Wednesday, 22 August 2001

Michael Wood: In Search of the Dark Ages (1981)

Edition: BBC Books, 1981 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 917

The TV series which this book accompanied was my first introduction to Michael Wood's style of history; then, it was not as personal as it has become (In Search of Alexander and Conquistadors being as much about his own journeying as about the history). Perhaps Wood's background as a Dark Ages scholar has something to do with this, making the book more academic in tone.

In form, the book is a series of examinations of pivotal characters from Britain between the Roman and Norman conquests - Boadicea, King Arthur, the Sutton Hoo body, Offa, Alfred, Athelstan, Eric Bloodaxe, Ethelred the Unready, and William the Conqueror. The emphasis is clearly political; even though the conversion of the English and the disputes between the Roman and Celtic churches are important to the development of medieval Britain, very little is said about them. There is nothing outside England, either, though this may because its history is better documented than other areas of the British Isles.

Of course, the book is not intended to be a narrative history of the period. It is a set of snapshots of prominent secular figures, and if there is any unifying theme, it must be the nature and development of Dark Ages kingship in England. The format certainly has the advantage that even the most uninformed about history are likely to have heard of most of the figures covered. In this way, the book does introduce a reader to the scene of England in the thousand years described here; at the same time, there is plenty of material to interest the reader who starts knowing more.

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