Review of “A Needle in the Right Hand of God : The Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Making and Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry by R. Howard Bloch

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

The Bayeux Tapestry is a remarkable historical artifact.  It is the source of much of what is known about 11th century England and the Norman Conquest of 1066.  The cloth itself is 210 feet long and 24 inches high. 

Small segment of the tapestry

Small segment of the tapestry

Technically, it is not a tapestry at all but rather an embroidery, which is a cloth featuring decorative needlework done usually on loosely woven cloth or canvas, often being a picture or pattern.  This particular work of art provides a series of 50 panels depicting scenes of the events leading up to the Norman invasion of England and the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066, “one of the determining days in the making of the West.”


No one knows for certain who commissioned it, and there are arguments to be made for a number of different sources in different countries; above all, the tapestry does not seem to favor the victors or vanquished consistently. 


The book by R. Howard Bloch is very learned, but not always interesting.  The author spends a lot of time describing the process by which the embroidery was created, intermixed with a narrative of the historical events portrayed. The organization of the book was difficult to understand from the audio version.  It skipped from a history of the events commemorated in the tapestry to technicalities of producing the object.  Even the history jumps about without a coherent sequential narrative. 

Detail of stitching

Detail of stitching

I strongly recommend reading as opposed to listening to the book because it deals with a work of visual art.  The author frequently refers to aspects of the scenes portrayed and to the techniques of representation used by the artists who created the work, often referring to particular panels by number, which of course a listener cannot see.  That kind of writing would be much more interesting if reinforced by a picture of the subject, apparently available in the published version of the book.  

Rating: The audio book is worth only 2.5 stars, but a printed version might be worth 3 or 3.5 stars.

Published in hardback by Random House, 2006

A Few Notes on the Audio Production:

The narrator, Stephen Hoye did a fine job.  He is the winner of a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards.  But I did not think the book was necessarily a good choice for audio.

Published unabridged on 6 CDs (7 listening hours) by Tantor Media, 2007


About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
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2 Responses to Review of “A Needle in the Right Hand of God : The Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Making and Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry by R. Howard Bloch

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    Can you imagine all the work that went into that? I enjoyed your post but will skip the book.

  2. Beth F says:

    ARGH, I have had this book since it came out and never got to it. I’ll listen to you and skip the audiobook. Now to figure out where I stashed that print copy.

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