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on 24 October 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I think my title says it all. But I will say more because to stop here would be unorthodox. I loved A History of the World in 100 Objects and this is even better! Someone give this man a knighthood! He is a literary Olympian. Everything about this book is excellent. The content - what you're paying for - is written in a very accessible but academic way. Elizabethans' everyday lives are dissected and their innards laid bare. I loved the chapter about hats - so random and arbitrary but surprisingly revealing - what other history books deem too trivial to bother with. Then there're the pictures on just about every page. Lovely to look at while you reflect on what you've just read. Lovely, sumptuous cover with the title picked out in silver on a cardinal red background. This isn't a book, it's an experience - a guided tour.
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on 12 March 2017
Clever, brilliant book A wonderful way to portray a period in history; especially for a Shakespeare fan
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 October 2012
This is a superb book. Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, looks in turn at 19 objects with relevance to Shakespeare's time, before finishing off with the relevance of Shakespeare to Nelson Mandela and his fellow captives on Robben Island. Elizabethan England with its discoveries, superstitions, plagues, fears and aspirations is described in fascinating prose, complemented with relevant quotations from Shakespeare and with beautiful illustrations, throughout the book. The original ideas for the Union flag are fascinating, and the illustration of these is used to describe the hopes and fears of both Scotland and England at the time of accession of James the VI and I to the British throne

Through the example of a fork used at the theatre, an apprentice's cap, a beautiful Venetian goblet and many more objects, the author has brought the late 16th and early 17th century almost to life in these pages. This is a genuinely wonderful book; simultaneously informative, erudite, and easily read, this will form part of my permanent book collection to be revisited again and again.

Highly recommended for those interested in history, the stage, or simply in what it has been to be human throughout the ages.
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on 25 October 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the best book about Shakespeare I've read since James Shapiro's "1599" - and I've read many. It takes as its theme not Shakespeare himself but the restless, thrilling and dangerous times he lived in, all of their conflicts and opportunities reflected in his plays.

Repeating the winning format of "A History of the World in 100 objects", Neil MacGregor has selected twenty iconic objects from the early modern period, encompassing the entire range of society from dynastic depictions of the Tudor succession to the woolen cap worn by a London apprentice, and made each the basis of an illustrated essay explaining its historical context and applying it to scenes in Shakespeare's work. If this sounds dull, rest assured that it isn't - quite the reverse. A medallion comemmorating Drake's global navigation reminds us that this human achievement altered people's perception of their place in the universe as radically as the 1968 Earthrise photograph taken from Apollo 8. A pedlar's trunk turns out to be a disguised portable kit for the underground celebration of the Catholic Mass, as well as a window opened into the itinerant chancers who inhabit the fringe of society. A more gruesome emblem of religious intolerence is the eye of a Catholic martyr encased in siver, reminding us of the unsettling appetite for violence as theatre that fed the audiences who first witnessed the blinding of Gloucester on stage. And once you've read MacGregor's desciption of a soft-porn illustration on a Venetian drinking glass, you'll have a fresh insight into the prejudices against Venetian women that sealed poor Desdemona's fate.

Many books that recreate a successful radio series don't translate all that well to the literary format (Melvyn Bragg is an offender in this respect, whose books read like broadcasts hastily revised by staffers, very much an inferior product to the original excellent programmes). Neil MacGregor is a welcome exception; erudite but supremely accessible, each of these short essays could be savoured alone as bedtime reading, but they are so compelling that you may well feel the desire to stay up late reading just one more. If you are daunted by the prospect of Shakespeare - too alien, too intellectual - give this a try and you'll be converted. If you are already knowledgable about the Bard and his times, read this and you'll discover much that you were unaware of. I commend it to you unreservedly. It's a marvellous book - and the final chapter looks at the way Shakespeare continues to resonate with readers today, taking as its text the remarkable Complete Works that sustained the anti-apartheid campaigners in Robben Island.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For those who have already read EMW Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture, or who fancy something a bit more accessible, Shakespeare's Restless World is a wonderfully lucid artefact-based discussion of late Elizabethan/early Jacobean London life by the same author of, and on the same lines as, A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Most people who love Shakespeare know him either through reading the plays, or watching them, or performing them, or all three. Some will have traipsed round the various Shakespeare sites at Stratford upon Avon, but it was in London, not Stratford, that Shakespeare did most of his work. Working from casually discarded or lost objects, such a rapier found by the Thames, and from others that stayed in use for long afterwards, Neil MacGregor peels back the layers of meaning behind such things. What may be seen in a museum as a curio turns out to have immense practical and symbolic meaning, as well as shedding light on how Elizabethan power was projected to the Western hemisphere by means of the new sciences of cartography and navigation.

