You need to be living somewhere very quiet and very distant, perhaps on Mars (and without access to Wi-Fi), to be unaware that 23-24 June 2014 will see the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, one of the most important battles in Scottish History and a turning point in what have become known as the Wars of Independence between Scotland an England. That the 700th anniversary of the battle should fall just three months before Scotland's independence referendum adds further to the significance of the anniversary, though is perhaps no coincidence.
The story of the turbulent relations between Scotland and England in the decades following the untimely death of King Alexander III of Scotland in 1286 has been told many times, and you only have to pay a brief visit to any Scottish bookshop to realise that "Bannockburn: Scotland's Greatest Battle for Independence" by Angus Konstam is by no means the only book about the period to have been released to tie in with the anniversary of the battle. So why should you consider buying Angus Konstam's take on events?
Put simply, because it is very, very good. Perhaps the best thing about it is that it is put simply. Angus Konstam has a style that is accessible, informal and engaging. This ensures his book is highly readable, and for any author that has to be the overriding aim. There are probably people out there who consider themselves "serious historians" who would find the author's style too informal, but we love it. One chapter opens "Two funerals and a cancelled wedding - it reads like the gritty prequel to a box office success from the mid-1990s." Elsewhere he illustrates the scale of the crush suffered by the English army by reference to the ground and seating capacity of the nearby (modern) stadium of Stirling Albion FC. This is an author who has no difficulty bringing the past to life for his readers in a very vivid way.
But this book is not a case of "style over substance". Angus Konstam has very obviously researched the available sources in great detail, and when the story moves on to the battle itself the result is an account of a confusing series of events over two days, whose sequence and location are both the subject of considerable disagreement, that is utterly convincing and compelling. There is just one way the book could be improved, by moving the maps from the back to the front, so readers are more aware of their existence before they reach the end...