Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mini Review: The Reign of Henry VIII by David Starkey

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

This is another one of my experimental forays into historical non-fiction, and unfortunately this is another book that takes more of the "academic" approach.

Instead of quotes and historian comparisons, David Starkey's narrative does flow nicely and he does offer his own opinion on what is The Truth (more on that soon). So, that's good.

The reason I'd classify this in the more academic group is because of the structure of the book. Each chapter deals with a different faction or major influence on Henry, but there is only the loosest of timelines followed and huge amounts of information are left out.

That's not a criticism on the book itself, because this is not a 101 level book and so it's assumed the reader already has knowledge of all the major chronological high points. And, for the most part, I did.

So why the problem? Chalk it up to my personal preference. I'm a reader who likes things repeated. I don't like this approach of delving into the details and foregoing the greater context, even if I know the greater context. Yes, the trees are nice, but I want to focus on the details of the trees without losing the context of the forest. I think that makes the details hit harder and the momentum and tension build to greater heights. But, hey, I also prefer novels.

Points for teaching me about the various factions influencing Henry and really driving home the point that the manipulations going on in Henry's court were downright scary! While none of the factions explored were new or surprising, I really liked the deeper look into them and this gave so much more background to the long string of wives (and why they were toppled). I also really liked his treatment of Wolsey.

Still, despite all that, I couldn't help wanting more out of everything. But, that's as much a compliment to David Starkey as it is a complaint.

I've heard David Starkey can be pompous, and I definitely saw why people have lodged that complaint. He injected his own commentary and bias here and there, and while I think it was supposed to come across as smugly funny (oooh look how offensive I can be!) it came across to me as more forced and flat. So, I'm not offended like some other readers, but I'm not impressed by these witticisms either.

Will I read more David Starkey? Well, I own a copy of his biography on Elizabeth I, so I'll at least be giving that a try. Overall, he definitely knows his subject matter very well and while I don't love the way he chose to present it, this approach may in part be due to the nature of this book. He also wrote a mammoth book on Henry's wives, so that may be more what I'm looking for.

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