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In Search of the Dark Ages Paperback – July, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Reflecting the style of his PBS-TV In Search Of series (but without a television tie-in), Wood's carefully researched foray into early medieval Britain sifts a number of unresolved mysteries. Among them are the questions: Does archeological evidence support the theory that the real King Arthur was a British resistance hero who fought Germanic tribes around 540 A.D.? Is the Sutton Hoo grave in East Anglia the burial site of a dead king? What motivated warrior queen Boadicea to poison herself when the Romans crushed the uprising she led? Wood writes with grace and conversational verve as he incorporates the latest findings. He humanizes some of the most uninspiring or obscure figures in British history, including Ethelred the Unready; Eric Bloodaxe, ruler of Viking York; Anglo-Saxon imperialist king Offa, who staged a coup d'etat; and Alfred the Great, pioneer of town planning. History Book Club selection; BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"In Search of the Dark Ages, Michael Wood wrote the book for history on TV."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Checkmark Books; Revised edition (July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816047022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816047024
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 7.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,686,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael K. Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Wood is best known as a BBC "presenter" of the PBS variety, but he's also an Oxford-trained historian. His books (and television series) are solid history but still accessible. This book and his <I>Domesday: A Search for the Roots of England</I> are almost two halves of a whole, an investigation of what happened in England between the departure of the legions and the arrival of William's Normans, and why, and what the effects were on the further development of the "English" (. . . Celtic, Danish, Norwegian, Norman French . . .) people. Lots of maps and illustrations, lots of archaeological plats, and a nice turn of phrase in nearly every paragraph.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was conceived as a companion volume to the author's 1981 BBC documentary series of the same name, and it stays current with a postscript penned in 2001. IN SEARCH OF THE DARK AGES tackles some of the same territory of at least two of Wood's subsequent books, DOMESDAY and IN SEARCH OF ENGLAND, though his objectives and lens are different each time.

Wood's Dark Age parameters are framed by the Roman triumph over the last, first century A.D. Celtic rebellion led by Boudica (that's right; "Boadicea" was a misreading of the calligraphy in the original source) and the Norman Conquest of 1066. In between, he selects a pageant of personages to elucidate succeeding generations and the overlay of first Roman, then Anglo Saxon, Viking and finally Norman cultures: King Arthur, the nameless Sutton Hoo man, Offa, Alfred the Great, Athelstan, Eric Bloodaxe, and Ethelred the Unready. The Dark Ages are quite the challenge in which to go looking for the truth, thickly crusted as they are with the opacity caused by too few extant primary sources and too many Medieval fictions, as well as so many change-ups in cultures, language and leadership. Wood does a quality job of reading the sources, critiquing the fictions and sorting out contemporary scholarship and archeological finds.

Wood writes in an astoundingly lucid voice that rings with wonder. The immediacy of his tone, though unsensational, does leave you feeling blood-soaked as you emerge from these violent times. Despite the ruinous invasions and battles, you can see a shift in values, the coloring of what would become the English language and the evolution of a nation. This is an excellent book for general readers wishing to shore up their knowledge of western civilization.
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Format: Paperback
I loved the care this book took not to become too dryly academic, but at the same time to provide good, useful information. Interesting topics and figures in early English history such as Eric Bloodaxe, Stonehenge and Sutton Hoo are introduced in an engaging way, with many intersting illustrations and maps. This is the perfect book for someone looking to find out more about this subject, but not wanting to be put to sleep.
We can only hope that the television series upon which it is based will someday become available for purchase as well.
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Format: Paperback
I like the way Michael Wood presents history. His BBC documentaries are excellent. "In Search of the Dark Ages" reads like a TV series (and apparently is based on one), as its chapters are a series of vignettes of some of the most important British historical figures during the period of the first millennium (and in the case of William the Conqueror, just beyond).

Wood tells us about the Celtic warrior queen Boadicea; the defender of Roman Britain King Arthur; the Anglo-Saxon chieftain buried at Sutton Hoo, the Anglo-Saxon rulers Offa, Alfred the Great, and Athelstan; the Viking Eric Bloodaxe; the long-reigning failure Ethelred the Unready; and the Norman William the Conqueror, who ended Anglo-Saxon Britain with his invasion of 1066.

This is a book aimed at Britons, as there are things taken for granted that non-Brits may not understand. The biggest flaw is the total lack of maps. This book cries out for them, especially for those of us with a less than total understanding of English geography.

The only other weakness is that in an attempt to be relevant when the book was written in 1981, Wood often describes events in the past with modern counterparts. We get Vietnam references to guerilla warfare (and he probably would have used the term "ethnic cleansing" in some places had the book been written after the wars in the former Yugoslavia). Some of these references might be a bit dated, but the fact that most aren't is a sign that much of the brutality of history is still with us.

There is also a Postscript, written in connection with the 2006 paperback edition, that mentions a few modern archeological discoveries that basically just support the stories in the original edition.

And those stories are fascinating!
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By A Customer on December 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent introductory work to one of the more troublesome blocks of western history. Fast-paced and easily readable, Wood explains how the collapse of Roman Britain heralded the onslaught of different peoples and cultures into Britain and how these vastly differing groups occasionally reached a goal of total mastery of modern England. Celts, Angles, Saxons and Vikings are drawn as the source material and archaelogy reveal them: at once heroic and monstrous, petty and far-seeing. I recommend this book for anyone "in search of" that English historical quicksand prior to the Norman Conquest.
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