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16. Early Medieval Scotland: Individuals, Communities and Ideas b David Clarke, Alice Blackwell and Martin Goldberg

I picked this up at the National Museum of Scotland last year. Early medieval Scotland is an extremely poorly documented period; this is an account of what we currently think the archaeology is telling us. I admit to mainly buying it because it's full of gorgeous colour photos. The text is a bit dry but it brought me up to speed on a subject where there was a gap (I know a lot about most of the rest of northern Europe during this period). Definitely worth it for the photos though.


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22. The Origins of European Dissent by RI Moore

I've been putting this off till I am un-brain-fogged enough to discuss the ideas within. Not going to happen.

A foundational text about heresy in the 11th and 12th centuries. Moore is interested less in what heretics believed than what their heresy was in reaction to. This was a period when the church was expanding rapidly, and this brought changes both to the church hierarchy and ordinary people's lives.

Moore's thesis is that for the most part, heresy was a reaction to the failure of the Catholic church to live up to the apostolic ideals of the early church, and was most prevalent where the apparatus of secular government was lacking, not where the church was weak. Absolutely packed full of fascinating stuff - definitely recommended.

23. and 27. Brass in Pocket and Worse Than Dead by Stephen Puleston

I downloaded these to the Kindle in a moment of weakness - Amazon was telling me I'd like them and were selling the trilogy for £4.

The gimmick is that they are set in north Wales, and I was about to head there for the weekend. The other gimmick is that the detective, DI Drake, has OCD. His real problem is that he's a jerk, though. It is unclear to me whether the author grasps the difference.

Anyway, they're pretty average thrillers - the prose is pretty pedestrian and the pacing occasionally odd, especially in the first book, but the action starts on the first page and the mystery is engaging enough that I wanted to know what happened next.

24. Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve

A re-read for the book club. I loved it when I first read it when it came out, and it holds up to a re-reading. It's a re-telling of the King Arthur myth for a young adult audience. It's about how myths are made and where they sit in relation to truth. There are strong female characters and some gender swapping. The parts set in the ruins of the Roman baths in Bath are creepy. Still highly recommended.

25. The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages by Robert Bartlett

In the late 13th century, a man named William Cragh was hanged for rebellion in Wales. We know about this mainly because he miraculously came back to life, and was the subject of a Papal enquiry some (probably) 15 years later and there are nine surviving eyewitness accounts.

This is a short volume, but packed with interesting stuff. It would be suitable for beginners but I learned a lot from it. Bartlett talks about how medieval people perceived time, about how the process of canonisation worked, and the complicated social and political systems of medieval South Wales.

Not important in the history of ideas the way the RI Moore volume is, but a good read full of interesting bits nonetheless.

26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

I actually hadn't read this one before - I would certainly have remembered the end if I had! It's one of the novella-length Holmes tales. All of the usual elements you expect from a Holmes story - hard to put down.

I read it because I'd just bought one of the modern reboots, as well as in anticipation of thew new Paul Cornell book - thought I should immerse myself in the real thing first.

I really do need to get my hands on the annotated version.

27. See above
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Wow, I am spectacularly bad at this. Once again I had a lot of thoughts at the time but have undoubtedly forgotten everything I wanted to say.

55. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Or That Book What Won All the Awards This Year.

It's space opera, which is really not my thing unless it's by Iain M Banks or Ken Macleod. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the world building. I didn't find the use of all-female pronouns as distracting as I feared, and I totally get what Leckie is doing there. For me, however, that wasn't the most interesting thing about the society described - it's a massive culture on a Culture-level scale but built on class and family and clientage. That was interesting as in theory it shouldn't work at that scale. Also the use of dead bodies as vessels for an AI was interesting, as was the AIs' development of personality.

Having said that I didn't care much about the plot (big honking space gun, whoopee), the scene where the two main characters fall off a bridge is a treat; really visceral. Ow.

I'm not going to run out and buy the sequels but will probably grab them at the library at some point.

56. The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey

ie Mike Carey, author of Lucifer, Hellblazer, the Felix Castor novels etc.

