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Sarum: The Novel of England

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Sarum: The Novel of England - a novel that traces the entire turbulent course of English history.

This rich tapestry weaves a compelling saga of five families—the Wilsons, the Masons, the family of Porteus, the Shockleys, and the Godfreys—who reflect the changing character of Britain.

As their fates and fortunes intertwine over the course of the centuries, their greater destinies offer a fascinating glimpse into the future.

An absorbing historical chronicle, Sarum is a keen tale of struggle and adventure, a profound human drama, and a magnificent work of sheer storytelling.

912 pages, Paperback

First published May 7, 1987

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About the author

Edward Rutherfurd

34 books4,733 followers
Francis Edward Wintle, best known under his pen name Edward Rutherfurd, was born in the cathedral city of Salisbury. Educated locally, and at the universities of Cambridge, and Stanford, California, he worked in political research, bookselling and publishing. After numerous attempts to write books and plays, he finally abandoned his career in the book trade in 1983, and returned to his childhood home to write SARUM, a historical novel with a ten-thousand year story, set in the area around the ancient monument of Stonehenge, and Salisbury. Four years later, when the book was published, it became an instant international bestseller, remaining 23 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Since then he has written five more bestsellers: RUSSKA, a novel of Russia; LONDON; THE FOREST, set in England's New Forest which lies close by Sarum, and two novels which cover the story of Ireland from the time just before Saint Patrick to the twentieth century. His books have been translated into twenty languages.

Edward has lived in London, New York, New Hampshire and Ireland. He currently divides his time between New England and Europe. He has two children.

Edward Rutherfurd is a Life Member of the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral, the Salisbury Civic Society, and the Friends of Chawton House, which is located in Jane Austen's village and dedicated to the study of women writers. He is also a Patron of the National Theatre of Ireland (the Abbey Theatre) in Dublin.

In 2005, the City of Salisbury commemorated his services to the city by naming one of the streets leading off its medieval market place 'Rutherfurd Walk'.

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5 stars
17,549 (40%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,741 reviews
Profile Image for Terri.
529 reviews252 followers
July 22, 2020
Quantity not quality.
I have to admit, I was more than a little surprised when I came to this book on Goodreads to leave a review and saw all the glowing reviews. I expected maybe a couple 4 stars and mostly 3 stars, but that is not what I found. I found all 4 stars and 5 stars. How can this be?
I enjoyed the first chapter of this book so much that I was excited that there would be 1400 pages more of it. By Chapter 2 however, my excitement was blown out of the water. Rutherfurd's writing style was not very elegant and I only got halfway through before I had to give the book away. The characters were lacking in depth and dimension and their stories were uninspiring. (Something I had not expected). For a book that started so awesome it sure did flatline.
I cannot remember the last time I didn't read a book all the way through. Even if I don't like a book I usually still force myself to read to the end. But I just couldn't have done that with Sarum. The short stories were becoming so boring that I found myself choosing to not pick the book up before going to sleep at night and that is just unheard of for me. I generally NEED to read for a while before I can get to sleep.
I will try and finish it, 'one day', but I cannot imagine how far away 'that day' will be. Far, far, FAR away I'd say.
Maybe Rutherfurd should have concentrated more on the writing and character development instead of trying to simply write big books.
This was my first Rutherfurd, and definitely my last.
Profile Image for Patrick Trisler.
4 reviews6 followers
April 20, 2007
Now this is a good Stonehenge book. Along with anything else that ever happened in Great Britain. This is one of those books that you have to say is 'sweeping in it's scope.' This book starts with neolithic man arriving in the Sarum area and follows certain bloodlines all the way to present day. It's huge. I learned more about British history with this book than I have with any history text book. I think its because its always presented from an individual as opposed to a national standpoint. Its one thing to hear that the Saxons invaded at such and such a time, but a completely different thing to hear how it affected the people that were being invaded. And what they wore, and how they talked and worshipped. The man also knows a ton about how they have cultivated and changed the land throughout time. The chapter on Stonehenge was great. I came away thinking 'yeah, that makes sense.' Whats really amazing is how time changes culture throughout this book and yet in each era we are given a completely believable and sympathetic set of characters.
3 reviews1 follower
July 13, 2007
Sarum is one of the most amazing books that I have ever read. It was almost magical reading. It was a book that just stuck with you so much that I actually dreamed about it. It was one of the few books I wished would never end and I felt almost lost once it was finished. It was like coming down off a high.
Profile Image for Ty.
Author 13 books28 followers
September 14, 2016
Given that I, slow reader that I am and often in need of days long breaks from a narrative of any size was able to finish, without skimming, a 1,033 page novel, said novel must have had something going for it. Sarum certainly does on several levels. I will say, however, one should go into it completely aware of its nature, and should treat it as a marathon, not a sprint.

Some books in the 800+ page range can be treated more like sprints. The latter Harry Potter books for example. While they by no means needed to be anywhere near that long, their fantasy and action-oriented narratives make them rather fast, on-the-go reads in spite of their length. Sarum is not such a book.

That should be obvious right away, as even its subtitle, "A Novel of England" indicates the vast scope this tome will attempt to cover. And when one takes this idea into account,(that the novel is really about a country, or more specifically an area of a country that has been populated for thousands of years), tackling its 1,033 pages at a leisurely pace becomes more palatable.

With that established in one's mind at the outset, several factors about the book itself also make its consumption easier. For example, Rutherford's prose is usually easy and unassuming. Descriptive without being adjective fodder, the descriptions he gives of places and people are enough to provide one with an image without putting one to sleep for much of the novel. This is especially true for the first two thirds of the piece.

