Thursday, January 31, 2008

biography with a large side of bias

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: history
Challenge: A-Z (title)
Review: It's not uncommon for a biographer to develop some sympathy for their subject. In this case, though, one gets the feeling that Weir developed her sympathy before writing the book, and, in fact, set out to do her research to redeem Isabella's reputation, rather than simply to write an account of her life. Which is not intrinsically a bad thing. My problem is that Weir spends too much time disproving one historical theory of Isabella after another when, no matter your bias, the evidence is just not there for a conclusive determination either way. And yet, Weir routinely calls any conclusion but the one she has drawn "speculative." As far as I can tell, her conclusions are just as speculative!

Having said that, Weir is to be commended for the thoroughness of her research. It must be incredibly difficult to come up with so much material about a woman of that time, even one as notorious as Queen Isabella. And Weir does an admirable job of taking the dry account books and other records and turning them into an actual narrative, to say nothing of making that narrative compelling at times.

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