This one is hard to talk about without massively spoilering, but it's fair to say that it is a zombie apocalypse story that is very tender and human but violent and horrific at the same time. The ending is predictable on one level but with the most wonderful twist.

I can't recommend this highly enough, it is beautiful.

57. Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500-1600 by Karen Vieira Powers

I thought this was going to be academic and difficult, but it is a very good basic introduction to how women's roles changed in the Aztec and Inca empires after the Spanish conquest, and then goes on to discuss the roles of Spanish and mixed race women in Latin America. I knew most of the introductory part about women's roles in the Aztec and Inca worlds; the rest was new to me. It's clearly told and really, really depressing. It left me wanting to know more, but there are not a lot of English-language sources and my Spanish is a long way from being up to that.

58. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

December's book club book.

I expected to hate this because I don't play video games, but it's a pretty good ripping yarn about a disenfranchised youth in a distopian near-future playing a video game to become the richest person in the world, and then to save his life. It is oddly paced and so there are parts I ripped through and parts that dragged, but a good waste of a few hours.

It probably didn't help that I figured out where the first part of the puzzle would be found because I knew that ludus means game as well as school and was waiting for the character to catch up.

59. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The BBC were making a big thing out of their production over Christmas, and I hadn't read the book since I was about 13, so I grabbed one. It takes about 4 hours to read. The characters are cutout stereotypes but the plotting and tension are first rate. Good fun.

So far I've only watched the first part of the adaptation. It's pretty good but the changes made have all been completely unnecessary, and it looks like there are more, and stupider, changes in the concluding two parts.

60. The First English Empire: Power and Identities in the British Isles 1093-1343 by RR Davies

This is all a bit High Middle Ages to be in my comfort zone. I meant to read it when it came out over a decade ago and I came across it in the library recently. It's the write-up of a series of lectures so it is more a collection of essays than a comprehensive narrative of how the English put their stamp on the rest of the British Isles - culturally as well as politically. Also why, unlike other European countries as they expanded and cohered in this period, why Wales, Scotland and Ireland remained culturally, linguistically and politically separate. My interest is in the north of England which, at the time of the Norman conquest, was not necessarily destined to be part of England (or Scotland) at all.

Recommended, if this is Your Thing. It's a reasonably easy read for the non-specialist but with good notes if you wish to follow anything up.
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13. England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381 by Juliet Barker

What am I doing reading about the late medieval period when my interests have been creeping steadily back to the migration age, you may ask. Barker was pimping it out on Start the Week a while ago and the library had it, so I thought why not?

She was convincing on the radio about how the term "peasants' revolt" is Wrong, and that's the kind of stuff I love. If you look past the chroniclers, who were all obviously terrified by the revolt, and into the records of the courts etc, what you find is a revolt by the people that would later become the middle class. It was far more organised and focussed in its aims than we (ie even those of us who've done this at undergraduate level) have been told.

The minutiae of the revolt weren't terribly interesting to me but the examination of what actually happened is incredibly important, and her examination of late medieval life in England was (a) a good refresher (hey, I only know *anything* about this in the first place because I did an extensive undergrad paper on the attitudes towards death in the middle ages especially in relation to the Black Death), and (b) made several important points that I had long suspected but didn't really have the tools to examine. The most important is that the level of literacy at the time has been grossly underestimated since, well, even then.

Not all of it is the most gripping read in the world, but essential stuff if you care at all about social history, the history of ideas, the history of labour movements and history that's contrary to what they taught you at school/university (apologies if universities aren't teaching it that way any more - my experience was a long time ago!)
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11. The Franks by Edward James

Last year I read The Anglo-Saxon World and, particularly in the early period, it referenced the Franks a lot, which made me realise my knowledge is really rusty.

This is, as far as I can tell, the only single-volume book on the Franks in English, and it's pretty old (1988 - which means I might have even used it as reference in grad school).

The only other book in The Peoples of Europe series I've read is The Norsemen in the Viking Age, and that is technical and really difficult, assuming loads of knowledge in many different areas, so I was braced for difficulty.

