I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
I gave top marks to Ian Mortimer's book The Time Traveler's Guide To Medieval England, and I'm overjoyed beyond words to see this book now in the Audible lineup. More please! Mortimer's claim of history is that a relic or a ruin can only teach us so much about history; what we understand about our own world is what makes those lessons accessible. As such, the "gimmicky" nature of this history book sets it apart from all others because it's not "that book." It's an in-depth portrait of the reign of England's "Golden Age" under Gloriana that connects the dots between the people of that time and ours. It's a present tense account that allows the reader to fully explore a time, place, and culture in a fully three-dimensional way, complete with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, personalities, attitudes, hopes, fears, ambitions, and everything else that is generally omitted from the textbooks of names, dates, and events. Complex issues such as religion and politics of the age are brought to life in a way that an outsider can understand it and embrace it as a catapult to further exploration. But at the same time, you get to walk down the streets, take in the sights, meet the people, and peek into their lives like a tourist... or an intruder. You will laugh. You will cringe. You will pick your jaw up off the ground. And mostly, you will become familiar with a world that would otherwise be completely alien to us and gain an appreciation for it you might not otherwise get from those other books alone.
As with the Medieval England book, this is a near-perfect work, not only for the historically-inclined like myself, but also for those who claim to hate history because it's "boring." Mortimer's brand of history is a public service for the rest of us that brings both the modern sensibilities of "just the facts" found in the sterile accounts offered today as well as the kind of storytelling magic that historians of yesteryear brought to the table. The result is as close to living history as we can get without actually traveling through time, and it is astounding, if only because we don't have to smell it. If I have a complaint at all, it's that I want MORE. Hopefully those other books will be added to the Audible lineup in the near future.
This is one of those great overview books where you get enough of the story to be engaged, but you're also left wanting more. In short, my kind of history book. I love these kinds of launch pads into deeper research. Without a book like this, the in-depth works keep the reader on the outside. A work like this helps a person to do so much more than tread water; it makes history accessible to everyone. This is not my first dip into the Plantagenet history, but it is the first time I've had it delivered cohesively and linearly. What a difference that makes, putting it all into persective! Now I can read these longer stories about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard I, and so on with a far better understanding of how it all fits together.
Clive Chafer's narration... I have really mixed feelings about. I want so much to give him high marks. The man has an incredibly fantastic voice, the kind of voice you wish you could have so as to impress others. The problem is that his inflection and overall delivery comes across, and I hate to say this, as a parody of a BBC newscaster. Anyone remember those Monty Python skits where Eric Idle would read the news? It's that sort of thing, only with a more authoritative voice and no punchline. His cadence is very similar to this as well, where he's very "radio announcer" instead of being conversational or documentary narrative as it needs to be, and it's repetative. Let me attempt to illustrate this. You remember when your teacher first introduced you to Shakespeare and iambic pentameter, and that rhythm (da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM) was plugged in to stay for the rest of your life? Chafer isn't doing that exactly, but there is a cadence there in regard to his vocal inflection that will make itself known within just a few minutes of listening, and it goes like that to the end of the book. Maybe that's just how I'm hearing it, but if you do pick up this title - and it's well worth your credit to do so - you can judge for yourself and tell me if I'm just way off base. Based on other reviews, it seems I'm in the minority here.
This is the most unique history book I've ever had the privilege to journey through. And make no mistake, this one is very much a journey. The author encourages you to use all 5 senses, peek behind every locked door, and worm your way into all walks of medieval society as though nobody noticed you weren't native to the time. I almost feel like this should be put into the hands of anyone who claims they don't like history, and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who's already interested. It's the perfect companion to any tome filled with names, dates, and places precisely because it isn't THAT book. Instead, it comes across more like a visceral experience. I'd love to have more books like this.