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Customer Review

on 11 March 2010
After describing, at the start, where Stonehenge is and who owns it, the author says "At this point we come, almost, to the end of the uncontested facts". So she concentrates instead on how Stonehenge and its 'meaning' have been argued over, and even fought over, across the centuries. How it's been taken a symbol of authentic Britishness - or of Roman, Danish, Phoenician, Mycenaean or space-god influence. How its dating has kept changing (and still is); its enduring associations with King Arthur, Druidry, The Wicker Man and astronomy; and its fascination not only for antiquarians and academics but also for the counterculture, the Earth Mysteries movement, and ordinary tourists.

The book does look at the archaeology: the three-phase building (with the sarcen stones now dated to about 2580-2470 BC), and the enduring puzzle of how the bluestones could have been brought to the site from Wales. And it reminds us that it's not an isolated monument, but is part of a whole network of earthworks in the area - including its equally mysterious wooden counterpart, Durrington Walls.

What becomes really clear though, is how influential Stonehenge has been on British culture. Over time, people have thought it a temple, an observatory, a hospital or spa, a monument to ancestor-worship, a royal burial ground, or even Stone Age sculpture. It's featured in the arts from Wordsworth to Spinal Tap via Thomas Hardy and Barbara Hepworth. It has inspired strange follies, and influenced unlikely areas of British architecture from Bath to Covent Garden to Milton Keynes. Finally the book reviews how the solstice has been celebrated there on and off since the 1870s with the Free Festivals, the Battle of the Beanfield, and the current 'open access'.

The final section talks about the ongoing problems with conservation, access, the Visitor Centre, the underpass and the main roads; and provides a useful reading list, and handy advice on visiting.

Although I thought that it veers a little too far from Stonehenge at times (onto pretty tangential-seeming stuff like `Zadok the Priest' or Churchill College), and (despite its cultural-history approach) ignores the _really_ wacky ideas that are about, I thought it was clearly-written, amazingly wide-ranging, and - like Stonehenge itself - totally fascinating!
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