The weekend was special.
Sure, it was the Fourth of July. Fireworks. Picnics. Sunburn.
But it was more than that. For me, it was one of the first opportunities I have had, since I returned to Oregon, to sit and read.
One of the things I miss living in Mexico is the ability to walk into a book store and thumb through the new offerings. I often end up buying books I would not otherwise read.
That was certainly true of the book I read this weekend. The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notiorious Dynasty. A Costco purchase.
I have a degree in history (with an emphasis on the Tudor-Stuart period). Picking up the book was almost as preordained as if Jiggs ran across a tasty morsel in the park.
I almost put it back after a cursory peek. The author is a generalist. No academic background. Not a biographer. I have too often been disappointed with books like this.
But I bought it. After all, David McCullough is a great biographer. And he is no academic.
I should have listened to my first impression. G.J. Meyer (the author of The Tudors) is no David McCullough.
The style is breezy enough. I plowed through the 576 pages in less time than it takes to read the Sunday newspaper. But Meyer's voice is everywhere in his narrative. That would not too bad if he did not have such an anachronistic voice.
Of course, that is a danger in all popular biographies. The tendency to write at a People level.
But we read about historic figures to learn more about the human condition in its own context. It is a little jarring to read about people who died 500 years ago and have the author judge them with contemporary economic, political, and social standards.
Of the five Tudor monarchs, Meyer devotes most space to only two: Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The two English monarchs Americans can most readily identify.
He portrays one as a monster. The other as an over-rated neurotic actress taking too many curtain calls. Norma Desmond in a lace collar. History as soap opera.
That is a bit unfair. Meyer attempts to offer a few interesting insights into the Tudor age. His best effort is the event most people associate with Henry VIII -- the creation of the Church of England with the king as its head.
As a protestant, I was taught Henry's action was the start of religious freedom in England. It was not.
Prior to Henry's reformation, the church was the only institutional not under the control of the state. By dumping the pope, Henry made himself the sole arbiter of all power in his kingdom. The prototype of every tin-horn Castro, Saddam, or Hitler who is too scared to allow any competing social institution to exist.
When I finish a biography, I ask one question of it. What do I now know about the human condition that I did not know when I picked up the book?
In the case of The Tudors, the answer is -- not much.
But it would make a good first draft script for a Mexican telenovela.