It also helps that the book is broken down into what actually amounts to a collection of short stories with common characteristics. It needs to be for obvious reasons if one's story spans over 10,000 years. Any one person's life is but a blink of an eye during such a time span. In fact, so is the existence of a whole family unit.

So we have mostly accessible writing over the course of various short stories, all tied together by a common setting by interweaving the stories of five families and their descendants over the course of millenia, starting with just after the ice age. It is with this formula that Sarum hooks the reader, and introduces them effortlessly to historic periods that are both known to us through documentation, and those about which we can only speculate.

From the period of hunter-gatherers to about the time of Cromwell, o, two-thirds of the book, the form continues to work much of the time, and I found myself getting through this percentage of the novel faster than I would have expected. That first 600 or so pages are an educational, descriptive and adventurous epic that fires the imagination. And there is even a delightful recurring device that appears throughout most of these pages which I enjoyed revisiting each time.

Not that the first two thirds are without some faults. The characters are sometimes presented with less depth because of the sheer amount of historical ground that needs to be covered. Descriptions do tend to get a bit heavy and drag down the action at times. And by the time we get to New Sarum, the connections between the families, and their respective places in the town/region can become a bit confusing. (Treating each section as a totally separate story despite references to previous sections will help inoculate the reader against this.) There is also a family tree provided at the beginning to which the reader will refer frequently.

Also, a bit too much time is spent in similar time frames.

But in the final third of the book the author takes a bit of a turn. Aspects of the book that had been engaging earlier on begin to wear down the proceedings. Starting roughly around the time of the rising of Cromwell, pages-long dissertations on the nature of the political and economic landscape begin to take precedence over the story of the people experiencing same. What had been a book about people who lived through the changing fortunes of their world began to be more of a vehicle for historical presentation that made a sometimes too occasional use of characters as cover.

Further, the final third abandoned the previously mentioned delightful recurring device, and the reader feels cheated as it had been set up as a device that one expects to see again and again.

Most problematic for the final third however, is the pacing. It is as though the author must now rush to cover more history with less story in the final 400 pages, and so the amount of pages that would have covered about 70 years in the first half of the book sometimes cover close to two centuries in the second half. And in the process we move somewhat into textbook territory, where we leave characters and plot for stretches that are far too long when compared with the first parts of the book.

In the final third, the slightly shallower character development, for which we can forgive the author earlier on, becomes a bit of a liability. As a result, the final third of the book is in fact less intriguing, imaginative and easy to read than the first two-thirds.

Not that the latter parts lacked positive qualities. Some of the episodes and scenes were more interesting than others. When he takes his time to tell the story, (as opposed to telling the history), things still work in Sarum. But one cannot escape the rushed feeling of the final sections, and it is a shame. One would almost rather see all of the sections in the novel take on this rushed approach so they matched the latter parts in a consistent whole.

Or perhaps the opposite, (and more desirable) approach: see the whole book move as leisurely as the first sections did, but have fewer sections. (As covering all of the years mentioned at the same pace as the "Old Sarum" chapters would have resulted in a book twice this size. Or in a multi-volume work.)

I realize that this may have been intentional; the author may have been alluding to the fact that life and history itself moved much slower in Pre-Roman times, and hence, so does the novel. But even if that were the intention of the author, the personal intrigues of the characters themselves need not have been sacrificed as much, nor did the detail of the historical/political landscape have to be twice as meticulous in the latter chapters than it was in the earlier chapters.

I also think that there was an ever so slight preoccupation with sex. It seems that even in the shallower chapters (Such as the highly rushed "Encampment"), the author dedicated an unneeded amount of detail to the bodies, orgasms, and lustful preoccupation of the sometimes otherwise flat characters than was needed. It was at no time vulgar, but after a while one begins to wonder how different sex in 1944 could be from sex in 1480, or 1290, or Roman times...etc. What I thought was going to be a visceral preoccupation with mating that the prehistoric times required turned out to be a thread throughout all of the ages that did not fade as much as I would have thought at first.

Still, the love of the author for both his work, and for the area of Salisbury is obvious throughout the piece. Taken in its entirety it truly is a neat concept executed with meticulous research, casual prose, and enviable passion. It may have run out of gas near the end, but there were nonetheless enough fumes to get the book where it needed to be by the end even if some of the short-cuts prevented as much sight seeing as I would have liked.

Due to its originality, the reader roots for Sarum, and that is what propelled me to finish it, and to have been happy in so doing.
Profile Image for Kate.
166 reviews30 followers
January 4, 2008
It took me a long time to read this one, it's huge but worth it. It's a history lesson disguised as fiction, and it's gorgeous.

The book follows five families from prehistoric to modern day, jumping through some of the most important moments in the history of Sarum and England. The last two chapters were the most heart wrenching for me, but there are a lot of moments like that. Rutherford doesn't try to make it happily ever after, it's real life and believeable.

I can't wait to get started on his others, but I'm going to pick a slightly less meaty volume to work on next!
Profile Image for Tara DePompei.
16 reviews4 followers
December 23, 2008
Oddest thing -- it is the best and most compelling book that I did not like reading at all. Don't get me wrong -- I am duly impressed by Rutherford's undertaking and his research (although sometimes flawed or biased). Further, the idea is spectacular. The problem was that I did not enjoy it -- I felt I went from story to story, from generation to generation, as more of an obligation as opposed to an interest. I frankly did not care at all about any of these people. My feeling at the last page was -- thank God it is over. In saying this, I am truly glad that I read it.
Profile Image for Ensiform.
1,337 reviews135 followers
April 6, 2013
The story of the small portion of humanity that settled in and developed Salisbury (“Sarum”: being an abbreviated rendering of the Roman name Sorbiodunum) from the stone age to the 1980s. Following the struggles, fortunes, tribulations, and remade fortunes of five lineages, the novel details how waves of invaders (Cro-Magnons, Normans, Romans, Vikings) changed the landscape, economy, and culture, from Stonehenge to livestock breeding to Cathedral building, but then were in turn changed by it and became part of its fabric.

