Tuesday, July 06, 2010

tudor convertible

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.


Tancho said...

I, like yourself enjoy reading. I have an inventory of books that will outlast my reading ability I am certain.
But still, I ordered this weekend a Kindle, to instantly download books anywhere, in 60 seconds.
My biggest hassle is reading at night, the light is just not correct and the little LED gizzys, are a pain sort of. So..we will see if my reading will advance, speed wise.

The history of that period was very unappealing to me in school, now and forever. I would rather read about the Huns doing the pillaging, raping and looting.....

Steve Cotton said...

Tancho -- I am interested in your experience with the Kindle. I have looked at the iPad as an alternative, but it is a bit too expensive.

Brenda said...

HBO did a mini series titled the Tudors, It was based on Henry the VIII. It was mostly based on his marriages, but it did show his efforts with the church and his reasons he went against the church.

I think the next mini series is on Elizabeth so perhaps they bought the rights to the book?

Gary Denness said...

Just recently I've really gotten into audiobooks. To listen to on the metro and microbuses mainly. But also to listen to as I wander around the city aimlessly on one of my photowalks.

The Tudors - did you see any of the HBO Tudors series? If you demand historical nitty gritty, then maybe it's not for you! But I really enjoyed it. It does, if nothing else, and with just a little imagination required on your part, take you back a few centuries for an hour a week.

NWexican said...

How then does one, after acquiring a degree, "in history (with an emphasis on the Tudor-Stuart period)"???, which in and of itself is quite mystifying, end up working for the Or. St. Gvt? Of course I know that Salem is a virtual hotbed of English history but, DOH!!!

Theresa in Mèrida said...

That is one of my favorite time periods. It's all fuzzed up in my head now, since it's been awhile since I have even thought about it.
too bad he mucked it up, it should have been a good read.

Anonymous said...

I like the headless queens. A Cotton move.


Steve Cotton said...

Brenda and Gary -- I watched the first two seasons of The Tudors on Netflix. Quite the costume drama. And not at all hampered by historical fact.

NWexican -- Or how does a Tudor history major end up in law school?

Theresa -- It is a fascinating period of history. And it helps to explain a portion of the American character -- why it was so important for our founders to get away from that type of government.

Horst -- Thanks. I wonder what "headless" is in German?

NWexican said...

Post Tudor-law school-white Mexican with a penchant for verbosity.
Sounds so Salem.....

Joe S. said...

Catching up on your blog, just returned from Sun River, your prior blog's reference to Liechenstein took me back to the time I had to convince a staff sargent that there was indeed such a country that I'd listed on my leave request, his mommy didn't raise no fool..., and his Playboys didn't contain a World Atlas!!! It was a difficult time.

Anonymous said...

To Joe - I hear you.

True story: a US born and educated citizen takes telephone orders for a mail order company. A customer calls, the employee takes the entire order by phone and then asks:

"What is your address ma'am?"

"....New Mexico"

"I'm sorry, we can't send packages outside of the United States"

"No, I said New Mexico"

"Sorry, it doesn't matter whether it's New Mexico or Old Mexico. We simply don't mail to Mexico"

Asi es la vida en los EEUU!

Alee' Robbins, Salem, Oregon (USA) ;-)

American Mommy in Mexico said...

I have been in a biography phase for famous people who lived during 1700s to to turn of 20th century.

I just finished a very detailed book about Alexander Hamiton. Before that John Adams, on and on. I am now reading about Pauline Bonaparte.

I am addicted. It is very interesting to compare biographer perspectives.

Understanding History makes me feel calmer about current issues. The same themes have been occurring since the beginning of time. The Human Condition is the Human Condition - always has been - always will be ...

norm said...

I have a rule. If you buy a book in your area that gives you one idea or fact that you did not know before, then it was not a total loss. Those bones can get pretty picked over in a very short time.

Steve Cotton said...

NWexican -- I hope to make it sound far more Mexican -- soon.

Joe -- I suspect the defection rate to little L is rather small. Some American prisons are larger.

Alee' -- Great tale.

AMM -- well summarized. Exactly my view.

Norm -- And I like that rule, as well. I fear, though, this book would not pass even that test.