Let’s admit something: most of us are fascinated by the train-wreck, tabloid-filled lives of celebrities. However, before there was Lindsay Lohan, orLet’s admit something: most of us are fascinated by the train-wreck, tabloid-filled lives of celebrities. However, before there was Lindsay Lohan, or Kim Kardashian, or even Elizabeth Taylor; there was “Madcap” May Yohe. One can, without a doubt, assume that Yohe would be gracing the pages of People or Us if she was alive today. Richard Kurin portrays this almost- illusive figure in “Madcap May: Mistress of Myth, Men, and Hope”.
Kurin opens “Madcap May” with an accessible yet intellectual prose which smoothly delivers information and introduces the life of Mary Yohe. The negative issue lays in Kurin’s focus on background or side information which indirectly relates to May. Yes, this reveals May’s roots to readers but much of this is over-extended with coverage and leaves May as a sort of supporting figure. May’s true psyche or thoughts are not revealed (although “Madcap May” is well supplemented with quotes).
Exploring deeper, the text is chunky in terms of May’s life with one paragraph mentioning ’Event A’ and then suddenly being in the middle of ’Event B’ and not explaining the interim or transition events in May’s life. Whether this is because of author choice or due to a lack of sources; it inhibits story-telling and understanding.
Kurin has the repeated tendency to describe May with certain attributes or in eulogy terms but doesn’t necessarily back up his statements. “Madcap May” leaves readers with unanswered questions and without a convincing view of May’s personality. Furthermore, “Madcap May” presents inconsistencies as some sections read as nothing more than chronological whereabouts and strings of media clippings while others are more interesting featuring quotes and emissions from May herself (almost like a memoir).
The latter ¾ of “Madcap May” bears more excitement due to the actual events in May’s life. However, Kurin’s coverage merely grazes the surface and begs for in-depth analysis. Moreover, the conclusion feels abrupt and lacking a powerful note.
“Madcap May” is broken up with several illustrations, drawings, and genealogical tables versus a section of color plates common to most biographies. This can either help the reader envision the current text or cause some distraction.
To sum up: Kurin has a wonderful literary and writing style (and thus, “Madcap May” is written well); but it failed to truly portray May Yohe. In effect, the book is more of an introduction to May than anything else (AND a fast read, only taking a little more than a day). The information available would have deemed better as a fictional work, as “Madcap May” boasts of May’s crazy antics but fails to deliver. “Madcap May” is recommended for those new to May Yohe but not for a multi-level study. ...more
The influence, power, and dominance of large families have been a prevalent concept in both history and modern times. One of these families, who playeThe influence, power, and dominance of large families have been a prevalent concept in both history and modern times. One of these families, who played a key role in England during the Wars of the Roses, was the Woodvilles: the family of Elizabeth, Queen Consort to Edward IV. Susan Higginbotham explores the role of this notorious family in, “The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family”.
Higginbotham is well-known for her historical fiction novels focusing more on the historical end of events (versus narrative fluff) resulting in strong and informative writings. This style paved the way for Higginbotham’s first foray into nonfiction. The interesting factor of “The Woodvilles” is that Higginbotham avoids a chronological biography/portrait view of the family and instead focuses on events, myths, and important happenings; creating a topic-by-topic discussion. Don’t be alarmed that this causes confusion, as Higginbotham is very clear and concise making “The Woodvilles” very readable. Not many authors could pull this off successfully but Higginbotham does so with ease.
One of the positives of the stylistic format of “The Woodvilles” is that Higginbotham can avoid over speculation, biases, and assumptions which other authors use to fill their pages when not enough information is available. Granted, there are some speculative statements in “The Woodvilles” but these are few and far between. There are also some word phrases that are a bit blurry such as on page 65 where Higginbotham states that, “In recent years, popular fiction, especially the novels of Rosemary Hawley Jarman and Philippa Gregory…” This causes confusion as Jarman’s novels were published in the 70s. Again though, these are not excessive issues.
The most striking feature of Higginbotham’s “The Woodvilles” is her thorough and almost detective-like investigation, debunking myths left and right. One can assume that Higginbotham’s experience as a working attorney played a large part in her writing as all of her arguments could hold up in a court of law considering at least circumstantial evidence. Notably, “The Woodvilles” is one of the strongest history books on the topic with its ‘case closed’ attitude; yet, without a conceited tone. “The Woodvilles” is an expert blend of entertainment and fact.