I had some mixed feelings while reading this book. At 897 pages, it’s a hugely ambitious project – indeed sometimes Rutherfurd casts his net far wider than Sarum itself, following some of Salisbury’s sons in the American Revolution or at D-Day. But high ambition alone does not ensure quality. Certainly it is an achievement in itself simply to tell such an epic tale. But the proof is in the telling itself. And here the prose is, at times, purple at best and clunky and awkward at worst. Some sentences are as in danger of toppling as Salisbury Cathedral’s spire, so packed are they with meandering clauses. Further, the book is astonishingly riddled with comma misuse – I found one egregious comma error literally at least every four pages, which raises the question of whether the book was proofread at all. Finally, there is Rutherfurd’s authorial style, which is preachy and intrusive, especially in the early chapters, where he feels the need to step into his fictional world and explain in sometimes lengthy paragraphs the science or geography behind what a character was doing, as if to assure the readers that he’d done his research before popping back behind the curtain again. Or he might begin a section under the rubric with, for example, 1244, only to state a few paragraphs in that in order to really pick up at that point, “we must first go back a little.” Then why did he begin in 1244? Why not just tell the thread of the story from that earlier point, or have the characters refer to the slow changes that came before? These anachronistic authorial intrusions would have worked better, if he really had to have them, as endnotes to each chapter, rather than breaking the narrative so jarringly. On the positive side, the way he charts the evolution of Sarum’s economy, for example, is astounding and commendable. But what really makes the book work is the human adventure: each time he dips into a past era, there is a poignant or dramatic or thrilling vignette, a short story involving one of his five families, that underscores the vicissitudes of fate and the indomitable spark that keeps humanity going through the fortunes and failures that time brings. With a heavy-handed, level-headed editor, this could have been a brilliant book. As it is, it’s an impressive curiosity. It was a chore to read at times, but I’m not sorry I read it all.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books333 followers
November 28, 2013
This is another book that gets 5 stars for being a great big hunk of enjoyable cheese. But it's historical cheese!

Sarum tells the entire history of England, from its ice-age prehistory when the first men arrived on the island to the 1980s, by focusing the passing of ages on the city of Salisbury, once known as "Sarum." Located on the edge of Salisbury Plain, at the juncture of five rivers, archeological evidence tells us it's been a trading settlement since prehistoric times (and of course, it is located only a few miles from Stonehenge). Rutherfurd uses a mixture of archeology and recorded history to tell us the complete history of Sarum from the arrival of Hwll the Hunter, seeking high ground as the ice melts, to the last in the line of the Shockleys and Masons, who have entertained us with their family dramas for centuries, trying to restore Salisbury Cathedral in 1985.

How historically accurate is this book? It would take a historian to criticize that aspect of Rutherfurd's storytelling, though obviously everything involving the neolithic settlers, followed by the bronze age settlers, ancestors of the Celts, and pretty much everything up to Roman times, has to be more speculation than known fact. To this day, we don't know for sure exactly when Stonehenge was built or for what purpose, and I remember an Irish history professor in college telling me "Don't believe anything anyone writes about druids - crazy people write about druids." So Rutherfurd's take on the bloodthirsty rites of these Bronze Age tribesmen is probably as likely as any other.

This is not primarily a history book, though, but a multi-generational (many, many, many generations) soap opera, through which history is told. Of the many families living around Sarum, Rutherfurd invents several — the Wilsons (descended from "Will's son" though actually present as fisher-folk living on Sarum's rivers since the Ice Age), the Masons (descended from a medieval mason, who was himself descended from an old Celtic craftsman who learned architecture from the Romans, who was himself descended from the architect of Stonehenge), the Porters (descended from a Roman officer named Porteus), the Godfreys (descended from a Norman knight), the Shockleys, the Forests (a branch of the Wilsons that renamed themselves something more noble once they got money) — who frequently change names and reverse fortunes and have interwoven lives, feuds, and marriages with the passing of centuries. The family that ruled Sarum in Roman times becomes in the 19th century the tenant farmers living on land owned by another family that were Anglo-Saxon peasants in the 11th, and so on. Naturally they don't know their ancient noble (or common) origins the way the reader does, other than as family tales passed down which they believe to be largely fictitious, like Doctor Barnagel, who laughs at his family's legend of being descended from a Danish invader known for crying "Bairn nae gel!" ("Don't kill the children!"), not knowing that it's actually true.

This is a historical epic told through the eyes of everyday people. Rutherfurd has each of his families passing down physical and personality traits through the generations that are more fanciful than genetic, but there is something pleasing and familiar in seeing what the scheming, "spider-like" Wilsons are up to in each century, or what form the next generation's incarnation of a buxom, Amazonish Shockley girl will take.

It sprawls across all of history. How are these families affected by the Roman invasion? The Anglo-Saxon invasion? The Danish invasion? The Norman invasion? The Black Death? The Reformation? The English Civil War? The New World? The Napoleonic Wars? All the way into the 20th century, where things became a bit rushed, covering the passing of time from World War I to 1985 in as many pages as earlier were spent on a single generation in the medieval era.

