fortnightly occasional summary of what I’ve been reading and listening to.
The Grail Quest by Bernard Cornwell
Audiobook on my iPhone
This is a trilogy of historical novels, set during the Hundred Years War between England and France (mid 1300s), and centered on the exploits of Thomas of Hookton, an English archer. In those days, the English longbow, en masse, had the devastating impact on opposing armies that the machine gun did during World War I. Arrows from such bows, plied by men trained from youth to have the strength to draw them, could pierce even plate armor.
Cornwell has an excellent sense of period, and has clearly done his historical research thoroughly. There are several battles in the book which – if they were fiction – would seem to strain credibility: the Battle of Crécy, in which the English army in France under the command of Edward III, hugely outnumbered, desperate, out of supplies, and exhausted, nevertheless managed to wipe out a vast proportion of the French nobility and escape; the Battle of Durham, where again a greatly outnumbered English contingent destroyed the flower of Scottish arms and captured the King of Scotland; the Battle of La Roche-Darien where Duke Charles of Brittany thought he had a cunning plan to destroy the English archers, but was in fact defeated and captured. All of these are true stories, but Cornwell brings them vividly (and bloodily) to life; and it’s perfectly credible that his protagonist would be at each of these events, which happened within the span of a few years in the 1340s.
The character development of Thomas, his loves and friends, is all excellently handled, particularly the conflicts between Thomas and his one-time friend, the Scot Robbie Douglas in the last book.
And then there’s the plot device of the search for the Holy Grail. No Arthurian (or even Monty Pythonesque) romance here, but a belief that the relic exists among the powers of the Church, and a connection through Thomas’ family which holds out the tantalising thought that the Grail might really exist and be located. It’s this hope which drives the characters.
Really entertaining reading. And very well narrated by Sean Barrett.
Almost Perfect by W.E. Pete Peterson
E-book on my iPhone
Interesting history of the word processing software which for a time was the best-selling product in the field.
The book could have been subtitled “The Rise and Fall of Word Perfect”, I guess, for the product is now long gone, swept away by the ubiquitous Microsoft Word.
This e-book is a fascinating look at the early history of computing and word processing in particular. Since I am someone who cut their teeth on a dedicated Wang word processing system, and who has seen the introduction and rise of Microsoft’s products, it was particularly interesting to me. But it would be equally interesting, I think, to students of business dynamics and interpersonal relationships in business, as the company grows and grows and relationships get stressed. Peterson eventually gets shafted by his long-time partners, and a fair bit of his resentment and self-justification comes out in the book.
This is only available as an e-book these days as the original is long out of print (if it ever was in print, not sure).
I’m currently part-way through:
- Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Hardcover, my own library) – yes, I’m still reading this – it’s a long book, and I find it hard to find time to sit down with a physical volume these days.
- Ruled Brittania by Harry Turtledove (Ebook)