“The Woodvilles” is effectively filled with quoted documents, letters, and even a poem written by Anthony Woodville; in full. These are strong supplements for those readers who appreciate primary sources and enjoy historical figures “speaking for themselves”. However, some readers may find this to break up the text too much and that it chops off the narrative flow.
A small but intriguing detail present in “The Woodvilles” is Higginbotham’s occasional sarcastic and slightly snarky comments. These appear in several of her books but rather than being juvenile or displaying biases; they are downright hilarious and enjoyable.
The concluding chapters of “The Woodvilles” are well-written and memorable capturing the essence of the Woodvilles while also summarizing the theme of the book with poignancy. Plus, Higginbotham encourages further research on members of the family not usually discussed (such as Edward Woodville). Flowing richly into an appendix which offers the full wills of some Woodville figures; “The Woodvilles” is truly engaging.
“The Woodvilles” includes a section of photo plates, bibliography (nicely sectioned by type of source), and notes. Unfortunately, a genealogical chart would have strengthened the text due to the many figures listed but is absent.
Overall, “The Woodvilles” is a very unique look at a family which is often gossiped about but not necessarily spotlighted. Higginbotham creates excitement backed up with intense research and detail, delivered in a readable prose. “The Woodvilles” is simply delicious and recommended for fans of Higginbotham’s novels and everyone interested in the Wars of the Roses. ...more
The name Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest born in Germany, may not necessarily ring any bells. However, Kircher was an inventor, historian, philosoThe name Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest born in Germany, may not necessarily ring any bells. However, Kircher was an inventor, historian, philosopher, author, and scientist (he coined the term “electromagnetism”) during the 17th century. John Glassie explores this wondrous man in “A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change”.
“A Man of Misconceptions” instantly hits the reader with a vibrant, colorful, and energetic portrait of Kircher. The pace is steady and yet exciting, while Glassie’s writing style is accessible with lovely language. Flowing almost like a memoir versus a strict biography; the book speaks for itself and comes alive on each page. The reader will forget that this is a historical biography.
On the negative end, Glassie tends to go off on tangents and focuses too much on describing the religious, political, and scientific landscapes surrounding both Kircher and Europe in general, versus focusing on the man himself. This results in sections of pages which don’t necessarily progress the book and can be scanned.
Another issue is Glassie’s predominate use of Kircher’s autobiography as a source which is terrific in the sense that it is the ultimate Kircher authority but Glassie even admits that Kircher was suspected of bluffing his life story so additional contemporary sources would be welcome for fact-checking. Plus, this makes “A Man of Misconceptions” feel merely like a summary. Despite the use of Kircher’s autobiography, questions remain regarding why Kircher did things or what went through his mind. Although Kircher is quite compelling, “A Man of Misconceptions” still lacks a certain level of insight. Regardless, this overview, in conjunction with Glassie’s writing style, is a wonderful introduction to Kircher (even if lacking in some detail).
Although Glassie finds stronger footing with his writing as “A Man of Misconceptions” progresses; it is still too much of an overview with large time gaps in Kircher’s life. Plus, personal facets are never mentioned making “A Man of Misconceptions” merely a career biography versus a look at the ‘man’. This template becomes tedious and causes the writing to lose some steam as Glassie favors the “Kircher did this, Kircher did that, and then this” pattern. “A Man of Misconceptions” begins to feel more like a resume than a biography.
Also an issue is a problem with chronology where Glassie backtracks with events and then adds modern comments/quotes which results in confusion. On the other hand, helping some frustration are various illustrations scattered throughout the text.
The conclusion of “A Man of Misconceptions” is weak and disjointed from the other aspects of the book. Not only is Kircher’s death barely emphasized, but the final two chapters covers the scientific fields and attempts to prove Glassie’s thesis that Kircher many have influenced great minds (such as Isaac Newton). This doesn’t make sense because elsewhere in the book, Glassie emphasizes that; in general, Kircher was thought to be a joke by many peers. Thus, the book ends on an unstable note.
