I should point out that I don’t read 1000 pages every week. The fact that I read 1263 (exactly, not exaggerating) pages between Saturday afternoon and Thursday at lunch was due entirely to the fact that I was engrossed in Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur series.
My dad got me started on Cornwell’s books, and for that I send many snaps his way. Cornwell is an excellent historical novelist who combines gripping storytelling skills with lots of research into the nitty gritty detail of different eras. So far I’ve read Cornwell’s books on Britain during the construction of Stonehenge, Wales during the fifth century AD Arthur era, Britain during the ascendancy of Alfred the Great when the Vikings were out to get the Isle, Britain and France during the Hundred Years War, and post-Waterloo London. I’ve really learned a lot from these books, and have been fascinated by the transformation of Britain accross the centuries, as different groups of people invaded, were assimilated, and then defended against the next wave of invaders. It’s also been interesting to see how warfare tactics evolved. Readers who don’t like battle scenes may not like these books, and I should caution you that the descriptions of pillaging, while realistic, can be disturbing and bloody, although not gratuitously so. I especially enjoy the notes Cornwell includes at the end of each story, in which he describes his historical sources, the debates about the accuracy of those sources, and explains where he took license and why he thinks his choice reflects the time period accurately.
In each of the books I’ve read from Cornwell’s extensive catalog (I haven’t even gotten through half of his works), the author deals with the concept of national identity and “the other” in a way that I found thought provoking. Cornwell’s characters strongly identify with their particular tribe or country, and devote their lives to fighting against invaders who the characters fear will destroy their culture and bring about change for the worse. Oddly, many of these characters are themselves outsiders in one way or another and have to deal with shifts in personal identity at the same time that upheaval in the national identity transpires. This theme made me think about the way I deal with change and identity myself, and how we deal with those things as a nation in our day and age.
At any rate, if you’d like to learn about British history in a serious yet engrossing way, I’d recommend Bernard Cornwell’s books. If you’ve a hankering to be entertained in a less serious but still quite British fashion, allow me to recommend Monty Python’s take on Arthur’s Camelot (they ate ham and jam and spam a lot…). Or, if you really want to expand your horizons, do both. 🙂