, while the book does what it sets out to do, and makes the best of limited available information (it's not called the Dark Ages for nothing) it is nonetheless somewhat uneven and unengaging. There are long descriptions of graves and gravegoods, of hoards and treasures, of churches and farmsteds but there are no illustrations or site plans to support the text. Sometimes the detail seems excessive, presumably making the most of what is otherwise a dearth of information, while the simultaneous lack of visual information leaves the reader deeply uninformed.
If the editors of the series are planning an update to this edition, please include detailed illustrations of archaeological sites, plans of churches and villages/towns and above all, plates showing the referenced artifacts from the Sutton Hoo treasure to the humblest Ipswich-ware pot.
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on 10 September 2014
The book presents an insightful account of the Anglo-Saxon period through to the Norman Conquest, based on both conventional historical sources and recent archaeology, to explain the transition of Roman Britain through social and cultural assimilation of new immigrants with the existing 'celtic' population via the spread of Christianity, to eventually produce the new land of England (the main focus of this text) from the formation and eventual amalgamation of the various early Kingdoms. However still being dependent on scant historical records, the scale of new settlement and complete 'anglicisation' of the countryside unfortunately remains inconclusive on this fundamental point. In this latter respect the indigenous Britons may have been a pre Roman Germanic-speaking people residing alongside the Welsh, faced with the 5th century AD incursions of Saxons, Angles and other groups of settlers. See http://fchknols.wordpress.com
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on 13 November 2013
The six hundred years or so between the fall of Rome and the arrival of the Normans is at once the most fascinating and the least documented in our recorded history. Fleming manages to synthesise the standard written chronicles and other textual evidence with more up to date research (especially in the field of DNA) and archaeology. She gives probably the most convincing account of the economic downfall of 4th century Roman Britain that I've read, explaining why it went from prosperity to total collapse within the space of, at most, a couple of generations. For the first time I could visualise what life might have been like for someone whose grandparents had lived in a palatial villa, but who was now reduced to scratching a subsistence existence. Britons even, apparently, forgot how to make pots.
She's good on later events and trends, too: the development of a unified church (though there was no mention, unless I missed it, of the important Synod of Whitby), the incursions of the Vikings (not whitewashing them, as some historians have, to the extent that they're presented as peaceful traders who occasionally do a little rape and pillage on the side), the agricultural changes in the ninth and tenth centuries, and what all this meant for the average peasant - pushing home the message that the average peasant led a pretty miserable life, especially towards the end of the period. It's good to see so much archaeological evidence used as well.
The one issue I have is that the Migration Period, when 'Anglo-Saxon' settlers arrived, is not described quite so convincingly. Fleming would have it that they were all egalitarian peasants of similar status, who only later began to produce leaders, who then constructed their own origin myths and genealogies to justify their superior wealth and position. I'm not at all sure about this - after all, it takes energy, leadership and a lot of material resources to move yourself and others a couple of hundred miles over the sea in an open boat - and see no good reason why there should not have been individual chiefs who saw an opportunity in Britain and took advantage of it to bring their followers with them, and quite possibly in much greater numbers than she allows for. I once heard an expert on the period comment that if you ask a linguist how many Anglo-Saxons came over, they'll say it was in overwhelming numbers: if you ask a historian, they'll say it was considerable numbers: and if you ask an archaeologist, they'll say it was three men in a boat. And the almost complete eradication of the Brythonic language in favour of what was to become English is something that in my view she fails to explain convincingly. But these are comparatively minor points, and it's a book I much enjoyed reading.
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on 1 November 2014
This is the best evocation I have read about life in Britain in the period covered. It is the first time I have come across a general history which marries texts, academic study and the results of the latest archaeology so thoroughly.
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on 28 December 2015
This book is admirable. Everything is based on fact - the material evidence - and deduction. It is dense but well written. If you've ever wondered what happened after Roman Britain, read this.
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on 8 December 2015
I really like this book and have returned to it frequently with pleasure. However it would not be my choice if asked for a single book to read about the period. I came to it after reading the beautifully illustrated The Anglo Saxons by Campbell and John, and the two complemented each other. If I start with the cons arguments, please do go on to read the pros in my review, because there are many.

The cons. This book is a little drab. There are no illustrations and the format is a standard old fashioned paperback. The reader gets no sense of the very beautiful things created during the period. The story is almost wholly about the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. In that sense it isn't a history of Britain, but there may be even less evidence on which to base a history of Scotland Wales and the West during the period. The emphasis on the archaeological record and deductions that can be made from this, sometimes makes it more difficult to discern the historical thread of larger political events. However these events are to be found in the text.

The pros. The authors prose style is excellent, making for a very readable book although there is a lot of information packed in the text. The strong emphasis on the archaeological record illuminates the early centuries where there is almost no historical record which can be trusted, and is the basis for a very coherent description of the social and economic life of the period through to the Norman conquest. The authors critique of the contemporary (or not so contemporary) historical sources is interesting and convincing. The author starts her story 100 years before the date in the title. This works well, as I would have found it frustrating to be directed to the earlier title in the series to understand the society which existed in 400 AD and whose echos persisted for one hundred years and more in the west.
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VINE VOICEon 10 July 2017
There were some interesting perspectives on elites but the modern reassessment of the Anglo-Saxon invasion seems to place them in the Goth/Vandal category as in Italy/Spain. That is to say, a few tens of thousands at most who came over here like flashy footballers [read warriors] and wowed everyone with their Germanic culture, hairstyle and language. Whilst I'm sure an East - West variation in intensity was present I simply cannot see a strong Brythonic Celtic culture rolling over.

