Wednesday, 4 October 2000

Frank Stenton: Anglo-Saxon England (1943)

Edition: Oxford University Press, 1971
Review number: 644

For a long time now, the Oxford History of England has been the standard series of reference works on the subject. I suspect that time is running out for the volumes covering the earliest period, which rely so much on archaeology, and the one covering the twentieth century, which has been superseded by events. Even though, as its introduction states, there was felt to be little need to make changes for this edition (as subsequent discoveries had mainly confirmed Stenton's ideas), that itself was written almost thirty years ago.

Taking into account the limitations inherent in its age, Anglo-Saxon England is a truly classic history. It is intended for the interested general reader (its length would put off the casual browser), and is academic enough to be able to stand as a general reference work for a specialist. Eminently readable, learned and thorough, its main problem is a lack of source material, and that is hardly Stenton's fault. It also has a somewhat old-fashioned outlook, being mainly political and economic; if you want an account of the farming practices of the Anglo-Saxon peasant or of everyday life in a tenth century town you should look elsewhere.

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