Monday, November 19, 2012

More History Please

1215: The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger, John Gillingham

Summary: Surveying a broad landscape through a narrow lens, 1215 sweeps readers back eight centuries in an absorbing portrait of life during a time of global upheaval, the ripples of which can still be felt today.
At the center of this fascinating period is the document that has become the root of modern freedom: the Magna Carta. Never before had royal authority been challenged so fundamentally. The Great Charter would become the foundation of the U.S. government and legal system, and nearly eight hundred years later, two of Magna Carta's sixty-three clauses are still a ringing expression of freedom for mankind. But it was also a time of political revolution and domestic change that saw the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart, King John, and -- in legend -- Robin Hood all make their marks on history.
The events leading up to King John's setting his seal to the famous document at Runnymede in June 1215 form this rich and riveting narrative that vividly describes everyday life from castle to countryside, from school to church, and from hunting in the forest to trial by ordeal. For instance, women wore no underwear (though men did), the average temperatures were actually higher than they are now, the austere kitchen at Westminster Abbey allowed each monk two pounds of meat and a gallon of ale per day, and it was possible to travel from Windsor to the Hampshire coast without once leaving the forest.
Broad in scope and rich in detail, 1215 ingeniously illuminates what may have been the most important year of our history.
Review: An informative overview of late 12th, early 13th century life in Europe, especially England, but is quite light on the history leading up to the Magna Carta.
I was eager to read this book because I am trying to learn more about medieval history and the Magna Carta is an important document. I was disappointed in this book. Perhaps it's another case of I should read the summaries more closely, but with a book titled 1215: The Year of the Magna Carta, I thought it would focus a lot more on the actual Magna Carta. The actual chapter that dealt with the Magna Carta did focus a little on the history of the rebellion, how the Magna Carta came to be, and how it was dealt with after John's death, but that was only about twenty pages or so. I'll have to read a more academic work to learn more about the history King John and the Magna Carta.
This book did provide some interesting information on how people lived in that time period and what the world was like then. It's a good primer for someone seeking brief, basic information, but for somehow who wishes to study medieval literature and history, it's much too light on information. It's fluff. 

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those looking for a brief overview of medieval life in 12th and 13th England and Europe.

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