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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 9 January 2005
This is a delightful book. A book to read curled up in front of the fire on a cold winter's day. A lovely book to hold and weigh in your hands. But be warned. It is a book to ration - no more than one or two short chapters at a time - and it will have you ransacking your bookshelves to chase up more information or scouring your local library for more detailed works. Any book that kindles or reawakens a passion for English history is a treasure. And this book, along with the first volume in the series, does just that. Not only does Robert Lacey keep each tale sufficiently brief for his readers to keep track of the larger plot but, by cramming so much information into just a few paragraphs, he makes us feel we have a good grasp of what each topic is all about. Yet at the same time he leaves us asking for more. And that is where the list of references, especially the details of the latest websites, is particularly helpful. Like me, Lacey is not an academic and I cannot guarantee the quality of his scholarship (I thought the legend of Thomas More's private jail was now considered apocryphal). But the book is convincing as an honest attempt at telling the truth as the best of today's historians currently understand it. It is a book I can heartedly recommend.
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on 28 April 2004
I bought this book as I have always been very interested in, but fairlyignorant of, the history of this great country.
The author takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the early history ofEngland, presenting 'snap-shots' of important people and events in small,focused chapters of between three and six pages. This may sound too short,and I can see from other reviews that this is not everyones cup of tea,but I found the length just right.
If you are an avid historian or have a great deal of prior knowledge ofEnglish history then this book is probably not for you. If you are seekingvast detail on one particular event in English history then this book isprobably not for you. However, if the history of England is new to you, oryour memory of school history lessons is somewhat clouded, then this bookis a fantastic introduction or re-introduction to the fascinating past ofthis country.
The author has stirred my interest in so many different events that I amdetermined to study them in greater depth at a later date. I cannot praisethis book higher than that.
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on 8 October 2003
I love this book. Robert Lacey portrays characters and events from English history in an easy to understand and enjoyable to read format. While the chapters are short, Lacey uses plenty of great detail to make the avid fan of history happy and still succeeds at keeping the casual reader entertained.
I strongly recommend this book to everyone.
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on 28 December 2003
I do not profess to be a good reader, so it takes a special kind of book to keep my attention and interest.
Simply, if ever you want to read about English History you need go no further. From the first page to the last I was enthralled and excited. Written in a friendly, easy to read way, Mr Lacey plots a careful and enjoyable course through the times of Merrie (and not so Merrie) England.
For the first time ever, I have an understanding of what being English actually means. The reader will learn not only of Kings, Queens, Battles and Wars which dictate the scholar's History lessons, but the colourful characters which make up the patchwork of English life: Wat Tyler, Caedmon and Lady Godiva.
The one moment of disappointment is knowing its about a year until we pick up the second volume with Dick Whittington.
There cannot be a single person who reads this book who is not left begging for more.
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on 8 November 2006
It is only after buying and reading this book that I realized that it is one of a series covering different time periods of English history. So my first comment is that this book can be read and enjoyed independently of the other volumes. In fact I found this book just the kind of bedtime reading I like, and I will be buying the other volumes in the near future. The book consists of 60 short stories, each 3-5 pages long, ranging from John Locke (1690), though Brunel (1843), to Crick and Watson (1953). As I read through the initial tales my first impression was that they were a little too concise and did not include sufficient context to appreciate fully the story being told. However as I approached the Spinning Jenny (1766) and Ned Ludd (1812) I realized what the problem was. My long forgotten school education had more or less jumped from the Romans and Viking straight into the 1800's, leaving a big gap of ignorance in the middle. Thus I found it far easier to situate the tales dating from 1760-70 in the context of my (admittedly still limited) knowledge of English history. Here is the strength of the book, and lets drop the "great" and employ the more useful "entertaining", it brings a bit of life to what many people (including myself) see as a rather dry and dusty subject. The tales can be read as nothing more than interesting snippets about the past. The style of writing is uncomplicated and light, yet each tale is rich and enjoyable. However the book also does a really good job in wetting the reader's appetite for more, and in this context the 20 pages of "bibliography and source notes" are a very welcome addition (the Web addresses are also appreciated).
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HALL OF FAMEon 21 March 2006
I first discovered Robert Lacey as an author from his book 'The Year 1000'. Interesting, accessible, easy to follow, with a good balance of detail and breadth (always a tricky task when writing a popular history), that book was one of my favourites around the turn of the second millennium. I discovered this book after finding the second volume of this set on the shelves of my local library, and have found it equally worthwhile and fun to read.
This book focuses upon the period from Britain's prehistoric period up to the Middle Ages (the second volume concentrates on the late Middle Ages to the post-Reformation era in English history) - in royal terms, the times of the pre-Norman Conquest kingdoms and invasions, and the early Plantagenets. In years, this goes from the years around 7000 BC to the late 1300s (Wat Tyler and the Peasants' Revolt).
