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Monday, June 6, 2011

Henry II - Eleanor of Acquitaine - Thomas Becket

If you ever had the idea that history books (read textbooks & big thick tomes with lots of obtuse words and tons of footnotes) are invariably dull.... think again. Many of today’s great history writers, be they professional historians or amateurs write really good stuff. As in fun to read. When they pack it into an exciting story like narative you really can’t go wrong. In my view they are two versions of this trend. History and historical fiction.
Lets start with straight history and biography. This is nonfiction based on accurate and well researched background material. The best ones tell a true story and bring it alive. Think of authors like Steven Ambrose, David McCullough, William Manchester, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Shelby Foote and many others.
The other equally exciting development is the vast improvement in historical fiction writing. Here the authors knowledge of the subject combined with excellent writing/storytelling technique will surely get your attention. As long as the line between fiction and nonfiction is clear, I really don’t believe it to be a bad thing if that line narrows. That is IF the writing is honest and well done and IF it draws more interest in history from the general public.
There are more and more writers of historical fiction who are doing really great things. One of my favorites is Sharon Kay Penman. Her Eleanor of Aquitaine series is a good example of an ability to draw you into another time and place. In When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance and Devils Brood she brings the early medieval period alive as no one else ever has. In Time and Chance we learn of the tempestuous marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II in a magnificent story of love, power, ambition-and betrayal.

The book is wonderful telling of real history played out by real people where we can see: how issues of the separation of church and state bedeviled Henry II and his friend and counselor Thomas Becket upon the laters appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. The degree to which the King might have been culpable in Beckets murder.
The reasons why Henry and Eleanor's marriage drifted apart. The reasons why Henry and Eleanor were well-intended but ineffective parents. "Reality TV" pales into insignificance with books like this.......


Arkansas Patti said...

Sounds good TB. I will look for it.
I probably won't be able to comment on your blog but will try.

Sally Wessely said...

This book sounds very interesting. You find some good reads out there.

Steve said...

I think I'll have to try some of these lesser boring history tomes to put a fresh spin on my interest in history.

Steve King