Any chapter of this book will reward an A-level student trying to dig deeper into Shakespeare, and many undergraduates will discover insights that even Tillyard could not give. For those of us long past our literature degrees, this book is a voyage of delight.
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on 8 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We all had to learn a Shakespeare play or two at school and for many it would have put them of the Bard for a lifetime. His alien language and references to things that no longer seem relevant just does not cut it with the average 13 year old. Thankfully, I learned `Macbeth' and `Romeo and Juliet' at school - two pretty awesome plays. Perhaps my peers would have enjoyed the plays as much as I, had they known some of the context in which Shakespeare lived. This is exactly what Dr Neil MacGregor provides in `Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects', a book that uses surviving objects of the era to explain the turbulent times in which Shakespeare lived and how this would have impacted on his writing and his audience.

What `Restless World' basically does it paint a rich social history of late Elizabethan/early James 1st Britain. It is hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone from 1590-1620, but MacGregor does a great job in transporting you back there. The book is full of lush full colour pictures and is broken down into chapters that explore different aspects of life e.g. food, death. You learn how the latest fashions or political upheavals impacted on some of Shakespeare's most famous works.

As part of a Radio 4 show `Restless World' is just able balance being accessible with being academic. Personally, I found that the number of pictures filled up too much space and there could have been more written information. For the non-academic, `Restless World' is an accessible introduction into history during the time of Shakespeare; I would have liked a tiny more meat on its bones though.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
* This review is for the hardback book *

In this book, Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, uses a variety of material objects to get under the intellectual skin of the world during Shakespeare's life-time, and explores the ways in which the plays were deeply grounded in the politics, religion, culture and material world from which they were produced.

This approach, in line with current academic thinking, implicitly moves us away from the idea of Shakespeare as being some kind of extraordinary, timeless spirit whose plays float, somehow, outside of history. Instead, this focuses on the historicised cultural markers that made the plays as contemporary and current as Private Eye or Have I Got News are for us today.

MacGregor isn't seeking to understand Shakespeare the man but to uncover some of the shared communal assumptions that Shakespeare's audiences carried with them into the Globe and other theatres. This is a wonderfully generous and inclusive book, both erudite and yet accessible.

The hardback is a gorgeous artefact in itself, solid and heavy, with illustrations on almost every page, and that lovely rich and heady paper smell that the best books have. This would make a beautiful Xmas present to any Shakespeare and/or history fans - or for yourself.
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on 24 December 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Following on from "A History of the World in 100 Objects" Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, introduces us to 20 objects which help to illuminate the world as experienced by Shakespeare's original audience. This was a time which had seen great upheavals, in which Catholicism was outlawed, plague rife, exotic lands were being discovered, and a new Scottish king had come to the throne. The objects described include a fancy fork dropped at the theatre, an apprentice's cap, a Catholic martyr's relic, gold coins from Morocco, and designs for a flag for the newly united kingdom of England and Scotland. MacGregor skilfully puts these objects in their historical context, gradually building up a picture of the period. He reminds us of what would have seemed new at the time, such as a clock with a minute hand, and shows in what ways Shakespeare's words would have resonated with his first audiences. I finished the book with a better idea of the time as a whole as well as being enlightened by a raft of interesting facts and anecdotes.

