Steed's debut nonfiction title is an elegant, poetic history delving into the mysterious people of the Moor in western England.
The volume begins with chapter-by-chapter accounts of the generations who lived on the Moor over the course of 20 centuries, beginning with those who fought against, and subsequently fell to, Roman occupation. Steed tracks how isolated, decentralized tribes advanced and unified over hundreds of years. This section, though chronological, presents the reader with many overlying themes, such as the tensions and innovations created by the church. The second part of the book takes a more in-depth look at the mid-Victorian era. This pivotal generation saw challenges and advancements on the moor like no time before or arguably since. Set against the backdrop of an increasing stratification of society, many issues are particularly apt to modern readers, like how to best help the poor, the broadening availability of education and the challenges of health care in a unified society. The final act of the book adds interesting commentary for readers, analyzing societal pressures and their effects—and how this idea plays out in history. Steed's examination of themes like personal narrative sheds light on the power and limits of a one-dimensional view of history. His ability to create significance through history without overburdening the past with contrived meaning is the strongest aspect of this title. The book is thoroughly sourced in a scholarly style, but continuous numbering throughout the volume, rather than by chapter, creates awkward fumbling when searching for citations. Steed uses an appropriate number of maps, photos and charts to support the text, and he provides a handy list of these figures alongside the table of contents. Most photos and tables are highly effective; the few maps, however, are woefully amateur. For a book that covers so much ground, Steed offers a perfect balance of thoroughness and pace.
A compelling history that speaks to the present day and the powers and pitfalls of looking to the past.