Overall, “A Man of Misconceptions” is best read by those interested in science and the birth of the modern age or for those seeking an overall look at Kircher. Those seeking more depth (social life, family life, etc) or those already familiar with Kircher will be sorely disappointed with this overall look and the absence of a suitable amount of contemporary sources. Despite these flaws, “A Man of Misconceptions” is entertaining, easy to read, and has an essence which can’t be pinpointed (perhaps it is Glassie’s energy/writing style) which results in a delightful read. A great book for readers wanting to discover a lesser-known figure.
(Note: I was torn between 3 or 4 stars so this is probably 3.5)...more
Although the bickering between the Houses of York and Lancaster (now known as the Wars of the Roses) was heavily a “man’s world”; there were strong feAlthough the bickering between the Houses of York and Lancaster (now known as the Wars of the Roses) was heavily a “man’s world”; there were strong female players lurking in the shadows and controlling some strings. Sarah Gristwood explores the links between Margaret of Anjou, Cecily Neville, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, Anne Neville, and Margaret of Burgundy (Margaret of York) in “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses”.
“Blood Sisters” is not merely a portrait of the events of the Wars of the Roses but a biography (hepta-biography?) revealing the hidden links and worlds of the aforementioned key women. The first section introduces these players and unveils information of interpersonal relationships which I was previously unaware of making “Blood Sisters” hearty at its beginning. This also opens a new angle to learning about the Wars of the Roses and almost a behind-the-scenes look. One can’t help but realize that these women had more involvement than formally believed.
Sadly, this insight doesn’t extend to the individual women themselves, as Gristwood mostly retells events versus bringing them alive or revealing the women’s psyche through any personal letters/writings. Although this makes “Blood Sisters” academic on some level and heavy on facts; it also leads to many sections being too dry, listless, and overly political. The average reader without strong interest in the topic may find “Blood Sisters” to be too heavy at times.
Oftentimes, “Blood Sisters” lacks direction, backtracks, and is downright confusing not due to the topic but in regards to the writing. Not only does Gristwood repeat herself enough times that it is noticeable but she also uses many “would have” and “could have” speculations, sources such as anonymous poems, and depends heavily on quotes from Shakespeare (I thought we agreed that Shakespeare was NOT a historian?!). This lowers the scholarly feel and is distracting.
Also frustrating is Gristwood’s constant, and I mean constant, mention of “fortune’s wheel” when describing events turning in favor of one woman over another. This happens several times on one single page and is simply quite annoying.
Some of the women stick out and are more vibrant than others (such as Margaret Beaufort). Whether this is due to personal bias on behalf of Gristwood or because sources are more readily available, I can not solidly deem. This isn’t a positive or negative trait of “Blood Sisters” but is noticeable and worth noting as it may cause some readers to conclude that the work is uneven and chunky.
Even though “Blood Sisters” is more of a history retelling without new information; there are some moments where Gristwood plays detective and presents compelling research or debunks some myths. These perky moments add to the flesh of the book and keep the pace of “Blood Sisters” moving. Another positive is that Gristwood doesn’t appear to have any major biases and doesn’t merely point fingers, allowing the reader to make self-decisions on who is to blame for what.
The highlight of “Blood Sisters” is without a doubt, the climatic description of the Battle of Bosworth. Gristwood’s coverage is exciting and descriptive. This flows into a strong portrayal of Elizabeth of York and her relations with Margaret Beaufort in the early years of Henry VII’s reign. As Elizabeth tends to be somewhat hidden in history, Gristwood gives her ample due in “Blood Sisters”. Also satisfying are the in-depth theories relating to Perkin Warbeck’s background and motives. Basically, the last quarter of “Blood Sisters” is the strongest.
Although Gristwood makes firm statements which haven’t yet been proven; “Blood Sisters” is relatively up-to-date even mentioning the 2012 finding of Richard III’s body in a Leicester parking lot. Sadly though, “Blood Sisters” tends to otherwise use poorly sourced facts and annotations which dampen the academic value.
“The conclusion of “Blood Sisters” over-reaches in attempts to be emotional and to tie the women of the book to Elizabeth I. It felt a bit stretched and forced.
