Sugar the pill

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
JOURNEYS INTO THE PAST SERIES: LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE. By Sophia Sackville-West

LIFE IN THE AGE OF CHIVALRY. By Nick Yapp

LIFE IN THE VIKING AGE. By Tim Healey

LIFE IN THE TUDOR AGE. By Adam Nicolson

LIFE DURING THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. By Richard Tames. Reader's Digest pound;18.99 eachTel: 0990 113366

Journeys into the past will be indigestible digests for most child readers, but nevertheless they are scholarly social histories in which the pill of learning has been substantially sweetened by a delicious concoction of photographs and drawings.

The series will certainly be useful to teachers who want to keep more than one step ahead of their pupils, not least because the books will expose them to the kind of detail that all but the best social histories leave out.

Older secondary pupils, who have interest and vision that take them beyond the bounds of the history syllabus, will also find them a fascinating, if challenging, read. If you want to know what it was like to be a mercenary in medieval Europe, or about child mortality in 16th-century France, or perhaps about Moody and Sankey's envangelism among the poor of Chicago in the 1860s, then look no further.

The list of topics goes on, providing plenty to interest the serious student as wellas those with an eye for historical titbits. As part of Reader's Digest international publishing web, they target a reading public that is not solely limited to these shores, so Life in the Tudor Age is not a book about Tudor Britain, but one about life in 16th-century Europe. It starts with an examination of Venice - "The Jewel of Europe". Giving the books this broader sweep is a strength not a weakness (the "Tudor" title is perhaps, a little misleading). For the Tudor Age goes on to take a fascinating tour around the continent in its trawl for evidence and examples.

From England, the author makes good use of "The Story of Myddle", that intriguing diary of life in the Shropshire village of Myddle; from France, there is a look at the first stirrings of organised labour in Lyons; and from Switzerland, the beginnings of theatre and the Lucerne Passion.

The picture research in all the books is first class, the choice of illustrations is often stunning in its impact. These books are expensively produced and expensive to buy, but their quality is not in doubt. My one irritation was that I had to search to find the name of the authors buried in the smallest of print among the credits. Why?

Paul Noble is head of St Andrew's primary school, Blunsdon, Wiltshire


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