I received a review copy of the book as part of this blog tour from the publicity team working with the book festival in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Non-fiction History Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: Standalone
About the tour:
As part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I was sent a mystery book (from a range of topics/ideas I’d said I was interested in.) Each book sent out to participating bloggers is linked to an event at the festival. Mine is a book by an author taking part in THE BEGINNINGS OF ENGLAND event.
Sixteen hundred years ago Britain left the Roman Empire and swiftly fell into ruin. Grand cities and luxurious villas were deserted and left to crumble, and civil society collapsed into chaos. Into this violent and unstable world came foreign invaders from across the sea, and established themselves as its new masters.
THE ANGLO-SAXONS traces the turbulent history of these people across the next six centuries. It explains how their earliest rulers fought relentlessly against each other for glory and supremacy, and then were almost destroyed by the onslaught of the Vikings. It explores how they abandoned their old gods for Christianity, established hundreds of churches and created dazzlingly intricate works of art. It charts the revival of towns and trade, and the origins of a familiar landscape of shires, boroughs and bishoprics.
It is a tale of famous figures like King Offa, Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor, but also features a host of lesser known characters – ambitious queens, revolutionary saints, intolerant monks and grasping nobles. Through their remarkable careers we see how a new society, a new culture and a single unified nation came into being.
Drawing on a vast range of original evidence – chronicles, letters, archaeology and artefacts – renowned historian Marc Morris illuminates a period of history that is only dimly understood, separates the truth from the legend, and tells the extraordinary story of how the foundations of England were laid.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
I was so excited to receive this book. Since about April I’d been fighting my way through another book on the Anglo-Saxons. I wanted to know more about the period, but my attention just couldn’t stay on the book I had. So receiving a book on the topic from the author of one of my favourite non-fiction histories (CASTLE) was fortuitous. (It is also the only reason I finished the other book! I knew I wouldn’t want to return to the other one after reading this one, so pushed through.)
It was really good. I was trying to read this as a research book (taking copious notes) but that endeavour failed because I just didn’t want to keep stopping. I’ll probably re-read it at some point to take down all those notes I had intended to on this read.
It has an engaging way of focusing in on the key people and events, rather than spending pages painstakingly recording every fact we know. Morris states in the intro that he’s not trying to be comprehensive, but provide a decent overview of six decades of tumultuous history.
And it is tumultuous. The book charts the overview of England from the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain, and why it was such a devastating collapse, through multiple invasions and internal battles, religious conversions and revivals, to the stage set for the Norman invasion.
It’s the focus on that narrative element that makes it work. Narrative non-fiction is the engaging type for me. A clear story to follow, backed up by facts and an introspection on the trustworthiness of those facts. There is a confidence to the telling that carries it through, but doesn’t verge on academic exclusion. It’s non-fiction for anyone with interest.
There is a bit of dry humour in this book that set me chuckling. On Beowulf, Morris has this to say: “As a historical source, this story has the disadvantage of being entirely made up.” The inclusion of the occasional lighter tone really does help with engagement.
Read my reviews of other books by Marc Morris: