Book review

Can we do History in novels?

This post came to me when I was thinking about films for a previous post. I came to the conclusion that yes we can ‘do history’ by watching films and this leads to my next question, can we ‘do history’ by reading historical novels?

Photo by cottonbro on

First a little bit about me. I am dyslexic and I find reading difficult. you might think I have picked the wrong vocation, a historian, because that involves a lot of reading. Well you are right but I did not choose my vocation, its the only thing that I can do. To escape the limitations posed by my disability I have to be humble and wear funny coloured glasses, read very slowly and use audio-books where ever possible. I also use a variety of books which include historical fantasy books.

One of the best authors that I have ever come across is Harry Sidebottom. I have just finished his new book, <a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="">The Burning Road: The scorching new historical thriller from the Sunday Times bestsellerThe Burning Road, which was brilliant. Mr Sidebottom is an academic and a teacher so alongside being an author completes a disgusting holy trinity of over achievement. I first came across his work in <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//"> Warrior of Rome which I found to be an incredibly haunting novel. I have come to the conclusion that Mr Sidebottoms success lies in his incredibly good writing skills. These allow him to paint such vivid pictures of the ancient world, pictures of semen stained statues, soldiers in the tavern and the scene of the day after the siege failed. Somehow the wordsmith manages to allow you to look into this world and that is the value in my mind.

The power and value of good historical fantasy is that the material is as ‘true’ as a text book but at the same time over painted by false characters who open the doors and allow our imagination to gain access to those facts. For me this has been helpful. As a guide at the Lunt Roman Fort in Coventry I had to create an imaginary image of the fort that I could communicate to visitors and Warrior of Rome certainly had a role in that.

Book review

What we have lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain (Book Review)

James Hamilton-Paterson presents a very convincing case for the decline of British industry in this well written and passionate book. Without being extreme or raging the author presents the case of how much decline has occurred in the last seventy years and why. From his own childhood experience he paints a picture where nearly everything is made in Britain and across industries as diverse as motor cycles to shipping shows that in the modern age most things are made abroad. Almost incredibly he shows even the public squares of London are being bought up and possessed by foreign owners.

This is not a partisan book although the authors leftist credentials do shine through. The blame for decline is equally shared between workers, managers, politicians and the general public. The scope moves steadily from the workplace, to the boardroom, to parliament and to the schools showing that Britain simply does not value engineers, their skills and their contribution. In this I am reminded of Niomi Klines No Logo where she argues that modern business is about brands which try to distance themselves from the actual business of making things. The manufacturing process being something grubby and distasteful. Its this attitude that I think is the most dangerous and one that I have experienced working in museums. It pervades British Industry, society and culture. It drives young people away from honest, well paid and rewarding work towards glamorous careers that fade like fairy gold into meaningless jobs that sap the life and blood from the soul. Which is why my little boy is encouraged to play with lego, watch James May’s Magnificent Machines: How men in sheds have changed our lives and play with toy trains. In one respect I do disagree with the author in that I do think that our industry can be revived and that we can in the future make our own products and export them to the world but that will take some work.

On that note I would recommend this book for anyone thinking about the decline of Britain in general and the decline of British industry in particular since the 2nd World War.

If you would like to read What We Have Lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain please follow this Amazon Associates link. It will get me a few pennies and help me to continue doing my work.

Book review Classics

What am I reading? York Notes to the Wasteland

I have been interested in TS Eliot for a long time and finally decided to start reading his books seriously.  He was of course a genius whose literary merit I struggle to come to terms with.  I think the it is very important just to admit these things.  I am good at what I do but when I need a little help I ask for it.  I find it useful to get hold of these York notes for a good, brief but well informed overview of why the book I am reading is useful.

Book review Classics CS Lewis History Stocism

What have I just finished reading? A Classical Education

I have a talk coming up in March that quite frankly is scaring me to death.  I have to give a series of forty minute talks to some ….. teenagers!  (Dan Dan Daaa!)

So yes I am brushing up on my Classical knowledge.  As a young and foolish man I really hated the Classics in general and Philosophy in particular but now at the age of 30 (version 9) I have come to love them.  My other interests include CS Lewis.  I have read everything that Lewis wrote and now with my classical knowledge increasing I can understand him a deeper level.  I never realised how much stoicism was in Mere Christianity or the Screwtape Letters!

I have just finished reading A Classical Education which proved to be a good read, full of interesting facts and enlightening.