`Reader friendly' history of British Isles

By , Tom D'Evelyn is the Monitor's book editor.

The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Christopher Haigh. New York: Cambridge University Press. 392 pp. $35. Use this book once, and you'll use it a thousand times. It covers the history of Great Britain and Ireland in seven sections, each of which is broken down into several more sections, each written by an expert and lavishly illustrated. It's elaborately organized, with several features to help readers through the thickets of history, including maps, marginal descriptions, biographies, and valuable ``Who's Who'' information. In short, this is state-of-the-art presentation of history.

Besides 13 eminent historians, including editor Christopher Haigh and editorial consultant G. R. Elton, a team of some 80 historians helped put the book together.

The main text accounts for the basic narrative, with ``government and politics'' being the central categories. Each section also includes essays on problems special to the period. For example, Section 4 is titled ``Reformation and Inflation, 1450-1625.'' Christopher Haigh wrote the overview, which is accompanied by a full-page map. Next comes an essay on ``Government and Politics, 1450-1553,'' focused on ``problems of succession.'' This section is illustrated by a family tree of the Houses of York and L ancaster, the Tudor family. Following that is an essay on government and politics in the latter part of the period, focused on ``Crown, Church, and Parliament.'' The essays are illustrated with full-color reproductions of paintings, and the margins include mini-essays, in reduced type, on things like ``monopolies'' and ``Essex's Rebellion.'' This book can be read at several levels, depending on the need of the reader. In computer language, it's ``reader friendly.'' And the folks at Cambridge didn't make the mistake that returned to haunt a similar book by the other great English university press: Wales, Scotland, and Ireland get equal time in this very useful and splendidly produced work of historical scholarship.

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