Sunday, January 18, 2015

Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts

“Who would have thunk it?”  Certainly the professional archaeologists did not really expect to find the undisturbed grave of an English King waiting contentedly for them in the first trench they dug underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England.  The story of the discovery and ultimate DNA confirmation that “skeleton 1”  under that tarmac was most certainly that of Richard III, looser of the Battle of Bosworth Field,  is told by journalist and archaeologist Mike Pitts in a nicely balanced  way that removes some of the interpersonal infighting and media hype while retaining the narrative core of the search.  Pitts gives you enough history to set the scene and enough archaeology to put perspective on the science. At the end he fairly notes that finding the grave may add little to history as a whole, but does personalize Richard in a way that adds to our appreciation of his story.  It certainly continues to fuel the age old debate on how accurate Shakespeare’s portrait was and may even prompt some directors and designers to take these findings into consideration when casting and producing the play in the future.    

I have a few quibbles for publishers Thames and Hudson. The type face used was too small and this made the footnotes even smaller.  I finally had to resort to a magnifier to peruse them.  Saving paper is environmentally important, but a few more pages using larger type in this reasonably slim volume would have been appreciated by this aging pair of eyes. I was also disappointed by the limited number and quality of the illustrations. Most of the pictures are in black and white and often lack contrast.   Perhaps permissions for better pictures were restricted by other copyrights, but since there was considerable media filming throughout the entire process it seems strange that the illustrations accompanying the text were so few and so lackluster.

On the whole it still remains a stimulating and rewarding read for a history buff or theatre historian.  I give it 3 ½ stars.

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