Saturday, September 05, 2009

Reviews of God’s Philosophers in the Sunday Telegraph and the Scotsman

Unfortunately, two reviews of God’s Philosophers which have appeared in the UK press are not online. The Scotsman's review was short and positive, so much so that my usual policy of taking the rough with the smooth proved unnecessary. They wrote “The polemical note is as justified here as the fresh and easy approach is welcome. Hannam, the liveliest of guides, makes enjoyable reading out of some seriously dusty history and difficult ideas.”

At the Sunday Telegraph, they handed the book over to the tender mercies of Noel Malcolm, a reviewer widely believed to be the wrath of the heavens incarnate by writers of popular history. He took to task Tom Holland’s Millenium, a perfectly good example of fast-paced narrative history, for not being on the same scholarly level as Robert Bartlett's The Making of Europe. This is about as fair as complaining that the art of the comic 2000AD wouldn't pass muster in the National Gallery.

On God's Philosophers, Malcolm said some nice things: "This book contains much valuable material summarised with commendable no-nonsense clarity… James Hannam has done a fine job of knocking down an old caricature." But he also complains that no one still believes the old story that the Middle Ages when a benighted age of faith when the Church held back progress until the Renaissance. As a result, he sometimes found my pedagogical style 'grating'. No one likes to grate, but perhaps someone should send him a copy of the The Evolving World which Humphrey noted yesterday....

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Paul Hamilton said...

"But he also complains that no one still believes the old story that the Middle Ages when a benighted age of faith when the Church held back progress until the Renaissance."

They may not believe it, but they sure teach it in high schools and colleges.

Doug said...

I just finished God's Philosophers this morning and found it nothing short of brilliant. Thank you so much, James, for taking the time and doing such a superb job with it.

TJW said...

I think I'll wait until it's released in Australia before I buy a copy, to ensure that the local distributor gets an extra sale.

Humphrey said...

Here is the review of Tom Holland's book.

"Bartlett, a professor of medieval history, writes clear and utterly unstilted prose; he analyses all sorts of factors (military, economic, legal, social) that do not fit into grand narrative history; and, above all, he discusses the nature of the evidence, explaining where it is more reliable or less, and discussing the assumptions behind its interpretation.

This is a truly user-friendly approach, which draws the reader into the very process of historical understanding.

Holland's approach, on the other hand, involves sweeping most of the evidence into cryptic references in the end-notes, and telling almost every part of the story with equal confidence - even the parts that concern the motives and feelings of the protagonists, which can normally only be guessed at.

The result is (if you don't mind purple prose) a tremendously good read, which will no doubt gain more accolades and many more readers; but I cannot honestly call it tremendously good history."


James said...


Thank you very much for your kind words. If I can impose further on your kindness, please do let other people know whom you think might be interested.


It should be out in Australia in October but I don't know how wide the distribution will be. I'm looking forward to your review, but with some trepidation...

Best wishes


Niall said...

Great to see the book getting good reviews, but perhaps the 2000AD comment irked me. Lots of famous galleries have used comic book art in exhibitions and 2000AD has been host to some great artists and writers in its time.

Anonymous said...

I would love to know how many copies have so far been purchased. Would be thrilled if it had topped the 3000 barrier.

James said...

Niall, sorry I was unclear. I too enjoyed 2000AD, but it had no pretentions to being Vermeer. Thus it would be unfair to complain that it's art is not from an Old Master, however good it is for its own purposes.

Anon, I don't actually know how many we've sold.

Anonymous said...

Hello James,

Do you know when it will be available in the U.S.? I'm looking forward to reading it.


James said...

Hi John,

No US publisher as yet, but the Book Depository will deliver world wide for free, or you might be able to get it from

Best wishes