Overall, “Blood Sisters” is a readable look at the Wars of the Roses with a unique angle of the women involved—it merely has execution flaws. My biggest complaint is that I didn’t really feel that I got to know these figures any more than I already did and therefore didn’t feel the book was memorable or that Gristwood succeeded her goals of revealing these women. Despite this, “Blood Sisters” is great for a review of the Wars of the Roses or an introduction to the women involved....more
Tudor England fans are quite aware of King Henry VIII’s decline from charming prince to the brute and even irrational King of his later days. What isTudor England fans are quite aware of King Henry VIII’s decline from charming prince to the brute and even irrational King of his later days. What is unknown is the cause of this about-face. Was it pure narcissism? Perhaps mental deterioration due to a blow to the head? Maybe it was paranoia. Kyra Cornelius Kramer puts forth a new theory: that all of Henry’s mental defects and the obstetrical losses suffered by his wives were a result of him being Kell positive and consequently suffering from McLeod Syndrome. Kramer explores this theory in, “Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII”.
The premise of “Blood Will Tell” is truly unique amongst the plethora of Tudor England saturated book shelves; but sadly Kramer fails to deliver on what could be an exceptional account. Kramer strategically divides the chapters of “Blood Will Tell” into thematic focal points versus just a chronological biography in order to debunk myths and argue that Henry’s behaviors were a result of Kell positive blood and McLeod syndrome.
The problem is not with this outline style but with the writing, itself. Kramer’s prose is no better than a college term paper (and not a very good one, at that); lacking gripping text, being quite repetitive, and missing sound arguments to discuss her hypothesis. Kramer’s guilty of mentioning her ideas briefly but then quickly moving on without elaborating or providing case studies. Even though her premise is acknowledged; her execution is poor and not persuasive at all.
On a related note, Kramer also drags “Blood Will Tell” on an overabundance of tangents. Much of the text is a recap of Henry’s reign and the lives of his wives (not a very detailed one) versus focusing on the health aspects or the Kell and McLeod theory. There are many moments when the readers’ eyes glaze over and Kramer seemingly forgot her main topic. In fact, if the pages on other subjects were stripped away; “Blood Will Tell” would probably be only about 50 pages long.
“Blood Will Tell” also suffers from strong biases (Kramer clearly things Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were angels while Henry was a tyrant) and a large amount of speculation with “must have” and “could have” statements. Furthermore, Kramer tries too hard to be humorous and overly familiar at times which has no place in a medical history text. Plus, Kramer often intersperses “Blood Will Tell” with slight jabs at historians or Tudor England aficionados which demonstrate her ego as she has degrees in the medical fields with nothing related to history on her resume.
There are some strong points in “Blood Will Tell” especially slightly past the halfway point in which Kramer focuses on her theory and provides more exploration. Sadly, these are few and far between and don’t work to save the struggle of “Blood Will Tell”.
Instead of strengthening her argument as “Blood Will Tell” progresses; Kramer unfortunately becomes weaker hardly mentioning her theory at all and basically just asserting (in more or less words) that it is the way it is because she thinks it to be so. Yet, she mentions events in Henry’s life which don’t fit her view but simply says these are exceptions and then moves on. This is not very captivating, to say the least. Kramer also increases her name calling of Henry and his courtiers (i.e. knave, sociopath, rapist) which also makes the text feel juvenile and like a last resort to pump up the pages.
The final chapter of “Blood Will Tell” ends on a captivating note with Kramer discussing the ramifications and differences which would resulted from Henry’s reign had he not been ‘sick’ as proposed by her theory. More of this in the book would have been welcomed. This conclusion flows into a biography of all secondary sources; mostly Tudor England works (most of which I, myself, have read) versus too many medical sources which is slightly discouraging.
Overall, “Blood Will Tell” is recommended to readers who must read all Tudor books but not much else will be gained if one is already familiar with the Kell/McLeod theory. Basically, the theory is mentioned and that is pretty much it. “Blood Will Tell” is not necessarily a book to rush toward. Perhaps Kramer should stick to her day job. ...more
The sisters of Henry VIII – Margaret and Mary – are much overshadowed by their legendary brother even though these ladies were princesses and Queens iThe sisters of Henry VIII – Margaret and Mary – are much overshadowed by their legendary brother even though these ladies were princesses and Queens in their own rights. Nancy Lenz Harvey explores the Tudor sisters in, “The Rose and the Thorn: The Lives of Mary and Margaret Tudor”.
Harvey mentions in her preface that she attempted to have “the weight of the narrative to be carried in the words of Margaret and Mary” by including as many letters and writings from their own hands in the text as possible. This sounds exciting and illuminating as nothing reveals the inner psyche of historical figures from centuries bygone more than primary writings. Sadly, “The Rose and the Thorn” fails in being riveting.
