Sunday, May 18, 2014

"A History of the Plantagenets," the four-book series by Thomas B. Costain

Thomas B. Costain's four-volume series on the history of the Plantagenents was first copyrighted in the late 1940's and early 1950's (depending on the specific volume). So, they had already been around for quite some time when I first read them the summer I turned 14. That was the summer of the first moon landing, as well as the Manson murders. I've read all four books several times since, though not for a number of years. I've hung onto to them all this time, and have no plans to part with them anytime soon.

It might seem like an odd reading choice for a teenage girl, but I'd been to Europe a few years previously with my parents and fell in love with English history. There's nothing like castles and cathedrals (except maybe outer space) to capture the imagination. So, given that there was a band of people (still unknown and uncaught at the time) in the vicinity who were breaking into people's homes and slaughtering them while they slept, avoiding the current reality by mentally hiding out in the Middle Ages seemed like a plan. 

I had not read history books like these before – as opposed to historical fiction. Costain's narrative made real long-dead figures round up off the pages and come alive. Eleanor of Aquitaine, bad King John, and the Princes in the Tower: real people, real passions and real mysteries. I'm sure the author took some liberties with interpreting the records as pertaining to personalities, but from what I can tell his scholarship seems to hold up well in comparison to more recent books on the same period.

Watching "The Hollow Crown" made me want to learn more about Richard II in particular, and I thought immediately of re-reading these books. Alas, my old, 75 cent paperbacks are yellowed and coming loose from their bindings, so I thought maybe I'd buy myself a new set. It turned out that the most cost-effective way to re-"read" them was to use my audible subscription to pick up the audio versions.

I enjoyed them just as much as previous reads, as read with the classical English accent of narrator David Case. Only raised an eyebrow a couple of times at comments on more modern times that must have seemed apt at the time they were written.

I've followed the re-read of this set with other reads (or listens) and rereads covering, or set in, the same general period. I'm currently finishing the recent, "The Plantagenets" by Dan Jones, and recently listened to "A Burnable Book" by Bruce Holsinger – and I plan to write a little more about these soon.

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