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Out of Date. Too many Omissions. Better Books about the Anglo-Saxons are Available.
on 26 January 2017
The three leading male authors of this work were all born a long time ago, one of them as early as 1922. The other contributors are also all male. Although it is packed with all kinds of interesting information, it falls short in three important aspects:
1: It is very male centred and fails to deal adequately with the distaff side of society as well as the lives of everyday folk
2: It is out of date in several aspects. It was first published in 1982 and gives the impression of not having been brought up to date since then.
3: Although it contains some helpful illustrations too many of them give the impression that someone has stood back and thrown them at the pages, hoping they would land in the right places. Then again, although there are some very helpful maps, they are nearly all just of England, or part of it, on their own with little or no attempt made to include maps that relate England to either the British Isles or the rest of Europe.
In the town of Tamworth near Birmingham there stands a statue of a very important lady in the history of England, her right hand clutching a sword and her left on the head of her nephew, the young Athelstan, later to become one of England's greatest kings. The lady in question is Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great and Lady of the Mercians and a leading figure in bringing about a united England. And yet, in this 272 page work, she is mentioned only in passing. Such a serious omission is unforgivable in a work that purports to be about the Anglo-Saxons. Then again, Elfrida, the first crowned Queen of England, is not mentioned at all, not even concerning her involvement in the death of Edward the Martyr, notwithstanding that Elizabeth Norton has researched sufficient material to be able to write a fourteen chapter book about her. And so it goes on: omission after omission combined with 'in depth' information about certain parts of ancient England that happen to interest one of the authors, whilst other equally important places are either relegated to cursory comment or missed out altogether.
The best aspect of this work is that does deal helpfully with certain aspects of English history, helping those who read it to gain a better idea of what went on in those days. Sadly, serious and unnecessary omissions of the kind we mentioned above can only add fuel to the arguments of those who are on the lookout for signs of the syndrome commonly known as MChPism. Books such as Anglo-Saxon Crafts by Kevin Leahy (available from Amazon) give a far better picture of what life was like for every day folk in Anglo-Saxon times. One of the best pieces in this work is the description of what it is was like to be an Anglo-Saxon thegn and there are some other good pieces like that. However, the fact remains that Penguin need to stop publishing this work and begin from scratch to compile another work giving a fairer, more balanced account of life in Anglo-Saxon times including research by both female and male experts. It is very difficult to know how to star-award this work. The fact that I am awarding it three stars, based on its attractive presentation, some helpful maps and some useful information is in no way to be taken in the sense that its serious omissions and bias do not remain excellent reasons for not wasting money on it when many much better and more accurate works concerning Anglo-Saxon times are available. For example, 'The Age of Athelstan' by Paul Hill (available from Amazon) gives a far more accurate and realistic account of what life was really like in mid Anglo-
Saxon England than anything to be found in this work.