Organized as a travel guide for the time-hopping tourist, The Time-Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England is an entertaining popular history with a twist. Historian Ian Mortimer reveals in delightful (and occasionally disturbing) detail how the streets and homes of 16th century looked, sounded, and smelled for both peasants and for royals; what people wore and ate; how they were punished for crimes and treated for diseases; and the complex and contradictory Elizabethan attitudes toward violence, class, sex, and religion. Mortimer also indulges readers in the lives of literary luminaries such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Sir Walter Raleigh.
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I gave top marks to Ian Mortimer's book The Time Traveler's Guide To Medieval England, and I'm overjoyed beyond words to see this book now in the Audible lineup. More please! Mortimer's claim of history is that a relic or a ruin can only teach us so much about history; what we understand about our own world is what makes those lessons accessible. As such, the "gimmicky" nature of this history book sets it apart from all others because it's not "that book." It's an in-depth portrait of the reign of England's "Golden Age" under Gloriana that connects the dots between the people of that time and ours. It's a present tense account that allows the reader to fully explore a time, place, and culture in a fully three-dimensional way, complete with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, personalities, attitudes, hopes, fears, ambitions, and everything else that is generally omitted from the textbooks of names, dates, and events. Complex issues such as religion and politics of the age are brought to life in a way that an outsider can understand it and embrace it as a catapult to further exploration. But at the same time, you get to walk down the streets, take in the sights, meet the people, and peek into their lives like a tourist... or an intruder. You will laugh. You will cringe. You will pick your jaw up off the ground. And mostly, you will become familiar with a world that would otherwise be completely alien to us and gain an appreciation for it you might not otherwise get from those other books alone.
As with the Medieval England book, this is a near-perfect work, not only for the historically-inclined like myself, but also for those who claim to hate history because it's "boring." Mortimer's brand of history is a public service for the rest of us that brings both the modern sensibilities of "just the facts" found in the sterile accounts offered today as well as the kind of storytelling magic that historians of yesteryear brought to the table. The result is as close to living history as we can get without actually traveling through time, and it is astounding, if only because we don't have to smell it. If I have a complaint at all, it's that I want MORE. Hopefully those other books will be added to the Audible lineup in the near future.
I admit to being an unabashed Anglophile, especially the history of the country, its people and the monarchs. This book has my three favorite things in reading: England, Elizabeth I and lots of detailed minutiae! (My friends call me "a font of useless information. Who cares? I always know the answers on "Jeopardy"!) I've read or listened about 200 factual history books on the Tudors and QE1, in addition to another 150 fact-based fictional accounts. Not one time did ever really take the time to notice that those authors talked about a lot of things that I really didn't understand but went with them as part of the story. Like the word "doxie" - I kinda knew the definition but not how and why it was created. Or that Sir Francis Drake was so darn mentally ill ("Gloriana Alzheimer's", perchance?) that he hung his navigator for no reason and kidnapped a black woman in America, then threw her off the ship in Indonesia because she became pregnant after being raped by Drake and his crew. Ian Mortimer addresses everything about the Elizabethan Age, from what the streets smelled like, how poor people lived, what and how each each class of people ate, wore, rode, played, worked, bathed, used the toilet, etc. He reveals that, other than being a fashion trendsetter, the Queen did nothing at all during her long reign to advance the rights of women who were treated like chattel. I didn't know that 16th century England had black people living there, classed as not quite chattel but not really free either.
The narrator is amazing. His delivery is tongue-in-cheek which fits perfect because the writer acts like he's a contemporary tour guide talking to the listener. He warns us not to visit the Earl of Leicester at his estate Kenilworth Manor if the Queen is visiting with her posse of 300 courtiers and servants as we will have to sleep in the garden because every bit of space is taken up by Bess' people, horses, and wagons. You will be told what to REALLY expect if you're sentenced to be "drawn and quartered", with additional warnings on how to avoid getting yourself in trouble during your vacation in England.
It is the rare audiobook that I will buy in print version. This is one of them!