Try this new link to an alternative online review site called Shepherd, with a review of The King in the North.
New review for The Museum of the Wood Age, Out now in paperback priced £12.99
‘The Museum of the Wood Age really does achieve something different…Both Max Adam’s wealth of experience – as archeologist and craftsman – and his passion are irresistible.’ ― Times Literary Supplement, 21st April 2023
A Study of Landscape and People with Writer and Archaeologist, Max Adams
Interview with Jack Surtees
Northumberland consists of tales and vistas. A truth well known to the author Max Adams, for whom these elements have both inspired and ensnared. His musings on admirals, artists, and the wisdom of wandering have drawn heavily from northern lore, the destination of his emigration, and earned him considerable esteem in the British literary world. His journey to this point, though, has been rather tumultuous and, in fact, even his arrival in the North East was via a rather curious route.
“In 1991 I was living in Wakefield, working as an Archaeologist and I suddenly had a sort of inkling that I wanted to buy a wood. I can’t quite remember why. Anyway, I decided it was a great idea so my then partner and some friends had a rather drunken evening talking about how we would buy a wood and go and live in it. And then, we did.
“The wood was in Beamish, County Durham and, as far as I know, we were the first people ever to get a mortgage on a wood. My partner and I moved into it in a caravan, in a blizzard, with a 3-month-old son and in order to pay for it I thought ‘I’d better get a job’. So I applied for a position at Durham University, Director of Archaeological Services, and fortuitously I got it, because we were broke. It was a bloody awful job but I had freedom. I was the director of my own unit and research wise we could do what we wanted, so we set up a project in the Cheviots.”
Having grown up in suburban London before moving to York and then Wakefield, the Cheviots, isolated as they are, presented an entirely new environment for Adams to explore and allowed him a first taste of Northumberland’s unique charm. Home to prehistoric settlements, medieval kings, saints, outlaws and generations of heroism, these were the tales which drew his eye while the landscape weaved its enchantment. So alluring was it that, even when life’s difficulties seemed overwhelming, it was this relationship with the region that consistently offered Adams renewed hope.
“I worked at Durham University for six years before I left because I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went back to live in the wood but an altercation with some rather unpleasant people led to me having to leave. I was then homeless for a while and lived out of a cabin in Ovingham. I had a few odd jobs, working as an Office Clerk and that sort of thing, and then in 2003 I got a lucky break. I applied for a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship and by sheer fluke I got it.”
The fellowship was awarded to research an unjustly forgotten tale, the life of an intrepid sailor forged on the banks of the Tyne, Vice-admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. Considering the extent of his influence during the Age of Sail it’s remarkable how few know of the man who stepped in after Nelson’s death to lead the British to victory in arguably the greatest and most terrible naval battle in history. What’s even more remarkable is that his true brilliance stemmed not from his heroism in battle but from his extraordinary perception. His was a life well worthy of study and, having provided salvation to Britain on more than one occasion, his deeds would now offer Adams a similar escape.
Named for the patron saint of Northumbria, Collingwood was born in 1748 to a well-to-do but poor family in Newcastle. During his formative years Britain was flexing its imperial power like never before and Newcastle had become an international city of trade, hosting ships exporting exotic goods and, more importantly, news from across the world.
Growing up not far from the Tyne, it’s easy to understand how young Cuthbert’s imagination might have been stirred by tales of naval heroics so it’s not surprising that, aged only thirteen, he joined the Royal Navy to sail as midshipman under the command of his uncle, Captain Richard Braithwaite. Once aboard his work ethic, tenacity and unique intellect ensured a steady progression to leadership during decades’ worth of commissions in the Mediterranean and the West Indies.
“Collingwood was interesting, not because he was a great derring-do sea captain, but instead because he was a brilliant thinker and an amazingly modern humanitarian. Not modern politically but modern psychologically, his writing makes it clear that he’s got a very interesting mind. For someone who spent forty years of his life alone at sea, in a position of command where you have no friends, to develop his level of sensibility is extraordinary. He saw a long way. He saw into the future and he saw into people’s minds.”