This is a beautiful book, with a gorgeous typeface, matt pages, and fascinating pictures on almost every page. I enjoyed reading the extracts from Shakespeare's plays as these remind the reader of what a great writer he is. I sometimes felt that the links made between Shakespeare's world and his plays were a bit tenuous, but overall this is a highly enjoyable book that I would recommend to anyone.
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on 19 July 2012
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I went to post up my review of this book only to find that according to Amazon I'd already done so. It would appear that both the book and the CD series are being treated as one. I'd disagree with that choice on their part because the CD series is not a straight reading of the book, the radio series came first and the book is based on that series but is reworded and much expanded. I'm posting my new review anyway, so here are both my reviews.

The radio series:

This 20 part Radio 4 series is deserving of the much-overused word "fascinating". Using a now familiar format of using objects as a means of exploring history and social issues (for example A History of the World in 100 Objects (BBC Audio), which is also presented by Neil MacGregor), it does a very good job of explaining how people thought in Shakespearian times - what concepts were new and topical, and what issues resonated most with them.

I was at first pleased to see photos of the objects contained within a chapter list inside the CD case. I don't want to complain too much about the disappointment I then felt, because you get twice as many pages here and a lot more detail than your usual inside-case booklet, but I don't understand why photos are only included for 9 of the 20 objects, when it would surely have been easy enough to put them all in. It doesn't warrant marking down, as the objects are simply a catalyst for the exploration of particular issues, so be aware, but also be informed that it doesn't spoil your enjoyment.

Neil MacGregor is a very good presenter and I gained a lot of insight into the mindset of the people who would have been attending Shakespeare's plays, and a great deal of fresh perspective on the context of the plays themselves and some of the Bard's most famous lines and characters.

For anyone who, like myself, missed the series when first broadcast, this is well worth getting, and its episodic structure means its easy to just put on for 15 minutes at a time - so no matter how busy you are, you can always find time for it.

The book:

I was already a fan of Neil MacGregor's fascinating look into how people thought in Shakespearian times - what concepts were new and topical, and what issues resonated most with them - before I jumped at the chance of owning this book. The reason for that is that I already own the twenty-part Radio 4 series on CD, and it was one of the most interesting historical series I'd heard.

I wrote in my review at the time that I was disappointed that there were not more pictures of the objects being discussed, whilst also acknowledging that there's only so much you could do with a CD insert booklet. This book contains many pictures, indeed a great many, and in that respect it's the perfect accompaniment to the radio series. But of course, it's a book first and foremost and as someone who listened to the radio series I recognise a lot of the same wording in these pages, and the interviews of the radio shows are pretty much in there word for word, but each chapter has also been carefully re-written to be more appropriate to being read off the page, and there are a lot of new paragraphs in there as well.

The fascination in this for me is not so much that it's about Shakespeare, but that it's about the common people, the rich people, the politics, the culture and the worldview of the time. I'm enjoying reading through it as much as I enjoyed listening to the radio series.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I can't praise enough this 4 CD collection about Shakespeare and the turbulent times in which he lived. Neil MacGregor narrates so well and he keeps each chapter succinct - every sentence contains a gem of information. I loved the way in which MacGregor explained how Shakespeare made references (sometimes dangerously) in his plays to concerns and discoveries of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period.

The CDs cover 20 chapters, each one focusing on an object from the period - one such item is a dagger found in the Thames that was made around 1600. We are told what section of society would own such a weapon and apparently, Elizabethan lads were not so very different to the lads of today - the young Shakespeare himself was arrested for being in a gang and getting up to no good. Interspersed with information about the object are readings by actors that relate to them e.g. after the history about the dagger an actor quotes the stricken Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet declaring, .."ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man". Wonderful stuff!

This series really is brilliant, it is packed with information about the period - I would never have thought that striking musical clocks were around in 1598 (the poor clock maker died of the plague, by the way) - and the mix of narration, drama and additional information by various historians is totally first rate.

If you are not into Shakespeare, don't be put off by the title. The presentation is not at all heavy or scholarly and life under Elizabeth 1 and James 1 of England is portrayed so well.

I was really sorry when I came to the end of the 3 CDs.
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