Stylistically, Edward Rutherfurd is a plain and unembellished writer and he often relies on cliches and tropes, particularly all the women with their "firm young bodies" from paleolithic times onward, and the aforementioned repetition of family traits, from the Wilsons' "long-toed feet," dating back to the Ice Age, to the precise fussiness of the Porters, dating back to their Roman ancestor. Chapters begin with a lot of historical exposition explaining what's going on in this era, then zooming into what our families are up to and which side they're taking. But none of this was a detriment to me; it was a long, long listen and very satisfying. The time spent to research and write an epic spanning over 10,000 years and yet get us personally invested in the lives of individual people made it well worth it. So, maybe Sarum really only "deserves" 4 stars but I'm giving it 5 because I liked it enough that I am pushing Rutherfurd's New York epic higher on my TBR list.
Profile Image for Choko.
1,178 reviews2,570 followers
March 22, 2022
*** 3.65 ***

This is a very ambitious undertaking, and I think the author bit a bit more than he could chew... The span of history he attempts to cover can never be adequately dealt with in one book. Something has to give, and I think in this case character development suffers the most. Yes, this is a book where the main character is the city and area of Sarum, modern day Salisbury itself, and the humans are there just to facilitate its changes and as a camera for the reader to observe through. Starting from the first settlers of the area thousands of years ago, to the end of the last century, the story of the city is given in broad terms, but by way of the intimate relationships between several families and their descendants, and the many ups and downs they go through, which shape the bones of the city itself.

I love the idea of the whole endeavor, but I couldn't help but wish at times for closure and more detail regarding some of the characters, while at other times I craved to see more of the overall history of the time. The author has named the chapters after the bigger events of the British history, but not so much as to give it to us in detail, but only as a frame of the time he is addressing and how it influenced the picture in Sarum. So, in the beginning, the time passing between chapters was measured in centuries, and starts getting tighter and tighter the closer we come to today. This allows for only loosely connected by genetics and eventually names characters, not allowing the reader to let themselves connect emotionally with any of them, since more often than not there is no closure, leaving us wondering what happened. I had no real issues with the historical parts, since the author obviously has a wonderful grasp of British history and he does a great job framing the attitudes of the citizens of Sarum as they pertain to the bigger picture. The religious and political strife, as well as the treatment of women and the Jews is portrayed brilliantly, as harsh as it comes out - there is no point of softening the truth, and life is not kind to all at all times...

Overall, I am very impressed that the author was able to tame this vast beast of a story into the pages he did - I am sure he had to use a big machete and edit with it all kinds of stuff he could have added to the story, because otherwise there would not have been a finished product. I am actually thinking about reading some of the other books he has written, now that I know what to expect. I wonder if he does as well with the cities and counties he has not grown up with and for which he doesn't feel the same obvious affection. I guess I need to Read To Find Out 👍🙂
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,699 reviews1,478 followers
July 14, 2022
This is a book revolving around fact and historical events. History lies at its core. A huge amount of interesting historical data is presented. Religion, politics, the arts and sciences, architecture, education, industrialization—it’s ALL here. Even though the book is very long, it cannot possibly go into great depth on any one subject. The start is set even before the construction of Stonehenge. Later we learn of how cathedrals, mills and other buildings come to be. Years go by. Traditions and beliefs alter. The world both progresses and falls into disarray. We see the plague, other epidemics, disasters, revolutions and wars. We see changes in the legal system, medical treatments, farming practices and equipment, livestock choices, means of transportation, the workings of mines, child employment, voting rights and the arrival of the suffragette movement. I could go on and on and on. All aspects of life over the ages are touched upon.

This is a book about life in England, not just the location where Stonehenge came to be. We start at one little spot but as the world progresses and changes occur, the focus expands. Today the whole world is one’s oyster. The book’s setting grows in the same way-- Stonehenge, Sarum, Salisbury, Wessex, England, the British Empire and then the entire world.

Timewise, the telling begins at the last ice age, some 20 000 years ago. It continues all the way through both world wars. In telling the history of England it covers world events beyond the borders and scope of the British Empire.

In covering such a wide span of topics, locations and time, the book spreads itself thin. This is merely my view of course!

The book is fact and fiction. Fictional characters are used as a means of illustrating the effects of historical events on people’s lives. Emotionally, we attach ourselves to them

A three-star book is for me a book that is good, but it is also a book that could have been better. The fictional characters of the book’s first half, drew me in much more than those of the latter half. There is a continuity between the characters over the ages. Family traits are inherited from generation to generation. I find the stories woven around modern times to be ordinary, unexceptional, covered in other books many times before. The fictional episodes get shorter and shorter as we approach modern times. The latter day stories are too short, too superficial and nothing new. I became bored.

The prose is factual and informative rather than poetical or lyrical. This is not a book where you ponder the philosophical.

Roger Davis narrates the audiobook. Most words are clearly enunciated, but not all. He has a particular lilt. The start of a sentences is stronger than the end. What is said at the end is sometimes indiscernible. Davis fluidly switches between different accents. The contrast between American and British is rather amusing, in my opinion. I have given the narration three stars—it’s fine, it’s good, I have liked it.

The first half of the book I enjoyed more than the latter half. By the end I was bored. The book’s magic had fizzled out. It no longer gave me much that was new.

I find it curious that this book has pleased me less than the other two I have read by the author. Paris is a city I love. Perhaps this is why I like that book more! Russka is extremely relevant given the current situation in the Ukraine and Russia. These reasons at least partially explain why Paris and Russka: The Novel of Russia have captured my interest more.