It was this gift of perception that allowed Collingwood to lead so effectively. He was a man of great humility, who held a deep compassion for the welfare of those aboard his ship, whilst also being renowned as a Captain known to bring order to trouble makers. His was an authority not to be questioned.
“He understood people very very well and wrote beautiful English, really wonderful English, and yet nobody reads him, except naval historians. He’s one of the great 18th-century letter writers, reflecting on life to his family and friends, reflecting on the state of things, Napoleon, what men are like, what women are like and it’s a huge pleasure to read his writing. As an observer of people he’s absolutely top notch.”
This keen perception extended beyond his own men as he was also admired for his ability to read the mind of the enemy. One example being his deception of a vast French battle fleet in 1805, when — with only four ships — he was able to block their passage by convincing them he had a far greater force hidden over the horizon; another would be his actions following Nelson’s death during the Battle of Trafalgar, where his command oversaw the capture or destruction of twenty-two French and Spanish ships while incurring the loss of none of their own. Arguably though his greatest action came following that battle.
With thousands of captured sailors under his command, he decided to release all of the Spanish prisoners, writing a letter to accompany them back to the mainland. The politeness and dignity he displayed in this moment of victory was instrumental to the Spanish changing sides later in the war. The importance of this moment in the eventual downfall of Napoleon cannot be overstated and it serves as a decisive example of the Northumbrian’s sensibility being mightier than his brawn.
Cuthbert Collingwood lived in an age of swashbuckling warriors and derring-do leaders, yet he himself was extraordinary for all his uniquely humane qualities. For his humility and empathy, perception and humanitarianism. These were the traits that distinguished his meteoric rise from midshipman to Vice-Admiral, and perhaps the greatest tribute to his deeds comes from Adams himself¹⁵.
By the time that he died, at sea on March 7th 1810 on his way home from Menorca, he had ensured final British victory at sea against the French not by winning battles, but by preventing them.
Following the conclusion of his research, Adams returned to the North East and decided to shed some light on the forgotten subject by documenting his findings in the form of a book. London based publisher Weidenfeld and Nicholson became interested and Admiral Collingwood: Nelson’s own hero¹⁶ was published in 2005.
“That set me on the path to thinking, having been through three careers already and having walked away from all of them, I thought I might try my hand at being a professional writer. So I wrote another book about another Geordie who I thought was rather neglected, a guy called John Martin¹⁷.”
The fourth son of a one-time fencing master, John Martin came from Haydon Bridge in the Tyne Valley, and presented a very different subject to that of the distinguished war hero, Collingwood. Born in the week that the Bastille was stormed, Martin spent the duration of his life in a world of change. Europe was caught between war and revolution. Politics, industry and opportunity were advancing like never before and this uncertain environment became a breeding ground for eccentricity, as evidenced by the vastly diverging paths of the Martin siblings: the eldest an inventor with a claim to the miners safety lamp, then came the soldier who fought at Waterloo, followed by the preacher tormented by madness, and finally, John, a landscape painter of biblical proportion.
Inspired by the expansive vistas of his youth, in particular his daily observation of miners endlessly funnelling between radiance and absence, Martin became best known for his painting of epic landscapes, religious subjects and fantastic compositions. His works stood apart due to their surreal colour schemes and apocalyptic scenery. Observing them now gives a glimpse into the mind of a young Northumbrian captivated by the power of the earth and the allure of what lay buried within, yet it wasn’t just the artwork that intrigued Adams.
“It started in a roundabout sort of way. I was researching the invention of the miners safety lamp and how it affected the statistics of deaths in mines, so I went and compiled the statistics: lots of deaths in mines… the invention of the miners safety lamp…. deaths go up, like a rocket.
“You think to yourself ‘that can’t be right’ but I sniffed out a story and started to dig. It took me to Humphry Davy and George Stephenson and then I realised they connected with John Martin. I knew I was onto something interesting but I didn’t know quite what.
