A romp through history…
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The Very Short Introduction series from Oxford University Press began in 1995 and now lists more than 300 titles, according to this book’s blurb. I’ve seen positive (and not so positive) reviews of several of the titles, but this is the first one I’ve read. I thought that starting with a subject I’m familiar with would give me an opportunity to see how well the book captures the essentials.
First off, the book is not only Very Short but also very small – with a very small font. So handy to carry in a pocket or bag, so long as you don’t need to tote along your reading lamp and magnifying glass. However, it is well laid out and contains some illustrations to break up the text. The reading material in this one runs to 129 pages, plus a list of further reading, a chronology and an index. Handily it also has a genealogical table and a note explaining the value of currencies.
Written by John Guy, one of my favourite historians, I expected the history to be accurate and well-presented, and it is. It’s roughly divided into a chapter per monarch (from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, who gets two in recognition of the length of her reign), with a couple of extra chapters on the Reformation and on Arts and Culture. You can tell from the scope that this must therefore be an exceedingly quick romp through the period. It gives the basics, but not much more. I found it pretty unsatisfying in the early parts where I was most familiar with the history – up to about mid-way through Elizabeth’s reign. I felt the facts were there, but I didn’t get much feel for the personalities or the international picture. However, when we reached the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign, about which I knew very little, it seemed much more rewarding. So I concluded that the error was mine – I should probably have read one on a subject about which I know nothing to really find out how effective these little books are.
Overall, then, a decently presented little history, well-written by a respected historian, that will give the reader the basic facts, but doesn’t add anything new for the reader who may know a little about the subject. I may try another of these at some point in the future. They cover all kinds of topics other than history – philosophy, science, even literature – so it shouldn’t be too hard to find something I know nothing about!
NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.