Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reference Book of the Week

Today's pick: Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80-1000, by Alfred P Smyth. First published in 1984; most recently reprinted by Edinburgh University Press in 2003. The author is a reader in Medieval History at the University of Kent.

This book won the 1985 Spring Book Award for Literature from the Scottish Arts Council, and one can see why. A wide-ranging, enthusiastic and scholarly work, it covers a great deal of ground with a surprising amount of detail for its size. Although some of the archaeological conclusions have changed in the intervening thirty years, this is still a good introduction to the period and good value for money at $24.00. Topics include: Roman Britain, the Picts, St. Columba, Adomnan, Vikings, the orgins of medieval Scotland, and the conquest of the southern uplands.

The author shows an impressive ability to look at the larger picture while not losing sight of details, an ability which allows him to combine seeming isolated facts into interesting combinations. Whether or not you agree with all of his conclusions, you will find many that are thought-provoking. An example is his dating of the final collapse of the British kingdom of Rheged by the series of entries in the Irish Annals of Ulster regarding the presence of roving bands of British warriors in Ireland between 682 and 709. Highly recommended.

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