What I love about Oxford’s Very Short Introduction series is that, aside from offering a brief glance into hundreds of topics, the quick ‘in and out’ nature of the books, and the miniature formatting of each title, enable an engagement with a topic which lasts long enough for it to impart vital facts, but short enough where the reader is not overwhelmed. It encourages the reader to see it through to the end, even if they discover half-way that they really do not enjoy the topic they picked up.

                So it was with pleasure that I entered John Blair’s The Anglo-Saxon Age.

                Though but a fragment of a longer, and older, text (The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, 1984), Blair’s effort here is both accessible—as is to be expected from such introductory primers—as well as concise; one can easily read a couple of chapters in one sitting, or the whole book if you like, without becoming exhausted or estranged from your surroundings. So, unlike a philosophical treatise or theoretical manuscript, Blair’s text will never force a reader to pull their hair out in frustration; it knows its mission: provides an overview of each chapter’s central topic and proceeds onto the next topic when the basics have been exhausted.

                Specifically, in this text, the book is divided into seven chapters. (1) The English Settlements; (2) The Seventh Century; (3) Christianity and Monastic Culture; (4) The Mercian Supremacy; (5) The Viking Invasion and the Rise of the House of Wessex; (6) Ӕthelred and Cnut: The Decline of the English Monarchy; (7) and last but not least, The End of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom. With the entire book constituting but seventy-five pages, this averages out to be around ten pages per chapter, thus allowing for easy portion reading and attractive to those with on the go lifestyles.

                The contents of each chapter is fairly self-explanatory, so I will not go into detail; besides, my previous posts elucidating aspects of Anglo-Saxon society and culture should have given some broad strokes on much of the content which the chapters touch upon, so if you feel curious I would recommend checking out those postings and treating yourself to some details which would not be possible to go into in a typical review. All’s I will say, though, is that each chapter stays on track and efficiently unravels the history of Anglo-Saxon life.

                But as is said generally, Blair’s introductory text is a fine starting place for individuals interested in early medieval England. Avoiding any sort of political commentary while explaining himself and remaining intent on the subject at hand, The Anglo-Saxon Age succeeds well in its attempt to provide readers with insight into the lives of the early English and should not be ignored. If you have a curiosity which needs to be itched, starting here is highly recommended.

The Anglo-Saxon Age: A Very Short Introduction

John Blair

90 pages. Published by Oxford U.P. $11.95 (Print).

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