*Paris 4 stars
*Russka: The Novel of Russia 4 stars
*Sarum: The Novel of England 3 stars
*London TBR
*China: The Novel TBR
Profile Image for Karen ⊰✿.
1,369 reviews
July 26, 2018
Rutherfurd writes amazing family sagas over long time frames, concentrating on one geographical area (e.g. Paris, New York, Russia). In this book he focuses on one area - Sarum - which is site of the earliest settlement of Salisbury in England. Starting in pre-historic times right through to modern day, this book reads as a series of novellas, but still focusing on the same 5 families through the generations.
It took me two months to read this, not just because it is so HUGE but also because the style made it difficult to engage. Once a chapter was done, the next chapter would jump forward in time with little continuity so that is why it felt like a set of novellas and made it difficult to keep reading rather than being distracted with other books!
This wasn't my favourite of his, but I'm glad to have read it and would recommend it to any history buffs.
Profile Image for Mick.
44 reviews19 followers
May 22, 2009
I took my dear sweet time reading this novel, and cherished every second. Historical fiction works, and works well, when it can be lingered over, savored; when it can be read, then re-read, as the author's glowing accounts of historical events come to life right off the page.

James Michener was a master of this craft; Edward Rutherfurd aptly keeps him company, as evidenced by his sweeping novel, SARUM. Set in the author's hometown of Salisbury, England, this is a novel that tells the rich history of the valley where five rivers meet. As seen through the eyes of members of five prominent families over thousands of years, the reader witnesses an astounding array of historical abundance: from the wondrous building of ancient stonehenge to the meticulous construction of the world-renowned Salisbury Cathedral; from the influence of the Romans to the bloody invasion of the Vikings; from feudal oppression to the horrific Black Death; from civil war to Renaissance; from industry to empire. Over and over, Rutherfurd tells a rich, compelling, absorbing account of the history of the Avon Valley--the history of England.

Unlike other readers, I was not particularly bothered by each family having its own inherent propensity for a certain skill, or behaviour. (For example, the Porters had an eye for detail and numbers; the Masons were inherently skilled craftsmen.) This device enables the author to maintain consistency. My only caveat is that, after a virtually breathless examination of countless centuries of events, the titanic happenings of the 20th Century are glossed over in only a handful of pages. But this, however, did not take away from my supreme enjoyment of this novel.

SARUM: THE NOVEL OF ENGLAND does what historical fiction is supposed to do: entertain and enlighten. I learned, and I learned a lot, having read this book. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Viv Bearne.
2 reviews
January 16, 2012
Sarum is my all time favorite book, coming from the south west of England myself it is my history and so much research has gone into it. Many if not all of the great structures are still standing. A great read
Profile Image for Susan (aka Just My Op).
1,126 reviews57 followers
January 25, 2019
While I enjoyed listening to this very long book (about 45 hours), I didn't love it. It's not quite a history and not quite a novel, covering Sarum from almost the beginning of time until 1987, when it was first published. This is highly fictionalized, a string of beads strung together by geography and families. While I did get a feeling of history from it, I never got to know any of the (many!) characters well enough to really care about them. Yes, it was worth the time I spent listening to it, but it didn't engage me as much as I expected. The jury is still out about whether I read or listen to another of Rutherfurds doorstop sagas.
Profile Image for Annette.
743 reviews323 followers
July 16, 2020
This book starts with the story of the relationship between the hunters and the settler of Sarum, which refers to the place called Salisbury. Normally, I connect with characters in this author’s books very quickly, but I had a problem connecting with the tribal characters here and struggled to be engaged with this story.

I believe this was his first book and the story telling is a bit too descriptive, which I did not experience in his later books. He is certainly a master of storytelling and I encourage you to reach for his books.
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 8 books24 followers
June 11, 2012
I greatly enjoyed Sarum. All 1033 pages of it.

Sarum is the first Edward Rutherford book I tackled, although his New York book has stared at me with longing on a shelf for years. Starting at the end of the last Ice Age, Sarum follows the generational paths of five families through time to the modern day. The book hits all the strong beats: the building of Stonehenge, the Roman Invasion of Britain and their colonization, the Dark Ages, Saxon Britain, the Norman Invasion, the War of the Roses, the High Middle Ages and the Black Death, the coming of Protestantism and Queen Elizabeth II, the English Civil War, the conquest of India and the American Revolution, Trafalgar and Waterloo, the Great Wars of the 20th Century. Sarum left me with a great sense of breadth and time and gave me an appreciation for age and the passing of time. Everything starts and everything ends -- cultures, religions, industry and business, technology, reigns great and small. That which felt eternal at the time it happened passed and soon became someone else's archeology.

The highlights of the book are the grisly Stonehenge chapter (nearly a novella in itself), the building of the Salisbury Cathedral and the horrible chapter on the Black Death, followed by the Revolution and the Cavaliers in the Civil War. Of the five families, two are the main focus of the book: the horrible decedents of Tep, the river man who has always been there since before the Ice Age ended, and the Shockleys, decedents of a Saxon Thane whose fortunes rise and fall with England's. For 1500 years those two families have back and forths, constantly crossing paths until finally joining in the 20th century. The other families (Caius Porteus's decedents, the family of Nooma the Mason, and the Godefrei's) play second fiddle -- save in the Cathedral chapter -- to the others.

Sometimes the chapters felt a little too short and that generation ended too soon but, generally, I read this book with Wikipedia and my (nonfiction) history of England open to flesh out some of the details where the book glossed over. Overall, I enjoyed the rich detail Rutherford supplies in with the every day lives of his inhabitants of Sarum to give grounding in the time period. No politics get injected in the background of historical period detail -- it is told, straight, to help couch the feelings and motivations of the characters.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read some meaty historical fiction or to get an entertaining grounding in the history of Britain. Although some of the archeology in the early part of the book is a little wobbly now (book came out in 1987), the rest is solid and was backed by my reference books.

