Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Book Review: The Year Zero
For Book Review Blog Chain for AW, which can be found here The Year Zero: The True Story of Life In Britain 2000 Years Ago - by Dr. Matthew Kleinman & Nicholas Davies The title in the subject line might have made you think you would be reading about a science-fiction novel. I doubt many people think of Year Zero (unless you are historian or something of the sort). I certainly never did. It is also most unusual for me to review a non-fiction book, because I read far more fiction than non-fiction. But this is recent in my mind, and I think it’s worth reviewing from both a reader’s and a writer’s POV. This isn’t a new book. It was published in Year 2000, but since we are talking about thousands of years old history, nine years is hardly an issue. As someone who used to cry before history exams in school, fearing total failure, I’ve grown to love history since I graduated from college. I am by no means a historically obsessed person, but I enjoy it – especially ancient history. The reason might surprise you. Old history presents a world quite far removed from our own – bit similar to fantasy or science fiction world. So in my mind, this is another form of alternate world, just based on facts. I don’t know much about ancient British history, but the last thing I wanted was to read an old text-book type history book that would put me to sleep. That’s where this is different. For a historical, non-fiction book, this is amazingly easy to read. It’s written in a causal style; more like an essay, rather than your typical history book. It is neatly divided into sections, and within it, written in short paragraphs and sections, so when you want to stop, it’s easy to pick up again. That’s the good point from a reader’s point of view. From a writer’s point of view, writing style or words or techniques is by no means brilliant. It is casual, yes, but it also gets repetitive sometimes and prose isn’t exactly poetic. So the writer in me doesn’t think of these authors as good writers. However, the repetitions have an advantage for the reader. You read something a few times; you are more likely to remember it. In my opinion, the book serves its purpose, which is to tell you about the life of Britons in the Year Zero, and times surrounding it. We start off with the background information of the original tribes on the Island of Albion. The authors have tried to recreate what life would have been like for those tribes, using several resources. One of the most important things to remember is that there are no written records from those tribes, because even the most educated people of that time – Druids – had the tradition of not writing anything down. Their knowledge was passed through oral re-telling. The first written records are from Cesar, when he invaded Britain. Fortunately for us, Cesar was very good, and by all appearances, quite honest in keeping his records. The rest of the evidence comes from archeological finds. What I find very appealing is that this book provides information about people’s day-to-day lives. How they lived, what they ate, how they survived, and how their politics worked. We learn about their relationship with other tribes, about their religion. We learn about the Druids, and their fierce desire to protect their knowledge, and keep it within selected group. We learn about the impeding threat of Roman Invasion. I would expect 2000 year old civilization (if it could be called that) to be vastly different from the world we know today. Yet, many of their customs and traditions exist today. The similarities between Druids pagan religion and some of the world’s religions today are unmistakable. From details of the business of slavery that boomed in Roman Empire, to details of marriage customs, the authors build a picture that is very easy to imagine. Then Cesar’s invasion, success, and changes. Over all, I believe for anyone interested in this particular era of history, this is definitely a useful read. It won’t make you an expert, but it will give you the background you can mull over, and then investigate further what interests you.