“As it turned out, John went to London in 1806, became very fashionable, and fell in with a group of like-minded people: Shelley, Turner, the Brunels, basically anyone you’ve ever heard of. Together they set in motion a sort of movement to change the world which, by roundabout circumstances, ultimately led to Karl Marx and the writing of the Communist Manifesto.
“For me it was a successful project because I sniffed out a very interesting story. It was a really good yarn, probably the best non-fiction book I’ve ever written, and it bombed. It was a publishing disaster. It made me no money at all, never sold out of its original print. The Prometheans was a Guardian book of the week, where it was described as ‘something new done dazzlingly’, and then nobody read it. Publishing is a weird game.”
The lack of success for The Prometheans left Adams at a bit of an impasse. Years of work had gone into a project that never repaid him, he was attempting to raise a young son, now without a partner, and was nearly penniless. In an effort to bring some stability to their lives he undertook a PGCE course, under the impression that teaching would provide some financial security, whilst also beginning his third project exploring the life of a neglected Northumbrian, this time King Oswald.
Oswald was Adams’ speciality, a tale of Dark Age heroism where his archaeological expertise could come to the fore; yet somehow his spiral of despair was not quite finished. Despite his archaeological savvy, captivating narration and the historical significance of Oswald himself, no one showed any interest in publishing the book, and if that wasn’t disheartening enough, landing a teaching job had also proved much tougher than expected. Unsure where to turn next, he began to formulate an idea.
“I had nowhere to live and no prospects. I had a child but no partner, no money, my parents had died. And I just thought ‘you know what, I might just take off’. I’d done quite a lot of pretty serious walking at that point, ‘I think I’ll just fuck off, you know, just put a rucksack on and fuck off’. And then I thought, if a person does that, just carries on walking, how do they walk? Physically, how do they walk?
“How would they talk? You know, I was just throwing some ideas around. Is there a language that you would use if you walked forever? I know a little about the language of landscape, I know how to write about landscape. But how do you create a relationship between someone who walks forever and their landscape? How do you think about that relationship? Then the voice came to me and I started to write.”
Up until this point in his literary career Adams had unintentionally carved out a niche for himself, that of the historical biographer, and, while that genre matched his academic background and professional skill set, it was not where his true ambitions lay.
“What interests me is the relationship between human beings and their landscape. Landscape is much more proactive and sensual and reactive than most people understand. It’s doing things to you while you’re doing things to it and that, to me, is very interesting.
“That’s why Northumbria interests me, it’s why history interests me, why archaeology and trees interest me, because I want to understand that relationship. Watching people behave in landscapes, whether it’s looking at a Brueghel painting, reading poetry, digging up a prehistoric henge monument or cutting up a tree, it’s all interesting. All of it. That’s what I consider my niche, people in their landscapes.”
It was through this passion that he developed the idea for his first novel, The Ambulist¹⁸. The man who walks forever. A symbol of his own need for escape but also a mechanism through which he could explore his own relationship with the now dominant landscape of his life, Northumberland.
“As you go through it, Northumberland constantly unfolds. There are other counties that do this, and other visually stunning counties, but Northumberland kind of gives itself to you. You get that odd glimpse of the sea and the clouds coming in at head height, the blueness of the hills. I like that it has a coast but it doesn’t feel squeezed in against it, and the fact that, although there’s an international border in there somewhere, you don’t notice it.
By this point Adams was now fully caught in Northumberland’s web, an unwitting captive to its imperious charm. The Londoner was gone. Replaced with a north eastern soul, a man who whittled away days in moors and valleys, searching, exploring and contemplating the meaning of an ancient language etched into rock.
“I like that there aren’t many people. That I can leave the front door and walk for 200 miles without going through a town very easily. I’m perfectly happy walking for a full day without meeting anybody, wild camping and then moving on the next, but I’m also happy to chat to people in the pub, on the road or with farmers on the trail.
