Stonehenge is one of the most compelling landmarks on Earth, unique and instantly recognizable. We don’t know much about its builders, why they built it, or indeed even how they built it. We have lots of archaeological evidence and plenty of theories, but unlike their Egyptian contemporaries, the Neolithic builders of Stonehenge neglected to leave behind any writing explaining why they erected a bunch of stones on Salisbury Plain.
Aubrey Burl, it turns out, is a leading expert on Stonehenge and indeed stone circles throughout Britain. I didn’t know this before I started reading the book, but it’s obvious within the first few pages that Burl knows what he’s talking about. This is a man who has spent his lifetime absorbing all he can about Stonehenge, from the history of its exploration and excavation to the archaeological investigation into the culture that constructed it. If you’re going to learn about Stonehenge, you should learn from the best.
So don’t let my somewhat lukewarm rating deter you from this book: it isn’t bad, just not as enchanting as I was hoping. If I were in a different mood, not so distracted by school and the siren song of other books on my shelf, this might be a book I could really get into. As it is, Burl’s A Brief History of Stonehenge is actually an Incredibly Detailled History of Stonehenge. And he includes measurements. Oh, so many measurements—in metric and Imperial units! I confess that I prefer my popular history books to be more narrative and less descriptive; if I wanted to know the dimensions of Stonehenge, I would look them up in Wikipedia.
This seems like an excellent starting place, however, for anyone looking to do research into Stonehenge. It’s written by a foremost expert, and it is supersaturated with information. Burl takes us through each of the theorized “phases” of Stonehenge’s construction, from a basic circle in 3000 BC to the later sarsen trilithons that give Stonehenge its unforgettable appearance. He pays particular attention to the controversy surrounding the bluestones—the general name given to all the non-indigenous stones found at the monument. Burl himself subscribes to a theory that the stones were deposited there by glaciers and used by the builders out of convenience, but he acknowledges that others believe the stones were quarried and transported to the site (what a feat, if that’s the case).
I cannot fault this book for its accuracy or its commitment to providing a truly stunning history of Stonehenge. This isn’t a book I intentionally sought out—I inherited it from a friend who moved away, but I figured, hey, I can learn more about Stonehenge—and I’m not sure what else the market has to offer for histories of the monument, though I suspect there are plenty. All I can say is that this seems like a useful book; it’s definitely a thorough book, and indeed it’s the detail that made it difficult for me to enjoy it at this time.