Discovered in the history section of the library (and thinking it was a coffee table book); I unknowingly stumbled upon a YA history book by Ruth DeanDiscovered in the history section of the library (and thinking it was a coffee table book); I unknowingly stumbled upon a YA history book by Ruth Dean and Melissa Thomason entitled, “Women of the Middle Ages”. Alright, I thought; I’ll give it a chance anyway.
“Women of the Middle Ages” begins with an introductory overview of the Middle Ages in Europe (the coverage isn’t limited to English studies as most seem to be). The overview is brief, simplified, and written in a style best suited for a middle school-level individual. Even the annotations/quotes are that of a child writing a history report. Even more saddening are the authors’ habit of quoting the same (approximately) three historians throughout which provides a very confined scope of the information.
Another disappointment is that although Dean and Thomason provide a splendid amount of beautiful illustrations, they are in black and white which takes away from the impact they could have had.
On a more positive note, “Women of the Middle Ages” DOES dive into women’s studies and does so in an easy to understand and clear way beginning with the life of peasant wives and moving up the social ladder. Although none of the information is groundbreaking to those familiar to the topic; there are some very interesting coverage articles. It can be argued that the information is dated (as the book is published in 2003 and the sources used date to the late 90s); however, the information is such an overview that it is not negatively affected by the time stamps. Plus, “Women of the Middle Ages” is presented in a way which would certainly interest the target market (younger readers) and induce further reading on the Middle Ages versus bore and cause yawns.
Despite the juvenile-reading level, “Women of the Middle Ages” covers a large range of information including: everyday life, home life, professions, religion, marriages, administrative duties, myths, arts, etc. This is also accompanied with smaller highlights of both well-known figures (example: Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitaine), and of those whom a reader may not be familiar with (but should be). Again, Dean and Thomason encourage further exploring. Sadly, at times the information is repetitive.
Although “Women of the Middle Ages” reads like a children’s history book; it surprisingly is even-paced, entertaining, and crisp. Even as an adult reader with extensive material knowledge; I did not find myself bored. Thus, “Women of the Middle Ages” is a quick, well-witted book for younger readers as an introductory course to the time period. ...more
One can’t think of Stuart England without considering Samuel Pepys, the well-known diarist; for the two go hand-in-hand. How much is truly known aboutOne can’t think of Stuart England without considering Samuel Pepys, the well-known diarist; for the two go hand-in-hand. How much is truly known about Pepys? Stephen Coote reveals the man in “Samuel Pepys: A Life”.
Divided into long chapters (more like sections), Coote unveils the chronology of the life of Samuel Pepys. Instead of being dry or stiff, “Samuel Pepys” has a flowing narrative feel which seamlessly puzzles together like a story. The reader will almost forget that the work is a scholarly, historical piece and will easily retain the information learned. Coote brings the sights, smells, and events of Stuart England to life with ease.
“Samuel Pepys” is immersed with a beautiful language style, grammar, and literary means. However, this is sometimes too flowery and almost begs to be a historical fiction novel encouraging Coote to just “move” on already. On the contrary, Coote does know when to dive into more detail and when to skim a topic. It is never too little or too much. Speaking of language/grammar; the editor somehow missed several spelling errors – and these were not just British annotations, as those are excused.
The balance between the political scene and the personal life of Pepys is smooth and easy to follow. Yet, Pepys – the man- emerges and the reader gets a feel for who he was. At the same time, Coote reveals the Restoration-period world, unraveling the threads of everyday life and creating a “bigger picture”. All of this is transpired without the overuse of speculation (although more quotes and notes would have been welcome).
As “Samuel Pepys” progresses, Coote seems to show a preference to Pepys’s career and political life versus that of his personal life. Although this is demonstrated by Pepys not discussing this area adamantly in his diaries; it is still disappointing. Equally absent is the focus of his personal friendship with Charles II. Even though this type of insider gossip is not as frequent; the business-end of the life of Pepys is described in quite a fascinating and understandable way making even economics fast paced.
The largest objection against “Samuel Pepys” is Coote’s plain one-dimensional view of Pepys, glorifying him and making excuses for his hypocrisy in this career, his promiscuous behavior, and his ill-treatment of his wife. Coote, in turn, poorly depicts Elizabeth Pepys and over-emphasizes the “the Puritan in him [Pepys]” (this phrase is mentioned WAY) too much and can be debated) in order to attempt to convince the reader of Pepys’s innocence.
Another area never explored was whether Pepys and his wife tried or wanted to have children. Coote mentions Samuel’s medical inability to do so early on but then never mentions it again.
Coote’s writing becomes tedious and repetitive in the latter half of “Samuel Pepys”, slowing down momentum and losing some reader attention, as nothing new is truly gained and the same naval career events become jumbled together. In line with this, the ending is not as much of a sharp remembrance of a popular man as expected but does still round out the text well enough. Although “Samuel Pepys” is a better resource for understanding Pepys’s career or of the naval affairs of Stuart England versus his personal life; one still comes away with a sense of the man and a firm foundation of who he was. Generally well written by Coote; “Samuel Pepys” is suggested to those interested in the figure or Stuart England. ...more
Although everyone may have heard of William the Conqueror; less is known about his influential wife, Matilda. Tracy Borman attempts to open the windowAlthough everyone may have heard of William the Conqueror; less is known about his influential wife, Matilda. Tracy Borman attempts to open the windows into Matilda’s life with “Queen of the Conquer: The Life of Matilda, Wife of William I”.
