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Woods for the Trees
We need more trees, and more woods for the trees to live in. Check out a new initiative that I’ve started up with some like-minded colleagues: Woods for the Trees. It’s a sort of dating agency, matching people who want to plant trees with odd scraps of land where trees would be welcome.
The First Kingdom
Sooner or later every Early Medievalist has to take on the centuries after Rome… and Arthur. That most enigmatic and inscrutable period of British history is both tantalisingly always out of reach and, at the same time, irresistible. I have taken a radical approach, which is to ask a simple question: how, in the two hundred years after the collapse of Roman imperial rule in Britain, did lords rule? How did they persuade people freed from the punitive taxes and moral weight of a Mediterranean superstate to keep them in bread, meat, ale and the trappings of wealth?
Rejecting, for the most part, hackneyed nationalist narratives of Dark Age Britain that focus on immigration, invasion and ethnicity, I paint a picture of vibrant, dynamic responses to a new order, whose barely readable text can be traced in landscape, text and settlement archaeology. As for Arthur… you’ll have to read the book to find out…
Illustrated with photographs, plans, maps and timelines, The First Kingdom will be published in hardback by Head of Zeus in February 2021.
… is now out in paperback.
Unquiet Women is a collection of more than 40 linked stories about women who have largely been neglected by history. They are not, for the most part, queens or celebrity figures. Each of them offers a window onto the lives of women across the dozen centuries that separate the end of the Roman Empire from the European enlightenment. They include Egeria, the 4th-century Gaulish nun who toured the Middle East and witnessed at first hand the developing cults of the Holy Land; Wynflaed, the Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who left a will that tells us much about Early medieval women’s identities; and Beatrice de Planisoles, the Cathar heretic of Montaillou who defended herself against the Inquisition. There are stories about matriarchal communities in pre-Columban America; Muslim women poets and librarians and about women’s narratives told in art, weaving and their own writing. The book promises to be an eye-opener for those who think that women are entirely invisible before the 19th century.
Listen to a podcast of Max talking to Rachel Dinning at the BBC’s History Festival weekend in York, October 2018. The interview begins at 2 mins 20 seconds; and there is an ad at about 25 minutes. You can download an MP3 from: https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/max-adams-unquiet-remarkable-women-through-history/
Feedback and reviews
There has been plenty of comment on the book so far. Many readers are taking a very literal reading of the text; some are looking a bit deeper, and one or two question the project. Here’s what I wrote in a recent Facebook post…
I’ve recently heard and seen a few comments about Unquiet Women that address the issue of me being a man, writing about women. Some have told me they think it ‘ironic’ that a man should write about women’s history. One reviewer asked why the book project hadn’t been ‘given’ to a woman.
To answer that last point first. The book wasn’t ‘given’ to anyone. It should be obvious from the introduction that the book was my idea. And it’s worth saying that initially Head of Zeus were dead against it. I started writing it anyway because I thought it important for me to do so and, to their credit, HoZ eventually agreed, in return for me taking on two projects that they wanted. It was a good compromise, so far as I was concerned.
I have heard it said that one male author, on conceiving a biography of a women he admired, was told that men ‘CAN’T’ write about women. Now, whether that’s meant in the sense of ‘can’t’ like, men can’t have babies; or ‘can’t’ as in ‘shouldn’t be allowed to’, is another matter. My thought on that is that if I had known that men weren’t allowed to write about women I would have done it years ago.
On the mater of ironies, I only ask, in return: ‘What, you think men should write (and therefore study, and think) LESS about women??’.
That more women writers should be writing about more women for a commercial audience is true; they need to be encouraged to do so by publishers and editors and their friends and families. That men should shut up about women in history I doubt. Misogynists get the stick they deserve, as recent events in the world of physics show.
It is undeniable that the dice are loaded in favour of middle class white males. That women have always found ways to subvert that unfortunate reality is, I’m glad to say, a fundamental message that I have learned from thinking and writing about them. And I hope that by following some of the stories and bibliographical references in UQW, readers will find for themselves just how rich is the existing literature by women on women.
