Normally I endorse one or two books a year, as I've given up reviewing books. They are titles that have been suggested to me that I have then chosen to read - normally because the subject or approach interests me. These are the titles that I've thought were particualrly good and which I think deserve as wide an audience as possible.
Shadowlands: A Journey Through Lost Britain
Matthew Green£20.00 £19.00
A beautiful book, truly original. Shadowlands is poetic history written with great literary flare, inquisitiveness, soul-searching and humanity. The part-travelogue, part-history approach conjures up a wonderful series of worlds lost, time passing and sympathy with the dead. It is a marvellous achievement.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries: A New History
This is a landmark book. Clark has swept away many old generalisations and assumptions in favour of a much more detailed and nuanced account of this social (as well as religious) revolution. The end result is nothing short of magnificent - yet also intricate, intimate, touchingly human and endlessly fascinating.
Hidden Hands: The Lives of Manuscripts and Their Makers
Mary Wellesley£25.00 £23.75
This is an engaging and beautiful book - the engagement arising from the author's deep commitment to understanding the lives of medieval women and men, and the beauty from her ability to make us see and hear them talking about and living their experiences. It isn't just an introduction to literary manuscripts but also a series of glimpses of the extraordinary diversity of medieval lives. Mary Wellesley has taken jewels from our bibliographic treasures and placed them, carefully and with love, in the palm of the reader's hand.
The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England
Marc Morris£25.00 £23.75
A terrific book – from cover to cover. Marc has a real gift for identifying what the reader really needs to know about a subject and bringing it forward, highlighted, yet carefully presented with all its necessary caveats. To do this with so many different themes and individuals over the full six hundred years of the period is an exceptional achievement. It’s such a rich trove of ancient wonders, worthy of many a night in the mead hall, listening to its telling! Yet it is also a book for our time – in demonstrating how a fractured and diverse set of tribes and kingdoms can come together and end up defending their shared values. He is a genius of medieval narrative, and I am full of admiration.
Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames
Lara Maiklem£10.99 £10.44
Whoever buys it is blessed. I love the fact that [Maiklem] makes herself the centre of this huge, timeless, endless story that reaches from the distant past and flows past all our consciousnesses out to a place far beyond the reach of the estuary. Lara is such a natural writer; every page just tingles with her imagination. It is a love letter to life itself.
William Tyndale: A Very Brief History
Melvyn Bragg£13.99 £13.29
William Tyndale is the only writer in the English language more influential than William Shakespeare. Melvyn Bragg, with his unique view of the broad sweep of social and cultural history, understands this in all its many dimensions. He succinctly lays out the details of Tyndale’s life, achievements and legacy, and vividly shows us the man’s genius, his passion and his ‘heroic innocence’ in the face of Henry VIII’s tyranny. Thus he humanises the story of the English and their Bible. In short, it is one of the greatest stories of individual sacrifice for the greater good in the history of the world.
The Poet's Tale: Chaucer and the year that made The Canterbury Tales
Paul Strohm£9.99 £9.49
Simply a brilliant book, a superb combination of biography, social history and literary scholarship. It is a new model for literary biography, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power behind Five English Thrones
Thomas Asbridge£10.99 £10.44
This is medieval history at its very best - a compelling story told by a historian whose knowledge is both thorough and extensive, and whose enthusiasm for the subject rings out on every page.
The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death in the Sixteenth Century
Joel F. Harrington£10.99 £10.44
To us, state torture and brutal executions are horrifying but to Franz Schmidt, they were the day job - for no less than forty-five years. This is a brilliantly researched and very well written account of the business of extracting confessions and killing criminals, often in barbaric ritualised ways. But it offers much more than a gory account of inflicting suffering. It gives a unique insight into the mind of the professional killer – the sort of man usually regarded with fear and disgust by his contemporaries – and reveals how Franz actually yearned for respectability and acceptance in society. His diary, on which this book is based, reveals how an ordinary family might fall through misfortune into the ignominious position of civic executioners, outcast from decent society, and yet how merciful a man might be in just that role, assisting his condemned prisoners medically as they awaited the final cut. A brutal story but a deeply thought-provoking one.