After all, Norman elites in Wales and Ireland couldn't manage it with castles. It always gets caught up in DNA evidence which is not always reliable. We cannot say how many Anglo Saxons carried the Rb1 gene. The Germanic hordes that moved into Italy and Spain did not leave much of a mark at all yet we are repeatedly fed this new narrative that a few illiterate thousand Saxons erased Romano Britain culture. The Normans did not manage to turn Cornwall or England Francophone by 1266. I just think the Rb1 obsession and the lack of hard archeological evidence blinds historians. There is very little 'hard' evidence for most of the major battles in Anglo Saxon times for instance.

The Saxon Shore forts, the tsunami linguistic change and the inability of Vikings to radically alter Celtic culture in other parts of the British Isles really make me doubt the modern 'three men in a boat' thesis on Anglo-Saxon England.
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on 5 November 2013
This is a very thorough account focusing on the material evidence of how people in different ethnic groups and social classes lived between the Roman withdrawal and the Norman Conquest. There are copious references to archaeological research, showing what people ate, what diseases and injuries they suffered, how long they could expect to live, and so on. The author is immensely knowledgable, but writes in a clear, approachable style.

The archaelogical evidence that she discusses agrees with the genetic evidence discussed in Stephen Oppenheimer's The Origins of the British, showing that there was no large scale replacement of "Celts" by "Anglo-Saxons". The transformation from "British" to "English" was mostly a spread of a culture, not a movement of peoples. The near extermination of the Britons by the Anglo-Saxons was a myth, perpetuated by Dark Age "historians" for their own polemical purposes, and repeated by the Victorians because it confirmed their racial analysis of history.

The drawback of this book is that it's a bit one-dimensional. Perhaps because material evidence is her speciality, the author takes a thoroughly "materialistic" view of the peoples' motivations. In the view of the author, no one in the Dark Ages and Anglo-Saxon period seems to have any motivation other than to enhance their own social status and material wealth. Related to this is another flaw, namely that when the author tries to empathise with the people of those days, especially in her last chapter, she seems to do so from her own perspective as a 21st Century middle class American. She seems to assume that due to their poor diet, parasitic infections, high infant mortality and short life expectancy, the people would have been as miserable as their modern descendants would be if we suddenly found ourselves afflicted with these problems. I think this is incorrect, because happiness is more about how we compare ourselves with other people whose lives we are familiar with. For instance, the loss of a child is always tragic, but it must surely feel a great deal more tragic in a society where everyone else's children are alive and healthy. Likewise, being the only person whom you know who has a tapeworm is probably a lot worse than living in a society where even Kings have tapeworms.
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on 5 October 2016
An interesting book to read but little mention is made of the importance that slavery must have had at that time and considered normal by the pagan and 'Anglo Saxons' into Christian times.
Slavery must have greatly assisted the transformation from a ranked society (British) to a heirarchical one (Anglo Saxon).
Also the name Wales is based on the word for slave and could well explain the migration of Britons to Brittany and of course the great change of place names in England.
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on 6 June 2013
This book deals with that very interesting period: the early middle ages (or high Middle age) in Britain. There's a dearth of written material from that period, and much of what we have is deduced from later authors. Much of our knowledge derives from archeological findings and comparison with other european cultures of the same period. It is from this period that legends such as Arthur and Beowulf derive.
However, the writer makes a tremendous effort to make this information digestible for the lay reader. She has succeeded in writing a book without footnotes, without very deep, hypothetical and controversial material, and above all she has written a "serious" book, without offending our intelligence using telegraphic style and mentally retarded arguments.
Of course, this is a dense book, because it's difficult to summarise more than 500 years in 600 pages, particularly when so much was happening and so much we can only gess.
I like very much the use of names of kings, queens and battles , and put her lens on the life of people: hard, painful, diseased, probably sad and frightened from disease, famine and hard labour. There was richness, but then that was reaped by the higher families and social hyerarchy. In a few generations, from universal poverty and struggle, some families rose and claimed mastery over the territory and the production surpluses. The Gospel was preached, and led to better lives, but also helped to surpass the primitive societies in Britain. In the end, a rich society was created, but the inequalities were there and growing, to the more suffering of peasants, their children, the slaves and the indentured.
It came as a great surprise (the greatest in the boo) her affirmation that the blood thirsty barbarian invasions were more myth than reality, because the incoming saxons were more scavengers that anything else!
I can't give this book five stars because there are no photographs, that would be very welcome, and because, as other reviewers point out, it's mostly about England, a bit of Whales and maybe hints of Ireland and Scotland.
The author also throws a respectful light on those millions suffering in the struggle for life. This is welcome in a state of mind when only the masters and killers are described and told.
However, if you like reading history, this is your book. I cannot remmend it higher.
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