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the Complete Review
the complete review - history

The Modern Antiquarian

Julian Cope

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To purchase The Modern Antiquarian

Title: The Modern Antiquarian
Author: Julian Cope
Genre: History
Written: 1998
Length: 429 pages
Availability: The Modern Antiquarian - US
The Modern Antiquarian - UK
The Modern Antiquarian - Canada
  • A Pre-millennial Odyssey through Megalithic Britain including a Gazetteer to over 300 Prehistoric Sites

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Our Assessment:

A- : fascinating and bizarre fun, informative, and very attractively packaged

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Melody Maker A 7/11/1998 Jimmy Blackburn
The Times B+ 14/11/1998 Frances Gilbert

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t might seem no more than the ramblings of a faintly deranged hippy. But Cope is a witty and knowing writer, and this beautifully designed tome (...) could inspire anyone to put on their wellies and go yomping across the moors to investigate for themselves." - Jimmy Blackburn, Melody Maker

  • "Although Cope's historical musings about megalithic Britain are not much cop, his practical walking guides to the sites are excellent and mercifully free from any Goddess tosh. It is also a beautifully produced effort: its artwork and design original and arresting. An excellent coffee-table book for a New Age household." - Frances Gilbert, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Julian Cope might not strike one as the most serious or level-headed of people. Actually, even among modern pop/punk/rock stars he often appears to be on the very fringe of normality (an opinion that is generally only confirmed by his own admissions in his autobiographical works, Head-On (see our review) and Repossessed (see our review)). What, then, might one expect from his pre-millennial Odyssey through Megalithic Britain ?
       Cope rarely disappoints. He may be a weird character, and maybe he doesn't shower enough, but he's put out a lot of fine music, and his memoirs are a load of fun. His obsessive traits seem to have served him well (although his enthusiasm for toy cars, as related in Repossessed, may be a bit much for some), and they do so again with this unexpected undertaking. A visit to Avebury got him hooked on megalithic Britain and he determined to find out what he could about this pre-historic phenomenon. Dissatisfied with the guidebooks (and coffee table books) available he decided to put together his own handbook:

I wanted to bring it all together: pictures, maps, illustrations and practicality in a Gazetteer, along with an overview of the big picture in an Essays section.
       After eight years he had The Modern Antiquarian, a massive and impressive labour of love, and an ideal introduction to and overview of megalithic Britain.
       Attractively presented (with slipcase and all), this is a big, heavy, and heady book. It begins with ten essays by Cope, covering 150 pages, about various aspects of megalithic Britain. The second half of the book is a Gazetteer of some 300 sites, divided (and colour coded) by region. The Gazetteer includes maps of the areas and some of the sites, Ordnance Survey map reference numbers (necessary to find some of these sites), lots of pictures, descriptions of the sites, as well as journal entries by Cope from when he visited the sites (a nice touch). The volume as a whole has over 600 photographs and illustrations (most by Cope himself), as well as "over 50 poems". And: "Each Site Visited and Verified by the Author" (so the copy on the slipcase -- we're not quite sure what "verifying" a site might involve and, come to think of it, we probably don't want to know).
       Most people are familiar with Stonehenge, but unaware that this is only the tip of the ice...er, stone-berg, as it were. As it turns out, there are literally hundreds of such megalithic ("Greek for 'great stone'") sites spread all across Britain. In fact, Cope tells the reader, Stonehenge is unrepresentative, a late add-on -- "a fashioned Bronze Age power statement" erected "centuries after the height of megalithic building."
       In his ten essays, Cope covers various subjects having to with the megalithic sites, providing a good general overview -- though one with a strong slant towards a particular interpretation of the sites and the times (maternalistically oriented, with lots of talk about the Great Mother and the like). One piece -- "The Book of Ur" -- includes a detailed etymosophy (your guess is as good as ours) of words such as "Ur" and "Koeur". Some of it sounds fairly nutty, but Cope has done his research and his opinions are at least well-founded. Most of it makes some sort of sense, and much of it is compelling. Cope varies between narrative (of his visits) and semi-scholarly studies, and he manages to make it all quite interesting.
       The Gazetteer provides a page or so on each of some 300 sites, each generally with a picture or two of the site, a short description or overview of the site and its significance, as well as brief notes made by Cope when he visited. The collection of sites is remarkable: Stonehenge impresses because of its size, but the mystery of these sites often dwarfs it. Eery and unlikely arrangements, precariously balanced and perched stones, odd alignments, sadly broken and toppled remnants, huge barrows -- and all of it ancient and storied. Some of the most striking are small circles -- or larger arrangements that can only be fully appreciated at a distance.
       Cope impresses with his familiarity (well, he did visit all the sites) and the connections he is able to make. His expertise is neither intimidating nor boring, and the brief snapshots of the many sites -- a page of pictures and writing for each, rarely more -- is just the right amount to get a general idea of these marvelous places.

       The Modern Antiquarian is an unusual book. Certainly, Cope achieved what he set out to do. It's an ideal introduction to this odd, prehistoric world. It's informative, speculative, thorough. It can, we suspect, serve well as a guidebook. It also serves as a welcome reminder that there is a world of archaeological wonder still out there in Britain, a heritage that must be taken care of (bravo to Cope for his efforts in this regard). And it is both serious as well as giddy fun. Recommended.

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The Modern Antiquarian: Reviews: Julian Cope: Other books by Julian Cope under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British pop star Julian Cope was born in 1957. He was a member of The Teardrop Explodes and has also had a successful solo career.

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