Now in paperback
A Guardian article on October 16 2017 has made much of the identification of the North-South divide along Watling Street. You can read the article here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/16/uk-north-south-divide-vikings-watford-gap
One of the many stories about Viking Age Britain included in the book can be read here in the form of an article published by the Royal Literary Fund: https://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase/the-ransom-of-the-golden-gospel/
Ælfred’s Britain is a portrait of the First Viking Age: but not like any other. Putting the famous king of Wessex into a broader perspective, the narrative explores the geographies and cultures of all those seeking to carve out kingdoms and identities over the 150 years after the first Scandinavian raids on Britain. This is a political history; even so, it’s archaeology which, in recent decades, has allowed us for the first time to paint a vivid picture of native and incomer alike; to see the Scandinavian contribution to Insular cultures in all its rich contradictions and to explore the interactions between the Christian and heathen worlds as they collide. With new insights into the Viking Age landscape, Ælfred’s Britain also offers some sharp and ironic lessons for our own times…
‘As the 8th century draws to its close bands of feral men, playing by a new set of rules and bent on theft, kidnap, arson, torture and enslavement, prey on vulnerable communities. Shockwaves are felt in the royal courts of Europe, in the Holy See at Rome. The king’s peace is broken. Economies are disrupted; institutions threatened. In time the state itself comes under attack from the new power in the North, a power of devastating military efficiency and suicidally apocalyptic ideology. It seems as if the End of Days is approaching. Out of the chaos come opportunities to shuffle the pack of dynastic fortune, to subjugate neighbouring states, to exploit a new economics and reinvent fossilised institutions.’
Published in hardback by Head of Zeus, November 2017
Max Adams is a critically-acclaimed author and biographer, an archaeologist, traveller and writing coach. His journeys through the landscapes of the past and the present, of human geography, music, art and culture are a continuing source of inspiration in his writing.
Born in 1961 in London, he was educated at the University of York, where he read archaeology. After a professional career which included the notorious excavations at Christchurch Spitalfields, and several years as Director of Archaeological Services at Durham University, Max went to live in a 40-acre woodland in County Durham for three years.
Max continues to manage woodland, and still lives on the north-west edge of County Durham, in a slightly more conventional dwelling. Max is also a musician, playing drums, harmonicas, Appalachian dulcimer and low-key whistle.
Max’s first historical biography, Admiral Collingwood: Nelson’s own hero, was published in 2005 to notable praise: ‘A compelling narrative’, Literary Review. ‘A lucid, compact style which is a pleasure to read …
Particularly effective in portraying the orchestrated chaos below deck in battle’, Spectator.
Two further biographies have since followed:
The Prometheans: John Martin and the generation that stole the future, (2010)
‘Max Adams has undertaken something new in The Prometheans; he has done it dazzlingly’, Miranda Seymour, Guardian Book of the Week.
And a Dark Age bestseller:
The King in the North: the life and times of Oswald Whiteblade, (2013)
‘A triumph. The most gripping portrait of 7th-Century Britain that I have read… A Game of Thrones in the Dark Ages.’ Tom Holland, The Times.
Max’s lifelong fascination with trees and their relationship with the human race, has found its expression in his 2014 The Wisdom of trees: A ‘fascinating, if quirky, exposition of all things woody… the book is a celebration of the plant from which it is made.’ Christopher Hurst, The Independent.
Max’s acclaimed sixth book, In the Land of Giants, (2015) explores the world of our Dark Age ancestors through embarking upon a series of ten journeys within the contemporary landscape. ‘It is impressive – though very much in keeping with the tone of the whole book – to see such awareness in action; and absorbing to note the results that can flow from such openness.’ Neil Hegarty, The Irish Times.
The Ambulist is the man who walks forever. Through the plains and vales of Northumberland, across fell and river, mountain and moorland, the nomad’s titanic figure is pursued by people determined to discover his past. He might be an innocent traveller, a terrorist or the Second Coming of Christ; who can say?
The first 500 copies of The Ambulist limited edition hardback are being offered exclusively, numbered and signed at personal event signings and direct from this website, priced £14.99 + P&P
Click here for purchase
Trees of Life book launch 2019
Trees of Life, a sumptuous visual feast of images from around the world, is a celebration of the trees that human communities rely on for food, fuel, medicine and spiritual solace. In 80 or so stories, Max tells how these key trees have impacted on human cultural history, sometimes with startling results: the gutta percha tree that allowed the first transatlantic cables to be insulated; the breadfruit tree caused the Mutiny on the Bounty; the seeds of the carob pod, 24 of which equalled the weight of a Roman gold solidus coin – giving us a measure of pure gold.
Join Max at the new Heritage Centre, Winlaton Mill in Gateshead to celebrate the book’s launch at a time when humans’ partnership with the natural world has never seemed more vulnerable – or exciting. The launch is hosted, appropriately, by the Land of Oak & Iron, a landscape heritage partnership dedicated to celebrating and conserving the legacy of that relationship.