Thoughts on some old “favourties”

So, recently, I re-read a couple of books that I had read a few years ago and found interesting: “The Holy Kingdom” by Adrian Gilbert and “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor. In fact, I remembered both of them so fondly that I was excited to get a chance — or, rather, to deliberately plan — to read them again. And yet, both of them disappointed me. They certainly weren’t as good as I remembered them to be.

One of the main reasons for this, I think, is that both of them are decidedly one-sided. “The Holy Kingdom” focuses on the theory that King Arthur was really two different historical figures and was of Welsh origin. The former is a very interesting idea, and Gilbert at least tries to provide good sources that theory, but it is interspersed with numerous shots at the traditional English historians for being biased against Welsh history. This might be true, but reading that makes me skeptical that the assessment is totally fair, and thus only makes me feel that in order to accept their overall views I’d need to go and do more research myself. And I don’t have the time to do that, so my reading feels incomplete, while at the same time the asides don’t add anything to the book for me. Sure, they are used as answers to the question of why no one noticed these things before, but “They just don’t want to see it!” no longer counts as sufficient reason for me. They may well be doing that, but they might also have reasons for rejecting it. I would have preferred more direct replies rather than asides saying that their opponents were just being obstinate.

“The Last Knight” focuses on the life of John of Gaunt. Or, rather, it focuses on what we can say about England in the Middle Ages based on how he lived his life. In reality, though, it far more often wants to talk about sexual mores and link John of Gaunt to modern billionaires than to really focus on either John of Gaunt’s life or on the details of medieval society. This results in the most interesting part of the book — the titular “Last Knight” — getting short shrift in what it purportedly his own book. The book is also very repetitive, saying the exact same things in the exact same way even in the span of a few pages. There is no examination in depth of pretty much anything, either the times or the people or John of Gaunt himself. There are a number of interesting links that are drawn, but they are so shallowly examined that, again, all they do is make me want to delve into the topic in much more detail, which I again don’t have the time to do, and his constant comments about elites grate after a while.

The books aren’t terrible books. “The Holy Kingdom” does make its case and the two Arthur theory is interesting, and “The Last Knight” does reveal some interesting things about the Middle Ages. But I guess I have to say that both of them aren’t the sort of work that I’m really looking for right now, or else the other books I’ve read have eclipsed them. It also might be that I’m more skeptical than I used to be and so am looking for works that really take on their opponents in the fairest and strongest ways possible. Either way, they aren’t as much fun to read as I remembered and so I don’t think I’ll feel the same zeal to re-read them as I did this time.

Next up is me reading a book that I’m pretty sure I never finished reading: an abridged version of Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. I wonder if the abridging is what is causing my struggle to read that book …

One Response to “Thoughts on some old “favourties””

  1. Accomplished … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] there are much better books that I could be reading right now. This is not helped by the fact that the previous two books that were on the list were not as good as I remembered. Oh, and I also went through my collection of books and gathered six boxes of fiction books that I […]

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