The author shows a breadth of knowledge that does him credit, for his work displays a grasp of botany, history and literature.
He delves into the history of each moor, bringing out the various characters, villainous, tragic and otherwise.who have made their story. In some ways what he provides is an insight into social and economic history, revealing incidents that contemporary history books overlook. For example, we talk of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester in 1819, but how many histories speak of the government's sending in the Husssars [cavalry] to defeat miners on Alston Moor in the same year. I am sixty five and have only just heard of it. Perhaps they don't want to reveal that the troops and therefore the government were outwitted by local knowledge and that integral to the outwitting was the role of the miners' wives, who managed to provide their hiding men with so much food that as moorland winter approached the troops were forced to compromise. Peterloo was tragic, but the government won; at Alston Moor it lost. So that's not history, is it?
Atkins presents us with sad characters, such as the wounded soldier who tried to eke a lonely and impoverished life in High Withens, the house upon which Wuthering Heights was based, as he struggled to rescue his wounded mind and body from the horrors of World War One. He tells of rich men with great ambitions to improve the moors and of how the moor defeated them. Their story is blended with that of poor, small farmers who rented the moorland from the rich and tried to grow corn on it, despite its inadequacy for cereal crops. Sadly Atkins does not link this process to the iniquitous corn laws that caused corn to be overpriced, and there is a lack of political background to the stories.
He tells of the founding of Dartmoor prison and the long suffering of the prisoners of war who constructed it, and he visits the modern prison for a service. The tragedy of the place soon becomes evident.
He speaks of the moors in our time,introducing characters who work on them. The gamekeepers are a group seldom addressed in literature, and we are introduced to them and obtain an insight into their minds. Yet we also meet conservationists bent on protecting raptors from game keepers.We meet characters who have retreated to remote moorland life so as to live what is for them an authentic existence. He describes their lives fairly and without romanticizing them.
Where literary connections are pertinent Atkins explores them. Thus much attention is paid to the Brontes at Haworth, and throughout the book he makes copious references to little known works about the moors which he has read. Thus this is a scholarly work,but a readable one.