Book Review 31 – The Illustrated Story of England by Christopher Hibbert

This week I indulged my inner history nerd. The fascination with all things long past is actually quite new to me. I’m not sure where it came from, but I find myself nonetheless obsessed with Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Norman invaders and Tudors. So what better place to soak up the history of our little island than with this book?

The Illustrated Story of England is a neat little book that takes you through from tribal Celtic times right up to Brexit and today. Let’s be clear, stuffing 4000 years of history into a couple of hundred pages inevitably means that things get covered briefly. The Romans appear to pop in for a cup of tea, Charles I loses his head and that’s the end of it, there’s no time for swan songs here.

This book made me realise a few things. For one being a prince or princess isn’t really all its cracked up to be. For many centuries being the offspring of a monarch was a pernicious state of affairs. It wasn’t just Richard III who was prepared to kill for the throne. Other people who held an interest in seeing a certain person make their way to the top would be willing to wage war against or murder someone they didn’t want to see crowned.

Then at the other echelon of society, life was spectacularly shitty for ordinary people for a very very long time. It was only in the nineteenth century that people started thinking more altruistically and situations began, very slowly, to improve for the lower classes, for child labourers, for slaves and for women.

For anyone that has an interest in learning about the history of this country, particularly with a focus on monarchs, this is a great opportunity to thrash your way through the list of kings and queens that have ruled these isles. So come and meet the ancestors of our queen, the good, the bad and the ones who put lead based white paint on their faces so that you most certainly would not call them “ugly”.

Come back next week and check out my review of ‘Raiders from the North (Empire of the Moghul) by Alex Rutherford.

 

Book Review 22 – A Less Boring History of the World by Dave Rear

Ever wondered about the beginning of the world? Want to know more about dinosaurs? About the beginnings of man? Monarchy? Empires? What were the crusades actually about? If you’ve ever wanted to understand more about our origins then ‘A Less Boring History of the World’ is an excellent starting point. I wasn’t even meant to read this book this week. I had got ‘The Help’ from the library and was going to make a start, but this book caught my eye. My mum had given it to me several months ago and I had always meant to read it so I just picked it up and started to flick through. A few hours later I finally surfaced to find myself a third of the way through the book and I realised that ‘A Less Boring History of the World’ had chosen itself as my book for this week.

The clue was in the title, I suppose. This version of history is certainly not boring. What it is however, is ever so slightly opaque. In injecting humour into historic events, Dave Rear has succeeded in creating an engaging narrative but  his penchant for the use of levity in place of facts leaves the reader floundering in places. Take his explanation of human evolution for example. He says that Homo Sapiens devolved back to Homo Erectus, a situation which continues to this day… and I took him seriously. Luckily a quick Google search has confirmed that I am still a Homo Sapien – phew! From thereon I learnt to take Rear with a pinch of salt. He hasn’t written a text book. (And let’s be honest we wouldn’t want to read it if he had.) What Rear is trying to do is pique the readers interest in the basics – for everything else there is Google!

So where I struggled to pick my way through the jokes, I used the internet to settle the facts and for the rest I enjoyed my lesson in world history. I wonder what my history teachers would had made of Rear!

History, both inevitably and unfortunately, includes quite a lot of politics and it is in the last pages of the book that it struck me how much of a shift in political landscapes is missed by a book written in 2012. This is a pre Brexit, pre Trump book. The world had an entirely different outlook back then. The questions we were asking ourselves were not the same. I’m intrigued to know what Rear makes of Brexit, what he has to say about Trump. If anyone comes across him on their travels do ask him to drop a comment on my blog! 😉

I finished this book with a sense of rejuvenated interest in history. I have a memory like a goldfish so I can’t exactly remember everything I’ve read but it’s fantastic that such a book exists that makes a potentially dry subject so much fun. I recommend it to anyone who wants a gentle start on historical events.

Next week I am going to make a start on reading ‘The Help’ by Katherine Stockett after all. Till next Monday Adios Amigos!