This, on the other hand, really is a good basic introduction. I don't think there's much there I didn't know when I was studying the migration age, but it's a good reminder. I find myself looking for something more up to date and in depth, though.
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23. The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian popes and imperial pretenders by Peter Heather.

Got this from the library because I wasn't sure about it. I needn't have worried - it's very good indeed and the fact that it's taken me nearly two months to read says more about my state of mind recently than about the book.

Heather, who has written a lot about the aftermath of Rome, examines here three "pretenders" who attempted to resurrect the Roman Empire in the West - Theoderic, Justinian and Charlemagne. I have an intellectual blind spot for all things Carolingian, but I found the first two sections fascinating. The final section is about how the Church finally took on the power of the Roman empire in the west. Important, but I also have a blind spot for canon law (there's a reason my career was in the early middle ages).

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, and will definitely be looking for his other work. And just about anything on the western European successors peoples to the Romans, and the migration age... my main focus of interest is definitely moving back in time.
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72. Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons by Philip A Shaw

Given the subject matter, I expect it was [livejournal.com profile] cavalorn who brought its existence to my attention.

This is a short but extremely dense book. It's about the evidence for the two pagan goddesses mentioned by Bede, Eostre and Hreda, who have mostly been considered by scholars to have been made up by Bede.

But that was before a lot of the evidence of votive offerings throughout northern Europe was compiled.

There is a quick chapter on the archaeological findings and discussing the pitfalls of thinking of anything as "pan-Germanic" in the period, etc. The next chapter is a quick discussion of the linguistic principles - and I was really glad here that this is something I studied at postgrad level. I'd largely forgotten about i-mutation, Second Fronting, Grimm's Law etc, but it would have been a lot harder to follow the actual content if this was the first exposure I'd had.

The rest is really technical linguistic stuff about what may and may not be evidence of - well, anything. There's lots of attempted reconstruction of lost language, eg proto-Germanic. The verdict is that there is some evidence that some people in some parts of the Germanic world had some kind of religious affiliation to goddesses with these names, but that's about all that can be proved. And that we should think of most Germanic deities in terms of the social groups who worshipped them rather than function. And that early Christian Anglo-Saxons had a more complex attitude towards the pre-Christian past than they have previously been given credit for.

Even a couple of years ago I would have been too brain fogged to be able to follow this. However, the linguistics stuff came right back to me even though I abandoned this field of study in 1993. I'd almost forgotten that I used to be the kind of nerd who worked on reconstructing lost languages (usually early Northumbrian dialect of Anglo-Saxon).
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49. The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe by RI Moore

Or, why everything that's been written about heresy in the high middle ages for the last century is Not Quite Right as a result of too much taking the sources at face value without questioning ulterior motives.

A really good examination of how secular and church institutions were taking a lot more control of people's lives in the 11th and 12th centuries, the insecurities and anxieties these created in the institutions and the people, and how this led to accusations of heresy.

I wasn't sure I was going to agree with this, so I got it from the library, but a couple of chapters in it was clear that this book is spot on, so I bought my own copy. I have made notes but will want to re-read and refer to bits of it.

When I was a medievalist I did some work on the Cathar heresy, and I've spent a fair amount of time in its supposed heartland, the Languedoc. I liked the idea of heresy because I liked the idea of there being an alternative to what is often presented (wrongly) at undergrad level as a monolithic "medieval mindset". At the same time, a lot of it struck me as so obviously the precursor of the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries (a period when the Church, Catholic or Protestant, was sticking its nose even more firmly in everyone's business, but there's a whole essay in that) and very dubious in that the Church seemed to need heresy to promote itself and create an enemy.

Keeping people scared and compliant - the Powers That Be have been doing it for a very, very long time.

This book was a somewhat harder going than I expected (they sell it in Waterstones, I was expecting more popular history than academic history and I was wrong), but entirely worth it. The author has written a few books on the development of medieval society and I definitely want to read them now.

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