Harvey is guilty of being a good writer but not one who should pretend to be a historian (she was an English professor). Similar to her book on Elizabeth of York, “The Rose and the Thorn” waxes poetic in overly-exaggerated, flowery detail (example: “The city was wet with the tears of its citizenary”). Basically, Harvey mentions one solid fact and then writes an opinionated fictional narrative for a page until mentioning another fact. She is like a politician who blumbers on and on but isn’t actually saying much. This would make for a great historical fiction novel but results in a weak historical text rife with speculation and assumptions presented as facts.
“The Rose and the Thorn” fails to truly illuminate the Tudor sisters. Much of what is discusses is surrounding information versus traversing on the ladies (and what is mentioned sounds like an epitaph). Harvey focuses more on superficial descriptions (‘dumpy’ Margaret jealous of beautiful Mary) than anything else. On a positive note, “The Rose and the Thorn” intertwines the stories of the sisters showing what happened to each at the same time (for a macro view) instead of presenting individual biographies which would run the risk of jumping back and forth in chronology.
It isn’t until slightly past the halfway point that Harvey strengthens a bit on the historical front. Even though Mary and Margaret still aren’t thoroughly revealed; some light is shed onto their relationship with Henry VIII. Not to mention, the debacles with Scotland are well detailed, with the reader becoming very clear on why Henry stood against Scotland the way he did. Sadly, Harvey still peppers the text with such phrases as, “The sheer magnificence of it all was enough to make the heart of the Queen of Scotland ache” and when “the two hundred dishes began to pass; Margaret found each delicacy salted with bitterness”. These are emotionally descriptive but absolutely deserve no space inside of a supposed academic, history piece.
The conclusion of “The Rose and the Thorn” is devoid of anything memorable except for Harvey (once again) emphasizing her love for Mary and distaste for Margaret. It is definitely not a strong ending. This is followed by some notes and bibliography which is surprising because the text is so exaggerated and almost fictional.
Not much more can be said about “The Rose and the Thorn” but to skip it. Harvey’s writing in general is not very academic (this is also the case with her book on Elizabeth of York) but this one is ridiculously speculative, reads like a novel, and does not reveal anything about Mary and Margaret which even a new Tudor doesn’t already know. Harvey merely stirs up frustration and her book is a waste of time. Skip! ...more
Margaret Beaufort, the pious and assertive mother of Henry VII, is considered to be the matriarch and mover-and-shaker of the House of Tudor having seMargaret Beaufort, the pious and assertive mother of Henry VII, is considered to be the matriarch and mover-and-shaker of the House of Tudor having seemingly helped to push her son to the throne. Her legacy had an impact long after her death. Yet, not enough information is available to constitute full biographies. Linda Simon attempts to portrait this formidable woman in, “Of Virtue Rare: Margaret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor”.
“Of Virtue Rare” is a thin selection aiming to bring Margaret Beaufort to light. By ‘thin’; one means not only the thin volume but also the content which immediately overviews the world of Margaret and the “Wars of the Roses” but is noticeably not a scholarly biography of the woman that Margaret was. It is evident that this isn’t due to a lack of research on Simon’s end but merely because of the absence of material surrounding Margaret. Regardless of the cause, this leaves the reader begging for more and not having a clear insight into Margaret at all.
Elaborating on this, Simon’s writing is a bit too simplified reading more like a quick summary article. The text is not detailed nor properly cited which does create a moving pace and easy read; but does not truly educate or inform. “Of Virtue Rare” is best described as a young adult selection helping to ease young readers into this period of history. Also on a juvenile level of writing is Simon’s insistence of quoting poetry or folklore from the period which are not credible sources and, again, don’t even pertain to Margaret. Margaret continues to be on the back burner throughout “Of Virtue Rare”.
Readers familiar with the topic and time period will notice some historical errors within the pages “Of Virtue Rare”. Much of this can be blamed on the book being dated (published in 1982) but Simon presents these ‘facts’ as staunch truths without proper backing evidence. Not to mention, much of what is stated as fact is more of an opinion or assumption. Simon makes claims as to what Beaufort of other figures ‘thought’ even though one can’t know what was thought without authentication such a diary or written document.
