In Search of England: Journeys into the English Past

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9780520225824: In Search of England: Journeys into the English Past

England is the birthplace of many immortal legends told around the world: King Arthur and Camelot, the Holy Grail, Robin Hood, the mysterious Isle of Avalon. But are these famous stories based on historical events and actual people? And what do they tell us about the character and origins of the Anglo-Saxon world, a culture that helped shape American identity?

In his absorbing new book, Michael Wood examines the roots of English history. Peeling back the layers of literary and oral material that have accumulated over the ages, he offers a fascinating series of rich stories--part history, part myth--that, directly or indirectly, touch on questions of English history and identity. He looks back at the legends surrounding Alfred the Great, King Athelstan, the lost library of Glastonbury, and more.

Wood's emphasis is the Early Middle Ages, and the first two sections of the book offer deep excursions into particular moments in the history of that era. In addition to recounting some well-known legends, Wood considers the manuscripts and other primary sources of historical information on which they are based, assessing the validity of existing documentation, fleshing out historical contexts, and considering the treatment throughout history of these stories by famous writers, poets, and moviemakers.

In the third part of In Search of England, Wood writes about places that illuminate interesting aspects of early England: Tinsley Wood, near Sheffield, which has been claimed as the site of Athelstan's great victory against the Celts in 937; a farmhouse in Devon which has been occupied since Domesday and possibly long before; and the village of Peatling Magna in Leicestershire, scene of an extraordinary confrontation with King Henry III in 1265. These are the places and events that offer a complementary version of the history that is discussed earlier in the book.

In Search of England is published at a significant moment. With the European union, and with assertions of independence within the United Kingdom, questions about English national identity have become increasingly topical both there and abroad. Wood offers a potent and revealing account of the origins of a culture that has had a significant impact worldwide. His narrative is a rich unfolding of history and legend reaching to the present day, and a delightfully readable meditation on the roots of the Anglo-Saxon world.

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Review :

From the popular television historian whose previous books include In Search of the Trojan War and In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great comes this study of a pressing question: Now that Britain seems to be an increasingly meaningless concept, what does it mean to be English? Michael Wood traces an answer through many of the most cherished national myths, such as Robin Hood, King Arthur, Alfred the Great, and the mysteries of Glastonbury. As you would expect from Wood, he ranges about over the whole of England, rather than sticking to the obvious places. He visits Tinsley Wood near Sheffield, claimed as the site of Athelstan's great victory over the Celts in A.D. 937. He finds a farmhouse in Devon that has been continuously occupied for 1000 years and a village in Leicestershire where the local peasantry confronted the king's soldiers in 1265 to tell them that they were violating the rights of "the common people of England." The book also boasts a wonderful, judicious collection of reproductions of old posters and paintings showing how English forebears, particularly the Victorians, imaginatively recreated the country's past in their own image. Timely, readable, and fascinating, this is popular history at its very best. --Christopher Hart, Amazon.co.uk

About the Author :

Michael Wood is a writer and historian living in England. He has worked as a journalist, broadcaster, and filmmaker, with over sixty films to his name. His book In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (California, 1997), based on his PBS television series, was a bestseller in England and in the United States. He is also the author of In Search of the Trojan War (updated edition, California, 1998), which also accompanied a PBS series, and other books.

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