Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reference Book of the Week

Another new feature - mini-reviews for reference books I've found useful, or recently discovered, or just enjoy.

Today's pick: The Archeology of Celtic Britain and Ireland c. AD 400-1200, by Lloyd Laing, professor of archeology at the University of Nottingham. First published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press.

At 420 pages, copiously illustrated with line drawings and black and white photographs, this is good value for money ($50 for the paperback edition on Amazon). No color plates, but you can't have everything. This is essentially a university-level textbook, not a mass-market coffee table book. The material is clearly written and extremely well-organized, and the author has, as he says in the preface, "endeavoured to remove as much jargon as is feasible." The book includes three appendices, abundant footnotes, suggestions for further reading, and an impressive bibliography.

After an introduction and a general survey of the Celtic world, the author gets down to details. The next eight chapters cover settlements, farming, everyday objects and equipment, industry and technology, trade and communications, clothes and jewelry, art and ornament, and the church. This is followed by area-specific chapters on south-western Britain, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man, Southern Scotland and northern England, and Northern Scotland. To cover all this ground in the space available (the appendices start at page 335) means that no discussion can be in any great depth, but Laing still manages to cram in an impressive amount of detail, and the abundant citations allow the interested reader to follow up on any particular point. No space is wasted on philosophical arm-waving; this is an "only the facts" treatment. I recommend it heartily.

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