History as a series of interconnected stories written by authors who have probably done as much rese

ConversesThe Scepter'd Isle, medieval history of England, 500 to 1500 AD

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History as a series of interconnected stories written by authors who have probably done as much rese

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gen. 13, 2007, 4:13am

I just finished re-reading "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. I read it in 1989 when it was first published. I was struck by how much I had forgotten of the story in the 17 years since I first read it.

I was amazed by how much I learned again. I've also been browsing through the "The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval England". However, I'd read a page or 2 of it and then return avidly to Follet's book. What a painless, fulfilling, exciting way to learn about Medieval England! What is history but a study of the character and events in the lives of the people who lived it.

Chapter two of the Oxford begins with the followiing sentence: "History has often taken shape with the tellikng of tales." I think authors who understand that history is in the details and who have researched primary and secondary sources and then bring thei considerable writing skills to the subject are far more fun and educational to the reader than a historian who often write about facts not about feelings.

Follet's writing about the murder of Becket at the end of the book was far more powerful than anything I'd read about it before.

Can anyone suggest other fiction/nonfiction books written about medieval England with similar impact? My TBR pile is getting wobbly.

Bookworm, aka waltbrow

gen. 14, 2007, 7:51pm

I've stopped listening to the snobbery of Academia regarding what is "acceptable" history and what is not--preceipitated by my addressing an Alison Weir book in an 18th century England class only to be scoffed, glared and practically laughed at by the professor. What I've learned since then is that there are plenty of authors who do as much (if not more) research on a topic as those in the Academy, but publish their findings to the masses. ~*gasp*~ The masses?! Sacrelige!

Not so much.

Along with a few other historians, I find the Alison Weir books to be very engaging, well researched, and annotated well. Most recently I have read Eleanor of Aquitaine, and just purchased Queen Isabella by the same author about Edward II's wife. I haven't found many engaging texts when dealing with Medieval and Renaissance individuals, but Weir seems to make the interactions worth reading. I am a Renaissance Lit (Early Modern period) scholar, and I still go back to her Elizabeth I over and over again.

feb. 20, 2007, 4:37am

You must have heard of Sharon Kay Penman by now, since it's been a month of asking for recommendations - but if you haven't, she does a magnificent job with medieval England, Wales, and a bit of France. A personal favorite is The Sunne in Splendour, focused on the Wars of the Roses.

I'd like to defend academia. I'm not sure how old you are, LyriqueTragedy, but when I mentioned to my advisor in history that I had become interested through historical fiction, he was pleased and said that was where history got most of its students.

juny 2, 2007, 7:58pm

Are you British? I love the Alison Weir books -- she brings the period and the people alive. I wrote a history book once, and although it had been accepted for publication, a British scholar joined the editorial board and insisted they turn my book down on the grounds that it was "too readable." Apparently they really distrust any scholarship that is enjoyable to read!

Editat: juny 16, 2007, 3:24pm

#4 It is an interesting premise that academics distrust 'readablility'.

I also think that the Alison Weir books are a wonderful read. I think that anything that makes history come alive and illustrates history in - dare I say it - an artistic rather than pure intellectual way, is very worth while. I think Weir is one of the best at engaging the lay person - I found her more enjoyable that Antonia Fraser, by way of comparison. I also enjoyed Jane Dunn, and her book, Elizabeth and Mary : cousins, rivals, queens (she also wrote a rather good book on Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, which is a subject of interest to me, but not perhaps this thread).

I think that the academics distrust 'artistic' or 'readablility' in history because of the risk of misrepresentation of the facts or false expansion of the truth.

However, when actually considered, history can never be a completely factual representation, as it relies on the future scholars interpretation of the facts, coloured by the politics and social values of the day.

I once read that the profiles of famous people, such as nobles and leaders, is often 'created' or expanded by the succeeding generations to promote their own causes. The absolute truth is never completely clear. A case in point may be Richard the Lionheart.

Perhaps manipulation of history will happen less now with the advent of widely spread information - the internet and popular journalism in the past few decades. But I think that our history must be partially considered an art form of the succeeding generations!?!

juny 16, 2007, 3:40pm

I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth very much as well. I was living in London at the time I read it, and it was a kick to take day trips and visit the places mentioned in the book.

I can't think of any other historical fiction that was as satisfying... There are Edward Rutherfurd's books of course, but I can't remember anything from the ones I've read. In fact, I can't even remember specifically which ones they were.