In the middle of “Of Virtue Rare”, Simon sidetracks intro a discussion of the overall time period and way of life. Although this sets the scene and allows the reader to see the big picture; it doesn’t blend cohesively to the text, doesn’t address Margaret, and doesn’t feel like it has a real point (and therefore could be eliminated). Simon clearly didn’t have anything to add at this point and simply grasped for information to include.
The concluding chapters of Simon’s work hardly mention Margaret and seem to rush over the material making “Of Virtue Rare” lack complexity or attention-grabbing insights. The same can be said of the ending which attempts to leave Margaret on a strong note but fails miserably. “Of Virtue Rare” could be condensed to about 10 pages if it stuck to actually discussing Margaret.
Simon offers a section of photo plates, a (very) brief notes section, and a bibliography within “Of Virtue Rare”.
“Of Virtue Rare” is a quick read (1-2 days, max) best suited for YA readers seeking a non-academic piece. The text is slightly dated and sadly does not mainstream Margaret therefore disappointing readers seeking hard-hitting history. “Of Virtue Rare” can basically be skipped if hoping to learn more about Margaret Beaufort. ...more
Thomas Becket. Whether that name makes you think of Canterbury, martyrs, or Richard Burton; it regardless is a powerful name. Prolific biographer/histThomas Becket. Whether that name makes you think of Canterbury, martyrs, or Richard Burton; it regardless is a powerful name. Prolific biographer/historian (and husband of fellow biographer Julia Fox), John Guy opens the door to explore who Becket truly was in “Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel”.
The format of “Thomas Becket” may catch some readers off guard as the work is not a typical biography simply following a note-figure from birth to death. Instead, John Guy exposes various elements and roles in Becket’s life in order to understand the true meanings behind his actions. The beginning of the book resembles a biography, as it starts with a description of Becket’s family ancestry and childhood. This is rather slow and tedious, filled with much speculation and light statements. Furthermore, instead of truly focusing on Becket, Guy overly emphasizes and depicts English life (both political and personal) and therefore, almost leaves Becket hidden in the background. Although I am a firm supporter of solid foundation descriptions and supporting facts; this was a bit too detailed and caused me to forget I was reading a book about Becket.
This early lack of focus causes “Thomas Becket” to be inconsistent and ebbing and flowing in regards to capturing the reader. With that being said, the portions actually focusing on Becket are insightful, captivating, and include “stories” which are probably unknown to most readers. This induces page turning and reveals a new side of Becket. Guy includes open views into Becket’s psyche while also quoting solid, contemporary source material.
“Thomas Becket” is strongly suggested for fans of Henry II (and even Eleanor of Aquitaine) as the book’s primary focus is political and encompassing of the relationship between Henry and Thomas versus a singular spotlight on Becket. However, as the book progresses and becomes increasingly a Becket-focus; it gains momentum and strength. Guy presents a man on various landscapes (from Becket’s library collection, to his clothing, and even his psychological demeanor) versus just a saintly portrait; thus allowing the reader to make an unbiased decision regarding Becket’s merit. Events are described in a manner in which the reader feels a part of the action and begins to see Becket in a new light than of the usual propaganda. All of this is written in an accessible and understandable way.
“Thomas Becket” also includes portions in which Guy performs exemplary detective work, debunking traditional Becket views. For instance, although the murder of Becket is well known; Guy’s re-telling is vivid, exciting, and is filled with strong visual language bringing a new element to the learning of this event. Followed by an “Aftermath” of Becket’s impact both on Henry and England; “Thomas Becket” ends firmly.
For those readers interested in supplements, “Thomas Becket” includes two photo inserts (one in black & white and the other in color), a glossary of key figures, maps, and notes (the notes and bibliography are combined, however).
“Thomas Becket” is largely a political study and not recommended for those seeking a personal or saintly view into his life. For those eager to receive a wide look into his career, relationship with Henry, and to gain new insight into Becket; Guy delivers. ...more
Although I live in the United States; I wouldn’t be able to list most of the US Presidents if you paid me. Yet, ask me the monarchs of England and I cAlthough I live in the United States; I wouldn’t be able to list most of the US Presidents if you paid me. Yet, ask me the monarchs of England and I could list them (in order, mind you) even while half asleep. Ian Crofton provides a similar directory in, “Kings and Queens of England: The Lives and Reigns of the Monarchs of England”.