“I love the idea that as you’re moving through that landscape, you’re kind of crossing into a new one. Really every day you’re in a different landscape, with different characteristics and new nooks and crannies to discover. They’re the really interesting bits. Little waterfalls, crags and bits at the back of things that people don’t really talk about very much. It’s got plenty of secrets, Northumberland. I’m pretty certain you could spend a whole lifetime here and you wouldn’t really know it. You can’t have been down every road or track or pathway, it’s just not possible. You’re never going to run out of it.”
A never-ending, ever-changing landscape. What better place to explore for the eternal nomad? Or indeed, for a person obsessed with the language of landscape? It is a land littered with the runes of our ancient forebears and one that presents an unceasing supply of geoarchaeological study. Northumberland speaks directly to you, if you are willing to listen. Certainly – as with many who come to know the region – its ancient markings are of special significance to both Adams and his fictional wanderer, as evidenced by the following passage.
The stone from which the fortress had been forged so many centuries before was quarried from a line of hills that locals knew as the Fell Sands. They rose to the surface of the earth, secretive, among the corn fields of the coastal plain, and swelled steadily westwards in seductive undulations across oceans of moor and crag before crashing wave-like against the foot of the Cheviot massif. From the crest of this wave, the volcanic hills of the Border must have appeared to the earliest explorers of these blessed lands, the sunrise at their backs, as the plateaux on which heaven had been created by an Olympian of terrible love and creative power. His light poured in floodlit cataracts down canyons riven through onrushing head-height flocks of clouds onto a maiden land of perfect virgin green, voluptuous in form, bearing the promise of fertility and doom…
At this transcendent place — at his very feet — the Ambulist’s predecessors had made their arcane mark on the land. Into the surface of the smooth bare rock some ancient sculptor had incised a pattern of rings and channels in low relief, so that the first and last light of the day should etch them in shadows which must fade at the sun’s full height and at dusk. To the Ambulist, present at this diurnal display as if by careless invitation, the pattern shimmered in and out of focus. He laid his bag down on the ground and knelt, feeling for the sense and magic in the carvings. His fingers traced the time-worn lines of this unearthly map, probing for some sense of its author’s esoteric purpose. Pale green, white and yellow freckles of lichen, nature’s own adornment, graced the figures. The wind caressed them as if it, too, sought to read their message; and as it did so it sang the faint refrain of a song as old as the hills themselves.
Not long after completing The Ambulist, the author’s fortunes started to turn. A newly-established publisher, Head of Zeus became interested in the Oswald biography and, following its initial publication in 2013 and, potentially, buoyed by the popularity of a well-known television series, The King in the North has sold well ever since. It was the lucky break that finally allowed Adams a level of professional stability, brought the commercial success to match his critical praise, and presented a viable future in writing.
Yet, it’s still The Ambulist, conceived at possibly his lowest ebb, that he feels most passionate about. The project that first prompted an inward reflection on what Adams considers his niche, the ever-developing relationship between himself and his adopted homeland.
“It’s the only book I’ve written that I can read and get any pleasure out of. I can’t read The King in the North or any of that. That’s work, it’s done. It’s on the shelf. I have to give talks about it, and most of it I can’t remember. But The Ambulist I do read. I’ll pick it up, leaf through a page and I can hear the characters still, it’s totally real.”
Full of winding, affectionate passages, at times it reads like an elegy, at others like free verse poetry, and often begs the question, what stirs the heart more than a sense of belonging? Of kinship between man and earth? Some spend a lifetime searching for that warmth.
A warmth that Max Adams stumbled into following an impulsive decision to buy a wood and, though most have a more conventional route, it is a warmth that many have felt in Northumberland; an unexpected sensation of homeliness found in the northern wilds. In many ways it is occult-like, this land, collecting those who wander, unwittingly, into its grasp. Yet, in this particular case, the origins of the relationship may not be so obscure.