The life (and sometimes plight) of Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror; is unfortunately loose in resources. Thus, “Queen of the Conqueror” begins like many other biographies surrounding ill-documented figures by describing the world and events surrounding the individual versus his/her direct life. Although I usually find this big-picture view to be filtering of the true insight into the portrait at hand; Borman doesn’t pretend to have more information than she justly has and neither does she overdraw on speculation. Although this cuts back on the intimacy, it still opens up the world of Matilda.
Borman’s writing style is eloquent, well-spoken, and has a driving pace while also containing an ample amount of research and archive-study undertones. Her narrative is easy-to-read (similar to Alison Weir who is Borman’s friend and contemporary) but with more detective sleuthing. “Queen of the Conqueror” debunks and explains various opposing views and sources surrounding Matilda and is therefore not simply a re-telling of events.
Despite this exciting driving force, a large chunk of the beginning of “Queen of the Conquerer” could be described as slow, as it merely describes political events involving William and somewhat tedious details of what their home “would have looked like”. I found myself not really getting to know Matilda and waiting for “something to happen”. Often times, the book simply doesn’t feel like it is about Matilda, at all.
Although Borman’s tone and ability to make history inviting is invigorating; “Queen of the Conqueror” continues to maintain a political feel, encompassing William more than Matilda (although a pleasant surprise was the lack of a million page coverage on the Battle of Hastings). When Borman does regard Matilda, the exposure seems superficial describing feasts, social pursuits, or other recreational aspects. Other times, Borman merely focuses on vague 11th century life, in general.
Somewhat limiting was Borman’s constant reference to the poem, “Beowulf”. I have an issue with history authors who use poems as references for historical life (some use “The Canterbury Tales”). For those readers seeking a more gossip-y and social history versus that of a political view; “Queen of the Conqueror” becomes increasingly fulfilling three-quarters of the way through, focusing on Matilda’s fidelity (or rumored lack thereof) and her son’s rebellion against William. Gripping and encouraging page-turning, this comes too late in the book and is more of what I was expecting throughout (i.e. more Matilda drama).
Unfortunately, the ending felt weak and didn’t fully encompass the worth of a woman who all British sovereigns descend from and was the first crowned queen of England.
Although I enjoy Borman’s writing style (and applaud her notes and bibliography); “Queen of the Conqueror” failed to provide an intimate portrait of Matilda (Note: I would read Borman’s other works, and plan to). The book is suggested for an overall look into Matilda and William’s world. ...more
In the absence of a working time machine, we can not get a true glimpse into the mind of a historical figure. However, we can come close by looking atIn the absence of a working time machine, we can not get a true glimpse into the mind of a historical figure. However, we can come close by looking at the letters and private writings which are still available centuries later. Sir Arthur Bryant compiles and edits letters, documents, speeches, and even personal notes of Charles Stuart in, “The Letters of King Charles II”.
Bryant presents the writings of Charles II in chronological order from boyhood onward through exile, restoration, wars, and death. Bryant particularly attempts to supplement the lack of writings in Charles’s own hand during his reign (when he had secretaries and chancellors) by including speeches, official documents, and personal notes. Any omissions are noted.
The most notable characteristic of “The Letters of Charles II” is its fluency. Due to the one-sided documents (meaning, there is no back-and-forth text: only Charles’s side with the exemption of notes between him and the chancellor), the reading can be a bit slow. Yet, Bryant keeps the narrative flowing by including predisposed explanations and end notes which helps answer reader questions and solidify cohesiveness. Further, one can’t help but be immersed in the letters, even if one sided; as Charles’s writing skills are eloquent and illustrative yet not overly dramatic.
Elaborating on this, “The Letters of Charles II” truly brings Charles to life. His letters convey his thoughts in a solid but beautiful way while revealing his true personality. The reader will be impressed with his calm and caring nature even facing the death of his father, exile, and a Cromwellian regime. Those readers with a ‘crush’ on Charles will certainly be satisfied while researchers must read these letters before writing about Charles in order to get a precise glimpse of the man.
Admittedly, based on my own preference, I found much satisfaction in the personal letters (especially those to Charles’s sister, Minette). However, Bryant maintains a steady ratio of personal and political documents satisfying both camps. When Charles reigns and withdraws from writing as much in his own hand, Bryant includes personal back-and-forth notes between Charles and his chancellor (compare them to school notes amongst student passed during class) which are charming, enlightening, and sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny. Again, the reader can accurately gain insight into Charles’s personality.
Bryant’s research also includes properly dated and authenticated documents; some of which were previously misdated and/or categorized for centuries.
Aside from learning more on Charles as a person; “The Letters of King Charles II” also strips policy down into manageable views resulting in Charles’s reign being more understandable, clear, and therefore illuminating history in a better way.
As the book progresses, the pace increases and feels like a narrative arc capturing reader attention. Much of the middle focuses on letters to Minette which is a wonderful open window for those interested in learning of their relationship. Sadly absent are letters to mistresses or even the mention of mistresses. The majority of “The Letters of Charles II” focuses on policy so those seeking bedroom gossip will be disappointed. On the other hand, “The Letters of King Charles II” remains compelling including such briefs as letters in cipher which Bryant has translated for the reader.
“The Letters of Charles II” concludes capturing the drama in the last few years of Charles’s reign while Bryant also features personal letters to Charlotte, Countess of Lichfield (daughter of Charles and the Duchess of Cleveland) which depicts Charles in a well-rounded way and finishes the book on a strong note.
My only complaint, which is VERY minor, is that the genealogical chart of the House of Stuart appears postscript and would be much more useful in the beginning.
“The Letters of King Charles II” is an extraordinary collection which is great for researchers or those simply interested in a more personal view of Charles II. One can’t help but be blown away that these record still exist! “The Letters of King Charles II” is a wonderful read and much recommended for royal history of House of Stuart lovers. ...more