Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer

I got this after being rather taken with a similar book about Medieval England, by the same author (reviewed here).

It’s history, Jim, but not as we know it. As with the aforementioned book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England adopts a present tense approach to the past. It can seem a little odd, especially at first, but the style fits a history that’s almost a guided tour of everyday life. Entertainment, food, the weird way that chimneys and glass revolutionise housing and the persistent social divides of the class system abound.

However, it’s the area of religion which marks this era as most alien. In certain ways, contrary to the common assumption that things tend to improve over time, the 16th century seems crueller than those before, perhaps due to a combination of bitter religious rivalry and the uncertain nature of what might come after Elizabeth.

On Queen Elizabeth herself, there are frequent references (and even some poetry written by her). These range from the personal to the politico-religious, as she enforces her will and dominates the political scene during a time of great change. It is not a biography or anything approaching that, however [nor does it seek to be].

The writing is detailed and immersive without being difficult (this isn’t my sort of era usually so I thought I might feel like a fish out of water, but this wasn’t the case). As is common with such books, there are two sets of glossy pages with photographs relating to the time [I checked some reviews on Amazon, and apparently these do not show up well on the Kindle version].

As with the Medieval version (although more so) I did skim the lists (often regarding the price of various goods). Here and there sections seemed a little long, although it’s to be expected that with a general tour approach to history some bits will engage a certain reader more than others.

Overall, an easy to read history that occasionally overdoes the detail but generally gets the balance of depth and brevity right.


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