“My mum was an amateur artist. She never sold anything, but she drew. Abstract things, mainly. We lived in a first floor flat in Twickenham, and she would sit in front of the telly and draw landscapes in pen or ink. She was from the Midlands originally, but that wasn’t what she drew. They weren’t real landscapes, they can’t have been. They were works of abstract art.
“A bit like a sort of patchwork quilt, they were clearly landscapes, with shape and form, and they spoke of people in the landscape and geology and topography and yet, they weren’t real. They were an abstracted idea that really could only have been produced by somebody sitting in a flat in a big city. Not a country dwellers landscape, but an idealist’s landscape. A dream effectively. My mother dreaming of what the countryside would be like and when I walk through the borders I see those landscapes. My mother was dreaming of Northumberland.”
Museum of the Wood Age History Extra podcast available now
THE MUSEUM OF THE WOOD AGE
… was published in hardback on Sept 1st 2022
The Age of iron began in 1779. before that, all of human history was one long… Wood Age.
I have been on a journey through the veil of history, to an age when wood was the supreme material expression of human endeavour; when all people knew its properties and uses and its value in their lives. I am looking for stories and objects that trace the path of human ingenuity, art and craft across half a million years: along the great cultural adventure that separates us from our fellow creatures. Humans are, above all, a technological species and the manuscript of our evolution is bound in wood: a brain that could conceive abstract ideas and futures; a hand with which to manipulate our environment. Wooden objects are the fossil record of human creativity, written as much in the sum of human knowledge in construction, travel, art and technology as in the discarded physical objects of the past; more so, in fact.
In The Museum of the Wood Age I have gathered those stories and objects together into a virtual space – a museum of ideas and connections. I show how a small number of simples devices known to early modern hunter-foragers became axioms for a set of technologies that allowed humans to explore all their creative ingenuity; to fashion new ecologies for themselves. From bow and arrow to wheeled vehicles, bonfires to forges, canoes to ocean going ships; from pallets and barrels to mills and the construction of an Elizabethan theatre, this is a unique exploration of our relationship with the material that made us what we are.
Aidan, Oswald and Bamburgh: Two authors event Sat 13th Nov 2021
First Kingdom paperback launch event
16th November at Cafe Shrub – the Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre, Winlaton… join Max for a relaxed celebration, with a talk, book signing, drinks and nibbles in a convivial environment. Max looks forward to chatting and answering questions... Booking essential.
First Kingdom podcast: ‘History’s most…’
Download or listen here to a lengthy and detailed interview with Max by Alex Clifford https://historysmost.libsyn.com/37-historys-most-puzzling-century-pt-1-ft-max-adams?tdest_id=1602854
First Kingdom Review
From Donegal, where I’ve been working and enjoying great friendships with colleagues from the Bernician Studies Group for nearly a decade, comes a review by Dr Sean Beattie, which you can read here:
… and, incidentally, readers may be interested to know that the first print run of The First Kingdom has run out; a new print run is just coming out, and it includes endpapers maps of Britain and Europe in the 400s and 600s, which were supposed to have been included in the first run..
Trees of Life paperback release March 4th 2021
Hot on the heels of the release of The First Kingdom, the paperback edition of Trees of Life will be released on Wednesday 4th March. It’s absolutely packed with choice photographs and art and its eighty or so stories about individual tree species and their importance to human communities is both a celebration of trees, and a warning not to take them for granted.
The First Kingdom Review by Tom Holland, Sunday Times 7th Feb 2021
The First Kingdom is now out in hardback
You can listen to an interview that I did, about the subject of the book, with Ellie Cawthorne of the BBC History Magazine at https://play.acast.com/s/historyextra/thedarkages-a-blackhole-inbritain-shistory
Click on the Newsletter tab at the top of the page to read and download monthly news, views, updates and ideas.
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…
Generously illustrated with photographs, plans, maps and timelines, The First Kingdom is now out in hardback, with a paperback edition scheduled for November 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 woman 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 £9.99 + 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.