“Kings and Queens of England” is a small, colorful, glossy-paged book which is fit for a reference shelf (albeit a thin one) or a coffee table. The structure is that of a directory or quick-reference guide while the content is exactly what it claims to be: a listing of English monarchs with brief bios (generally 2-4 pages for each).
The term ‘brief’ is not an exaggeration as the issue with “Kings and Queens of England” is that it is much too summarized and simplified. Although Crofton does mention interesting and/or menial notes and facts; nothing is detailed and therefore the reader is not left with a solid image of any of the monarchs. Basically, “Kings and Queens of England” is somewhat flat and not memorable.
On the other hand, the format is useful as a quick reference with charts depicting the monarch’s coat of arms and listing such facts as birth date, parents, children, succession date, house, death, etc; while the section contain photos, quotes, and small supplemented texts to round the bios. Worth mentioning is that the quoted paragraphs are much too small in font size and will present some trouble for those with eye problems.
An annoying factor is Crofton’s habit of mentioning Shakespeare and the playwright’s depictions of kings. Although this may be used in order to find a common ground with the average reader; it comes off as elementary and far from scholarly.
Sadly, Crofton doesn’t explore any new ground in “Kings and Queens of England” and thus those readers well-read on English royalty will be somewhat bored unless looking for a quick recap. In fact, the text is better suited for young adults versus adults (unless the adult has no previous knowledge on the subject). Crofton also states too many myths and propaganda pieces as though they are factual plus much of “Kings and Queens of England” is dated (such as the section on Richard III). Therefore, it is suggested to take the text with a grain of salt.
On a positive note, Crofton smoothly presents the transition of ultimate monarchism to the ceremonial role it holds today; helping the reader understand the modern-day impact of their role. The conclusion is solid stipulating on the future of the royal family while also offering genealogical charts.
Note: “Kings and Queens of England” focuses on the monarchs regnant versus consort.
Overall, “Kings and Queens of England” is a quick, overly simplified introduction to the monarchs of England. Dated, riding on speculation, and brief; the text sadly won’t make an impact with readers. Those familiar with the topic won’t learn anything new and therefore the book is only strongly suggested for general readers who simply want to be debriefed. ...more
Although Peter Hammond’s “The Tower of London” is quite possibly a pamphlet/ program distributed to tourists; its glorious illustrations and insightfuAlthough Peter Hammond’s “The Tower of London” is quite possibly a pamphlet/ program distributed to tourists; its glorious illustrations and insightful history still provides an enjoyable, quick read for Anglophiles.
“The Tower of London” opens with an overall history recap of the Tower of London from the first stones ordered by William the Conqueror to modern-day tourism. Although this introduction is beautifully supplemented by colorful illustrations and photographs, it is a brief overview: simply written (easy enough for middle-aged children) and thus lacking an overemphasis of detail. However, even without extensive depth, it still garners interest and prepares the reader for the second section of “The Tower of London”.
Hammond’s second portion, titled “The Buildings of the Tower”, dives into a closer portrait account of each section of the Tower (individual towers, wards, etc). Hammond presents various facets of information from the conception of the White Tower to floor plans, history to current occupants, and even the materials (types of stones) used. This detail is not cumbersome and instead brings the Tower to life along with the illustrations.
Although highly informative, “The Tower of London” is purely a factual presentation and is therefore not necessarily an entertaining reading in a narrative sense. The text lacks character or wit, however; it is a wealth of information for those interested in the topic (basically, it is very academic and reads like a school book).
The main highlight is the two-page centerfold of the entire Tower complex with each building and portion well-labeled. This centerfold shows the grandiosity of the Tower and is designed to impress the reader while providing a “go-to” illustration when reading the text.
A major complaint against “The Tower of London” was the mention of Jane Grey’s death being merely due to suffering “for her descent from Henry VII which made her, despite herself, a rival to Mary” versus indicating her “Nine Days Queen” reputation.
The end of “The Tower of London” is quite strong describing the many tourist attractions and events at the tower (the Royal Armouries, Crown Jewels, the Changing of the Guards, Ceremony of the Keys, the “Ravenmaster”, etc); soliciting excitement from the reader. I am even more excited to visit the Tower than I was before (I didn’t know that was possible)! Overall, “The Tower of London” is an informative guide which will satisfy a tourist or Anglophile for a quick read or browse. ...more