PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)As Morris’s previous books have shown, he is a writer who likes the big picture, and treats history as a practical discipline, best used to assess the present and project the future. He is a jaunty, accessible writer, especially strong on his home field of archaeology, and this is a book brimming with neat slogans and ideas. However, his obsession with Brexit makes the book feel curiously dated. And as is often the case in works of Big History, grand unifying theses are more often thought-provoking than true. Nevertheless, this is an Island Story fit for a 21st century in which geography really does matter.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Throughout this clever, lively book Morris leans enthusiastically into uncertainty, inviting the reader to figure out the puzzles with him ... Morris has organised his book smartly, with each chapter focusing on a known person or group, and the themes slotting into the narrative ... Much of the Anglo-Saxon world was wiped out by the Normans, but as Morris’s splendid new book shows, there is plenty we can still see, and enjoy, today.
RaveThe Times (UK)... quirky and compelling ... [Flanders] is a meticulous historian with a taste for the offbeat; the story of alphabetical order suits her well ... As Flanders’s short but fascinating book shows, the alphabet has only ever been one listing method competing with many others: some weird, some wonderful, some completely mad and random, but each providing a tantalising glimpse into the minds that dreamt them up.
RaveThe Times (UK)... colourful, revelatory ... [Price] may know more about medieval Scandinavia than anyone else alive, and he aims to show us these fascinating people as they saw themselves, not as they were perceived by those on the sharp end of their robbery ... Although Price emphasises the sophistication of Viking society — and teases out the very right-on possibility that there were not only female warriors but transgender Vikings too — he sensibly never tries to explain away the brutality ... Price is never guilty of detached academic revisionism; instead he redraws the Viking world in all its strange and gory glory. Thousands of books have been published about the Vikings — this is one of the very best.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... presented as a triptych portrait of Edward and his younger brothers, George, duke of Clarence and Richard III. But it is for the most part a straight biography of Edward. His reign occupies the first 453 pages of a 688-page text. He is the central, real sun in the parhelion, his siblings wan imitations by his side. They rise with him, but soon disappear ... Penn’s last book was Winter King, a well-received biography of the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII. That book was rightly praised for its fresh and lively narrative swagger, and Penn has brought all the same qualities to this new work on Edward. It is a long book, but is peppered with delightful, telling anecdotes and details. Some are comical and others grisly, but all breathe life into their subject, whose reign has proven too much for many less capable narrators to handle ... As Penn unpacks his doomed tale of Edward’s reign, and the subsequent, abysmal two-year ascendancy of his youngest brother Richard, which provides the book’s coda, it is salutary to remember the extent to which medieval English rulers were bound by Continental considerations. By the same token, it is grimly amusing to see how perplexed foreigners were left by England’s vicious and unpredictable politics.
MixedThe Times (UK)... provocative ... clear, colourful chapters ... Of course this thesis has its limits and Hansen butts up against them, frequently finding herself undone by the narrowness of her book’s title. The patchiness of source material means that she is never able to give a snapshot of the world in AD1000 alone ... Also, the medieval globalisation Hansen describes is, she admits, a long way from our own, in which telecommunications, mass transit, brand marketing and international supply chains have created a world of 3.5 billion smartphone users and disease pandemics that can infect the planet in less than four months. Be that as it may, and even accounting for these and other objections, Hansen has written a smart, broad-ranging survey of the global Middle Ages that is learned, thought-provoking — and perfectly tuned to our times.
Janet L. Nelson
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)Thanks to his dizzying achievements and, as if we need reminding, the importance of unification as a theme in European history, Charlemagne has never lacked for biographers ... It is, therefore, praise in itself to say that Nelson, Professor Emeritus of medieval history at King’s College, London and a world authority on all things Frankish, has produced a remarkable, learned text, unlike any other study of Charlemagne in recent years. But this is not a book to be taken lightly ... Biographers usually mask [the] spadework beneath literary form; Nelson stands form on its head. Her journey towards Charlemagne is all method and little polish. For readers who already know a lot about him, or appreciate the sight of a scholar with their sleeves rolled up, there is plenty to savour ... there are occasional flashes of colour amid the scholarly heavy lifting...But these are rare light moments in a book for the university library rather than the sun lounger.
RaveThe Times (UK)... superb, highly readable and definitive ... [Phillips] has the rare gift of writing scholarly history for a popular audience, and he is in fine form here, weaving together evidence from Arabic and Latin chroniclers, archaeological digs and medieval poets with modern sources including Middle Eastern theatre, cinema and propaganda ... Phillips’s narrative of Saladin’s career is vivid and judicious, punctuated by set pieces that charge along like battle scenes from Game of Thrones .
MixedThe Times (UK)Borman has set aside the usual feminised beats of Henry’s reign (divorced, beheaded, died) to see the king through his interactions with other males ... Borman is a steady guide to this sad compendium of tyranny, although her book might have been arranged with a more ambitious format. The cover of my review copy depicts Henry surrounded by six men in place of six queens; a tighter focus on fewer characters would have elevated the book from a simple biography leaning into the customary sources.
RaveThe TimesA masterpiece of documentary detective-work, which buzzes with the excitement of a great historian immersed in archives, interrogating not only the thousands of papers Cromwell left behind, but also the gaps left by a (presumed) shredding of evidence as Cromwell’s partisans sought to save him from the king’s wrath at the end ... acute, elegant and devastating.