Five stars.
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,920 reviews156 followers
March 23, 2021
This will be my third Edward Rutherfurd book. I can see that he has a certain formula that he uses in his writings and they tend to be reused for every one of his books. You know what? I don't care. What he does he does well and "Sarum" is an example of him doing it superbly.

Rutherfurd tells the story of England, focusing on the changes, throughout history, to the area in southwest England known as Sarum. The characters are disposable and serve as a vehicle for the history in the background. Though the tale of different families as they travel through time is always interesting as it shows the ups and downs of certain families, while others climb only upwards.

Sarum starts with the building of the mound that eventually would become Stonehenge and follows the adventures of the Sarum families all the way up to 1985. Sarum changes from Breton to Roman to Norman, etc. and the book shows how the families deal with these changes. It is more of a soap opera with a good historical setting. I enjoyed reading about the changes and how it affected the families that lived there.

Always entertaining, always informative, Rutherfurd has written a very entertaining book. If you are interested in good historical fiction that provides an entertaining story with good historical information, you will like this book about England.

Profile Image for Lisa - (Aussie Girl).
1,324 reviews171 followers
July 10, 2018
Nobody does English history epics like Edward Rutherfurd!

Sarum is his first novel taking several English families from hunter/gatherers to 1985. Through the BC era to the Middle Ages it is a bit slow and each chapter time period is a like a series of novellas but it does all come together with some interesting chapters in the Tudor/Stuart and Napoleonic Wars eras. Intersecting the families through the ages is what a Rutherfurd novel is known for and he definitely must have learnt some lessons in writing this the family connections becoming more cohesive and streamlined in his future books. One of the things that really worked in this one was his use of strong women and how they dealt with the suffocating patriarchy throughout English history.

Not his best book but still an enjoyable read especially for anyone who enjoys seeing the human perspective of history.

3,5 - 4 stars.

Profile Image for Clemens Schoonderwoert.
1,076 reviews76 followers
December 28, 2021
Read this book in 2009, and its a standalone book about the history of England.

Set between the years 7500 BC until 1985, this book will tell the tale about the establishment of England from the Ice Age towards the middle 1980s.

It tells the fortunes and failures of five families throughout the history, and these families are the Wilsons, the Masons, the Porteuses, the Shockleys and the Godfreys.

What is to follow is an marvellous retelling of these families happenings throughout this history of England and their fortunes and misfortunes.

Highly recommended, for this is a splendid standalone book about England, and that's why I like to call this story: "An Epic Tale Of England"!
Profile Image for Johanne.
54 reviews7 followers
December 31, 2011
On the cover of the copy of Sarum that I own, The Toronto Star states that "Rutherfurd reminds us that we are all part of a long line of human experience." I couldn't agree more.

This is truly a jewel of a book, the first book by Rutherfurd in his line of epic history-oriented novels that span the centuries of a whole country or a single city. For me, it's the second I read by the author (the first one being The Princes of Ireland). It is truly amazing; though, just like the scope of the storyline, I can barely start to explain why.

Let me simply start then by outlining the book. As the title suggests, the main theme revolves around the city of Salisbury, or Sarum, where Rutherfurd himself was born and raised. Through an amazing 4,000 years span, we follow the days and lives of five families - the Wilsons/Forests, the Porters (Porteus), the Masons, the Shockleys, and the Godfreys - as they intersect, sometimes for the best and other times for the worst, and very often times ironically without their even knowing it, while the quiet city of Salisbury runs its course through time. I am always delighted, while reading, to find a connection between Patricia (British) and Adam (American) Shockley who, ignoring that Adam's family where half-brothers with Patricia's family before moving to America, dine out at an old fulling which neither of them knows belonged to their family back in the Middle Ages, or between Adam Shockley (a different one) and Mary Mason who marry without realizing that perhaps 100 years ago they had the same great-grand-parents. It is an extremely empowering feeling - and part of the book's charm - to watch the families grow, succeed, and fail, knowing exactly where they came from, where they are at now, and their connections, sometimes better than they do. Throughout the book, we witness the first prehistoric settlements where the five rivers meet, the building of Stonehenge, the founding of New Sarum, the building of its magnificent cathedral, and the journeys to the New World, all the way to the attempts to restore the Cathedral's Spire in 1985. Phew!

The characters are, of course, fictional, but the events are, for the most part, facts. And that is perhaps what draws me to Rutherfurd's books - the subtle combination of masterful writing and history, which I love. At the end of the book, though no one could claim having become an expert in the history of the locale, one cannot help but feel that they know it a little more or a little better than they had. Not to mention the attachment to the characters, who even in their worst flaws are extremely compelling. We root for them, dream with them, hope with them, and ache with them when life decides to simply be life. For Rutherfurd always seems to give life's life-ness priority - no mushy romance and "arranged" conclusion, just plain simple everyday life and events as they may likely happen in mine, yours, and their lives. Happy ending there is, but sadder ones too. But in the end, that hardly matters, for the bigger reality of centuries creeping by and humanity in general living along is greater than one individual success or failure.
Profile Image for Richard Flewitt.
25 reviews3 followers
January 16, 2012
Sarum is definitely what I would describe as a marathon read - I attempted the marathon more than 10 yrs ago, and events lead me on to other things.
The book clearly held a fascination for me and often called me when I walked past the book shelf! So, Northern Crete in August 2011 - I committed myself by including Sarum in my scanty allowance on a low cost airline, and the marathon began.
The novel traces back the history of man living in what is now the British Isles from around 10,000 years ago. Sarum is a fictional tale built around history, which was fascinating for me because history was never a strong point for me. I feel that I now have a much more comprehensive idea of how the England of today became what it is; the mix of races, cultures, behaviours and religions. I am assuming that Rutherford did his research and the historical journey is factually correct - or as correct as it can be when taking the span of history that is involved.

