Friday, December 28, 2007

What I'm reading now...

Hadrian's Wall and its People, by Geraint Osborn. Published 2006 by Bristol Phoenix Press; 132 pages. $24.95 (paperback), $75.00 (hardback).

Chapter headings: Introduction, Why Build a Wall?, Military Life, Civilian Life, Hadrian's Wall and the End of Roman Britain, Conclusion: Hadrian's Wall and the English Sense of History.

Small, specialized, philosophical, uneasily poised between history and archeology, this book was an interesting read but ultimately disappointing. Considering its relatively modest size, too much space is spent on the archaeological history of Hadrian's wall and its defects, and on the effect of the idea of Roman Britain in 19th and 20th century British history. The maps provided are sketchy and look as if the author ran them up himself over a weekend; three line drawings illustrating Roman and British costume have the same amateur quality. The author's practice of referring to most of the Wall forts only by their modern British names is unhelpful to a non-British audience (a problem which could have been easily corrected by including the Roman names in parentheses, or at least putting them on a map key!). There is some good detail about staffing and conditions on the Wall, and about its relation to the rest of Roman Britain, and also lists of sites to visit and suggested further reading. The one thing that would have improved this book the most for me would have been better maps, in particular site maps. In addition, more detailed information on museums and interpretive sites on the Wall (including opening hours and location maps, or at least National Grid references) could have made this book a good companion to a tour of the Wall.

I bought my copy from David Brown, where it was half off at the time: reasonable value for money at that price, although the shipping puts it up a bit. If you think this one might be useful to you, I suggest you try interlibrary loan first.


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