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Popular History in Search of a Fact Checker
on July 14, 2008
My love of medieval history and soft-spot for popular history made this book a natural for me. The story of four daughters of the Count of Provence who became "queens" is set in an era I've study quite a bit yet (back in college!) I know relatively little about Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia and Beatrice.
Any biography of a major figure from the 13 century has hurdles: few contemporaneous first-hand accounts, few to none documents written by the figures themselves, etc. These problems are compounded exponentially when the figure in question is female. All too often, women just didn't rate making it into the chronicles. So Goldstone has her work cut out for her. She makes a valiant effort to piece together the careers and characters of these women drawing conclusions from the smattering of available facts. The reader can take issues with these conclusions but that, to me, is one of the rewards of reading about this era.
All that said, this book was a disappointment. Other reviewers have noted the multitude of factual errors in this book and I have to add my voice to the chorus. Silly, stupid mistakes are present in every single chapter. Were all the fact checkers on vacation when this book was being edited? Did Goldstone get her index cards mixed up? Popular history often needs to tread lightly on the details but never on the facts.
The narrative starts well but writing starts to become heavy going before youngest sister Beatrice hits the stage. Goldstone starts overwhelming the reader with "events" that aren't particularly telling about the four sisters or illuminating of their times. She also over does the adjectives; Sanchia is too frequently "gentle Sanchia", for example. The last quarter of the book was a real trial for me to finish.
I've given this book three stars, the writing and the factual errors would make this book a two but the decent start and the relative obscurity of the topic earn it an extra star from me. If you want an intro to the period this is not the best place to start. If you are immersed in this period, you may find the errors too annoying to bear. If you are interested in learning about these four under-known sisters and their times and are comfortable skipping judiciously, this book may be for you.
Kindle note: photos are included.