Friday, 27 April 2001

Michael Wood: In Search of England (1999)

Edition: Viking, 1999
Review number: 807

Like every nation, England has its collection of historical mythology, which is of varying truthfulness. This collection of essays is mostly about this subject, the famous and the less famous - Arthur and Robin Hood, on the one hand, to the survival of ancient crafts ("the last bowl-turner of England"), to turning points in English history. Though England is the unifying theme, the collection of essays is not sufficiently focused to make them read as though they were specially written for this book, and there plenty of things which could have provided interesting material but which are not covered - Magna Carta, Simon de Montfort and the English Parliament, and so on.

The eclectic approach is the major problem that In Search of England faces; in other respects (and certainly as far as individual chapters are concerned), it is as interesting and well written as Wood's earlier In Search of ... volumes. Wood's popular history offers a very personal approach particularly appropriate in the TV versions which have been made of some of the books; his obvious engagement with the past makes it exciting and alive for the view and reader.

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