Of particular interest to me was the story around Henry VIII and how Archbishop Cranmer fits in - I now live in Aslockton, birth place of Cranmer, and had no idea how significant his role was in creating the Church of England as it is today - to think that he lived next door :)

At times Sarum was a pleasure to read, following the cleverly intertwined lives of the Mason, Godfrey and Porter families through the generations. At other times I felt that it was a chore, a challenge, a marathon - and this time it wasn't going to beat me!!!

My biggest disappointment was the feeling that the book had to be completed, so fast-forwarded through time, skating over more recent history to bring us almost up to date. If the pace of the first 3/4 of the book had continued, I think the book would have been a couple of hundred pages longer.

I'm glad I read it and would definitely recommend it if, like me, you like to know where things have come from, but never took to studying history - and you have some time on your hands...
Profile Image for Ashley.
85 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2010
I love Edward Rutherfurd, I really do. But... this book has to be one of his worst.

Pros: The first 400 pages or so are amazing. But once I got into the 1300's... my interest started dwindling fast. I love historical fiction, and for the avid historical fiction reader (especially British history, or European history in general), Edward Rutherfurd is the guy for you.

Cons: Like I said, after about 400 pages, I started to lose interest fast. It seemed SUPER boring to me, and I could only read about 10 pages at a time before I practically tossed the book aside to reach for another one.

Judgement: If you have a LOT of spare time, and love historical fiction, then I totally recommend this book. If not... I would recommend his shorter novel, "Princes of Ireland", or maybe just another author with shorter books. 3/5 stars.

Edit: I went back and finished the book, after heavy recommendation from my AP European history teacher. She was totally right... The book DOES get better after the 1400s. Even so, this book still isn't one of my favorites by this author.
Profile Image for Bruce Black.
20 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2012
Not a great book, maybe not even "good." But I found it an interesting way to absorb the history of England. It's long and covers several millennia but still skips a few centuries here and there. Unfortunately it assumes you already know the significance of 1066 and a few other important events in English history. It's told as personal stories, following the fictitious families of different classes of people, their rise and fall from prosperity and society. For me it filled in some blanks, put other things in proper sequence and time frame, and helped me understand the English society (no wonder they all fled for the new world). Religion and class (wealth) play a huge roll, bigger than I appreciated before, and this is to the book's credit. I wish I had read it thirty years ago but, of course, it hadn't been written yet. I will probably read other books by Rutherfurd, even if somewhat grudgingly so.
Profile Image for June.
253 reviews
January 10, 2018
Wow! Well, I think finishing this mammoth 1350 page tome in just 9 days testifies as to how amazing it is!

This is an incredibly informative yet entertaining book which concerns itself with the history of the Sarum (Salisbury) area of England, from prehistoric times to the nineteen eighties. Each era is covered in chapters of differing lengths, which don't only portray the significant historic events of the particular time but also introduce characters who play fictional roles within these real events. Each of these characters are succeeding generations to those who feature within the first few pages, and the author consistently uses the genetic characteristics of each generation in order to describe where they fit in. It is a very cleverly written book, and the author has my admiration for being able to keep tabs on such a huge cast of characters.

Of the two main 'parts' which the book is split into ('Old Sarum' and 'New Sarum'), I personally found the first one better. The author went into more detail with regard to events, description of landscape, and building up the characters; I actually 'gelled' with those early people much more than I did with the later heirs/heiresses. My favourite characters were Nooma, and cathedral mason Osmund - especially the latter's attempts to avoid the 7 Deadly Sins.

The language is very easy to read, and events (such as the wars) are not presented in a Tolstoyian philosophical fashion. The narrative hooks you in, and it was a nightmare to put the book down at times. However, having conquered the first of the Rutherfurd tomes in my bookshelves, I now look forward to reading some more of him. I have never been to Salisbury, but now I feel I need to pay the place a visit.

In a nutshell, don't let the thickness of this book put you off. It's a wonderful presentation of life vignettes through the ages with some adventure, cloak-swishing, high seas action, evil villains (boo!), fair maidens, girl-power (yay!), a bit of gore, and general history all thrown together to make a superb book.

Would definitely recommend. What a great book to start 2018 off with!

Profile Image for Ronald.
11 reviews1 follower
December 19, 2012
I enjoyed the novel well enough, but I was expecting something of the caliber of James Michener, and this certainly didn't deliver. The writing is wordy and overly passive. The character are rather flat. And his research fell short in developing his ancient culture of England. He uses corn as one of the first crops farmed on English soil, and even has it as such an intricate part of their culture that there is a corn festival and princes. It's all ridiculous because corn is a New World species that only came to Europe after 1492. He probably thinks potatoes came from Ireland--they came from the Americas as well, as did tomatoes. Michener would never have made such an egregious error. Michener also gets you, the reader, more into his characters. Rutherfurd isn't bad, but comparing him to Michener is an insult to Michener.
Profile Image for Gary.
934 reviews201 followers
June 8, 2016
This is undoubtedly one of the best English historical novels I have ever read.Rutherford covers the history of the Sarum/Salisbury area of England from the Ice Age to the Present Day through the eyes of five families. He moves from generation to generation with effortless skill , capturing the mood and colour of each period brilliantly. As fortunes change and new challenges are dealt with ,we share the lives of many remarkable men and women .All of this is woven into a rich tapestry which is a must for anyone who likes historical novels
Profile Image for Krishna.
86 reviews
September 2, 2010
8000 years of English history centred around the city of Salisbury told in 1033 pages, propelled through the generational saga of 5 families whose fortunes rise, fall and frequently commingle with one another through the centuries.

