Autumn Books

Article excerpt

IN 1946 GEORGE ORWELL confessed that, since nine out of ten books are worthless, reviewers have constantly to invent feeling towards books about which they have no spontaneous feelings whatever. Obviously he was not acquainted with the huge number of books which are conveniently grouped under the heading `history', but whose diversity and quality make us realise what an incredibly diverse and intriguingly amorphous subject we are dealing with.

Ancient History

Several new books traverse the margins of the subject. The Presence of Dinosaurs by Larry Felder and John Conagrande (Time Life Books, 18.99 [pounds sterling]) draws on fossil records to cover a period of 155 million years. Douglas Palmer's Neanderthal (Channel 4 Books, 20 [pounds sterling]) traces the rise and fall of a species that survived for 200,000 years. From Wordsworth Editions, in association with the Folklore Society, come The Myths of Greece & Rome by H.A. Guerber, The Mythology of the British Islands by Charles Squire, and Old Celtic Romances by P.W. Joyce (all priced at 3.99 [pounds sterling] for paperbacks). Some of these stories were originally memorised by professional bards; many of them provide a point of reference for our literary heritage. Volume 1 of The Human Drama (`From the beginning to 500 CE') by Jean Elliott Johnson and Donald James Johnson (Markus Weiner, 29.95 [pounds sterling] hb, 14.50 [pounds sterling] pb) introduces the global development of humankind across cultures and economies.

There are several new publications relating to Egyptology. Joyce Tyldsley has written The Private Lives of the Pharaohs (Channel 4, 16.99 [pounds sterling]), summarising a vast amount of information and voicing pertinent unanswered questions. Inevitably she draws on the work of I.E.S. Edwards, who pioneered the salvage of the temples of Philae and organised the Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum in 1972. His memoirs are published by Oxbow Books as From the Pyramids to Tutankhamun (30 [pounds sterling]). Nicholas Reeves, Ancient Egypt: A Year-by-Year Chronicle (Thames & Hudson, 24.95 [pounds sterling]), explores the important `finds' in Egyptian archaeology from 1799 onwards.

On the Roman Empire, Lindsay Allason-Jones has written Roman Women: Everyday Life in Hadrian's Britain (Michael O'Mara, 14.99 [pounds sterling]), an examination of the life of bustling York in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, while Philip Wilkinson's What the Romans Did For Us (Boxtree, 18.99 [pounds sterling]) assesses the innovations which the Romans brought to Britannia. It accompanies a BBC2 series of the same name. G.P. Barker's Augustus: The Golden Age of Rome (Cooper Square Books, $18.95) provides full-scale coverage of Rome's first, and arguably greatest, emperor.

An Introduction to Early Judaism by James C. VanderKam (Eerdmans, 11.99 [pounds sterling] pb) draws on the latest archaeological research to provide a scholarly study of Jewish history during the Second Temple Period (516 BCE - 70 CE). Colin Pritchard blurs the boundaries between history, religion and fiction in his King David: War and (Janus) -- a narration in David's imagined words of his extraordinary experiences.

Medieval Britain

The enduring fascination of Arthurian legend has produced several new books. Christopher Snyder, Exploring the World of King Arthur (Thames & Hudson, 17.95 [pounds sterling]), presents a picture of the fifth and sixth centuries, when medieval scholars believed that Arthur reigned as king or champion of the Britons, but inevitably he is also concerned with the proliferation of myths (from the age of chivalry to today's Arthurian internet sites). Song of Arthur by Robert Leeson (Walker Books, 9.99 [pounds sterling]) uses Arthur's famous bard, Taliesin, to provide a lyrical version of the legends. An academic treatment of this period is subsumed in a new study of Britain from the Romans to the Normans. Edward James's Britain in the First Millenium (Arnold, 50 [pounds sterling] hb, 18. …