One of the things that I like a lot about this particular history is that the stories are brief and self-contained while being part of the overall flow of the history of England. They make for good bed-time reading (the longest of the stories is barely seven pages long, in easy print and easy, storytelling language). Many of the characters are already familiar figures even to those who aren't Anglophiles - William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, Boadicea, Thomas Becket and Richard the Lionhearted. Then there will be figures that are lesser known but just as interesting - the Cheddar Man (no, he wasn't made of cheese) from 7000s BC and the Fair Maids of Kent (a story with the foundation of the Order of the Garter). These are tales told in a simplified but memorable manner, and could serve for younger and older readers as a stimulus for further reading and investigation about topics brought up in the text.
There are a few maps, royal lineage charts, and woodcut/line art drawings throughout the text. Lacey includes a bibliography for further reading (this contains a good number of website addresses for making further research very easy). There is also an index, which many popular histories forget, but Lacey is to be highly praised for including one here, making looking up particular names, places and events very easy.
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on 20 January 2004
This was a curious book. It was undoubtedly very readable, I finished it the same evening I bought it, but it suffers dreadfully from the grimly trendy 'Tony Robinson' approach to its subject.
Caesar is a 'Megastar' of history (cringe) the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussain is shoehorned into providing a right-on parallel with the evil Crusades of the 12th century etc. There are other examples but these were the ones that stayed with me and I haven't a copy with me to dig about for more.
I was astonished to discover it was written for adults at the end, as the tone throughout is fairly patronising, assuming no knowledge of anything other than a smattering of current affairs. Having said that I think a bright ten year old would probably enjoy it. It's a lively book and the tight little chapters, packed with information would make it easy to rattle through at short sittings. I'd probably have given it more stars if it were pitched at children but I wouldn't recommend it to other adults to be honest.
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on 3 September 2005
Very enjoyable, and a good easy read. Robert Lacey covers familiar ground, and some not so familiar, in nice bite-sized chunks. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on King Canute and the waves, and agree that Canute's sorry reputation is ill deserved!
However, I do think that Lacey woud do better to leave his personal conclusions out of it, or at least state clearly that they are his own. He is very right-on; very keen to tell us that practically everything we would consider to be "English" actually has its roots elsewhere. Everything (it seems) is a foreign import, such as the "Turkish" St George who was actually Phoenician and dates much further back than "Turkey" and the "Turks". He makes judgements which are perfectly in keeping with current Guardian thought, such as his verdict on Edward I who expelled the Jews. Lacey's judgement on this episode falls on the King's own "act of bigotry" (merely for financial gain, supposedly) AND on the people of England because they "applauded" it. And all this without attempting to place the events in any kind of context.
For this reason I would not recommend this book to children. Children are very impressionable and are likely to accept Mr Lacey's judgements without questioning them further.
History is always written to please someone and Lacey has much in common with the Court Historians of old, inasmuch as he tells the tales with a particular bias. It is my opinion that he should try to be more objective.
And now I'm about to start the next book!
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on 11 November 2014
Every household in the country should possess this set of books. There cannot ever have been nor ever will be anything to surpass them in the telling of history. Answers so many questions, fills all the gaps ... un-put-down-ablly entertaining.
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HALL OF FAMEon 21 March 2006
I first discovered Robert Lacey as an author from his book 'The Year 1000'. Interesting, accessible, easy to follow, with a good balance of detail and breadth (always a tricky task when writing a popular history), that book was one of my favourites around the turn of the second millennium. I discovered this book on the shelves of my local library, and have found it equally worthwhile and fun to read.
This book concentrates on the late Middle Ages to the post-Reformation era in English history - in royal terms, the times of the end of the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Interregnum and Glorious Revolution (which a history professor of mine once intoned dramatically, 'was neither glorious nor a revolution'). In years, this goes from the late 1300s to the late 1600s.
One of the things that I like a lot about this particular history is that the stories are brief and self-contained while being part of the overall flow of the history of England. They make for good bed-time reading (the longest of the stories is barely seven pages long, in easy print and easy, storytelling language). Many of the characters are already familiar figures even to those who aren't Anglophiles - Joan of Arc, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth the First, Shakespeare, King James and the English Bible. Then there will be figures that are lesser known but just as interesting - the Roundheads and Cavaliers, Rabbi Manasseh, Titus Oates, the Bloody Assizes. These are tales told in a simplified but memorable manner, and could serve for younger and older readers as a stimulus for further reading and investigation about topics brought up in the text.
There are a few maps, royal lineage charts, and woodcut/line art drawings throughout the text. Lacey includes a bibliography for further reading (this contains a good number of website addresses for making further research very easy). There is also an index, which many popular histories forget, but Lacey is to be highly praised for including one here, making looking up particular names, places and events very easy.
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