In Search of England

Michael Wood

Read April 2004

Wood's book is an excellent study of the essence of Englishness, as studied through myths and foundational tales of national identity. He begins with a story of a childhood meeting with the aged Bernard Law Montgomery, already a legend in his own time, and a staunch defender of the Norman contribution to England. Wood uses this episode to discuss the Norman Yoke, tying it back to comics he read in his youth. This is fascinating, engaging, spirited work.

The rest of the book is similarly episodic and rich in texture, dealing with Arthurian legend, Robin Hood, and so on. Wood's strength is his ability to review popular topics through skeptical lenses until they become studies of a different depth entirely. He also has a terrific ability to mix the specific with the general, never entirely abandoning his premise, drawing broader lessons without resorting to platitudes.

Unfortunately, I found it hard to sustain my enthusiasm through this book. This is not Wood's fault; I simply don't know enough of the context of British history, nor care quite enough about what defines and provokes the British sense of identity. This is still a much more engaging work than, say, Kazantzakis's.