You know, settling into a doorstopper like Sarum, that you're in for the long haul, and in my case, almost a month and a half.
As a Cliff Notes to English history, it's actually pretty good for a novel, but as an epic saga you can get get swept up in, it's far too patchy, lacking both the grandiose sweep of James Clavell's Shogun or even the soap-operatic pulp of it's closest forebear, Ken Follet's super-trashy but compulsively readable The Pillars Of The Earth.

The problem is quite simply,time.

Rutherford's epic spans from Antiquity to the 20th Century and the need to propel you through the countless decades means adjacent chapters are often separated by up to 2 centuries in timeline. Human mortality simply cannot withstand such savage time-hopping , and so characters can't and don't last long enough to make an impact.

Each chapter functions as a stand-alone novella, the link between them the burgeoning town of Sarum/Sorviodunum/Old Sarum/New Sarum/Salisbury and the 5 key families around whom all chapters are centred around.

The nice concept (though far-fetched) that Rutherford employs here is common traits; physical, mental and psychological that subsequent generations of a family share and I enjoyed the rise and fall in fortunes of the various clans through the ages.

The horrible Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages actually marks the turning of fortunes for many families, with the peasant-class Wilsons using their rapacious cunning to rapidly accrue wealth and rise up the social ladder even while the aristocratic Shockleys and Godfreys (the former of Anglo-Saxon stock and the latter descended from Norman knights) see their own dwindling.

The Masons, gifted sculptors and stoneworkers, responsible, in this novel at least, for the building of both Stonehenge and the Salisbury cathedral, nevertheless have atrocious luck in the romance department. It would seem that the Mason men are generationally doomed to be cuckolded, cheated, betrayed,humiliated, sacrificed and rejected by women.

One proming kernel of an idea that would have given this novel some much needed spark is left to go to seed; the vicious feuding between the cold, vindictive and savagely cunning Wilsons and the proud, fearless but naive Shockleys is unfortunately abandoned by Rutherfurd as he leaves the Middle Ages behind, which also mark a noticeable decline in narrative energy , as chapters start reading more like dry historical facts rather than engaging narratives, strange given the increasing abundance of information available from the 16th century onwards.

By the time Ruthefurd gets to the 20th century ,the book has lost much of the vibrancy of the earlier chapters,limping it's way through a series of stodgy, episodic and rushed narratives (the 2 great wars of the century barely cover 5 pages), and concludes most surprisingly on an anti-climactic note. After Stonehenge, the Roman/Saxon/Norman conquests,the Middle Ages, The Protestant Reformation, The Industrial Age and 2 World Wars, Rutherfurd ends his epic tale of Salisbury....with a car break-in.

Perhaps he just got tired.

I know the feeling.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
17 reviews3 followers
December 6, 2011
A really marvellous read -
this one follows the format that the author uses in all his work so far, he tells the story using ordinary folk who go through the momentous times in history.

In Sarum , we go back further into the past than ever before with Rutherford. we go right back to the end of the last ice Age and meet the people who get cut off from continental Europe by the rising sea levels.

We also watch as the first farmers arrive and make contact with the hunter gatherers already here. The clash of culture between the moon worshipping hunters and the Sun worshipping farmers who build Stonehenge is echoed in the clash between Catholicism and Protestantism in a later age, and we also see that economics factors play a big part in that struggle as well.

If history lessons were like this at school, it would have been a lot more interesting. this is social and political history combined, and although we meet kings and queens, they mostly have cameo roles or are merely mentioned in passing. The great players in this tale are the common people, the merchants, soldiers and adventurers in every era who get caught up in the great events of their day.

The neolithic hunter-gatherers, the farming communities who built Stonehenge, the Roman invaders, the Saxons, Vikings and Normans all pass before us, and then their descendants slowly form the basis of our modern English society. It is a magnificent story, chronicling the rise and fall of noble families, the enterprise and acumen of certain individuals, both fictional and historical, and the social and political affairs of the days in which they lived.

Even though both 'London' and 'Forest' were impressive and informative works, this was something greater than both. I would say that this was the best book by Rutherford that I have read so far.

Profile Image for Shawn Thrasher.
1,795 reviews40 followers
August 21, 2014
I listened to the audio version of this very long book, and was (mostly) spellbound. Nadia May is a marvelous reader-aloud; I'd like her tucked inside my head from here one out reading everything for me; I'm definitely finding out audio books narrated by her. The subtitle is "the story of England;" perhaps another subtitle could be added: "including murders, attempted rapes, pedophilia, adulterous affairs, theft, burning, hanging, and at least one case of witchcraft, with various other human depravity thrown in for good measure." But admit it - it's those exact incidents that usually make a book delicious.

Towards the end, I did get a bit bored - to be perfectly honest, witchcraft and Cavaliers and even cathedral building are more interesting than changing farm practices. But Rutherfurd's writing style was quite interesting and kept me going anyway until the very end. Every chapter is like a novella, loosely connected by place, history and genealogy; every chapter covers an era, and often those chapters use different narrative techniques. Although he never uses first person, he does often use different conceits; for example, the chapter on the medieval building of Salisbury Cathedral uses the seven deadly sins committed by the master mason of the cathedral (very important in the middle ages) as a mechanism to move the story along.

I lament the passing of the Michener-esque novel. They are most definitely rara avis in these times. Sarum is coming on 30 years old pretty soon, and big sweeping historical epics like it are gone with the wind. Hopefully they will rise again!
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