The story of Britain from the earliest settlements in 3000 BC to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. To look back at the past is to understand the present. In this vivid account of over 4,000 years of British history, Simon Schama takes us on an epic journey which encompasses the very beginnings of the nation's identity, when the first settlers landed on Orkney.
From the successes and failures of the monarchy to the daily life of a Roman soldier stationed on Hadrian's Wall, Schama gives a vivid, fascinating account of the many different stories and struggles that lie behind the growth of our island nation. Simon Schama's major BBC2 series has shown him to be one of our most original and exciting historians.
©2012 Simon Schama (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
Schama is a talented writer, and his narrative flows easily, but it is really just a popular history of the English Monarchy from William the Conqueror through Elizabeth 1. Even then, while he hits on all of the major points of that time frame, he obviously felt that there were really only a few Monarchs who deserved more than a cursory mention, leaving this very much a book in the Great Man of History tradition.
William I, Edward I, Henry II and Beckett, Henry III and Eleanor and the Tudors all get lots of press. Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Chaucer, Shakespeare, the War of the Roses, Richard III, the Crusades and many other aspects of British history are given scant mention.
Thorne does a fine job as narrator, and it is a well written book, with a sly wit, but the subtitle is a bit misleading.
Letting the rest of the world go by
Before this book I didn't know a Stuart from a Tudor, now I do. The author's philosophy is that history should be as fun to listen to as possible. He does that with ease with this volume. He really gets most interesting when he is delving completely into some event or person such as the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror or the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
The book ends abruptly leaving me wanting for more. I'll probably use one more credit and get Volume II.
I like to read but listening is better.
I thought this was a very interesting and entertaining history. It was rarely dull. I enjoyed learning about the different roots and layers of Britain. Stephen Thorne's voice is well suited for this book. The retelling of the different revolts and the stories of the royals were great. I have only a few complaints. It's rather a lengthy time period to squeeze into 1 volume. I realize that we simply know more about modern history than we do about the middle ages and before that, but it still seems like this could have been a 4-volume series rather than 3. The final 2 volumes of the series cover only 4 centuries (and really only 3.5 since post-WWII is essentially skimmed over briefly); the first volume covers 47 centuries. Anyway, there were times when I felt like Schama glossed over periods which I would have liked to learn more about. At times events would be mentioned and then not expounded upon and this was frustrating. Also, if you went into this book hoping to learn about the structure of British nobility and government you are only going to be partly satisfied. You will learn plenty about nobles, royals, and non-royals. You'll also hear about the different ways that someone of non-noble blood could become noble. However, if you want to know the difference between, say, an Earl and a Duke, you won't find it here. Similarly, you'll learn a great deal about the different arguments and power struggles between Parliament and the royals, but you won't learn about the different houses or even how the Parliament works as far as voting and things like that. I definitely think it would be beneficial to read a book with a sort of "British society and government for dummies" feel before reading this book.
My reading and listening tastes are eclectic.
Listened to this while hiking at Big Bend National Park. Loved every minute of it. In fact, I got so distracted listening to the section involving the Black Plague, that I hiked further than I had planned so I wouldn't have to stop listening. It was extremely well narrated. The writer does exactly what he set out to do in the premise, and I would recommend this to anyone who has even the vaguest interest in the history of Britain.
Simon Schama made me feel as though I was hearing well-known stories for the first time. I knew very well how the Battle of Hastings turned out, but it didn't stop me from sitting in the car, long after my journey had finished to hear the thrilling end of the battle.
Schama writes beautifully. This book is mainly the story of the kings and queens of Britain and you should know that before reading it. He covers a lot of ground but Schama manages to provide enough detail for each period to give you a good grounding in the history. He writes with a light touch and the minutes fly by. I can honestly say I was not bored for one second and often I listened for much longer that I meant to just so I could find out what happened next. Which is saying something, because I knew exactly what happened next. That's what a good story-teller Simon Schama is.
Stephen Thorne's narration is just brilliant. Schama's prose and Thorne's voice add up to the most riveting re-telling of British History one could ask for. Highly recommended.
"A Good Overview of Early British Kings"
The book "A History of Britain: Volume 1" covers British dynastic rulers from the time of the end of the Roman Empire until the end of the life of Elisabeth I.
As such, for the lay public, such as I, this is a perfectly-sized overview of all the British kings that one has heard about but that one will probably never read a biography of (with the exception of Henry VIII and Elisabeth I).
The only negative to this otherwise excellent book, is that the author begins with a pondering and philosophical introduction that rambles on for 26 minutes and almost made me stop listening. But I did not, and I am glad as the rest of the book is clear and unpretentious, even very humourous at times.
"Fun and educational"
I have to start by saying that I love history but I am very much an amateur and so I can't vouch for how accurate this history is. I trust the author as he is often on TV, I remember him on the BBC so I think he is reliable.
This is an easy listen. It is history as story. Schama uses the characters, Kings and others to make the history come alive. I mostly listen my audio books while driving and I had no difficulty following the narrative, something with can be a problem with non fiction books.
I was a bit disappointed that Simon Schama did not narrate the book himself as I know his voice from TV. Having said that Stephen Thorne does a very good job and is easy to listen and to follow.
This is a good book, well read and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys history.
If you can get past the introduction, which does the book no favours with it's pompous, overly indulgent style, you'll be rewarded with plenty of absorbing tales from the history of our great land. Not an educational text as much as a personal cherry-picking of some of the more notable events. Nonetheless the subject is dusted down and made far more accessible than it was at school. Overall a job well done that stands up to repeated listening.
"Well written but hard to manage as an audiobook"
I may return to parts of this if I have a particular interest in a particular period and want to refresh my understanding.
This is to some degree a reference book and the lack of a table of contents and index and an inability to flick back and forth through the pages made it a less than perfect experience.
"Comprehensive, Informative, and Entertaining"
Loved the whole of this book and can't wait to listen to Volume 2, as this book stands up against my favourites, which are usually within the Sci-Fi genre. It is informative, in the level of information it gives, whilst being entertaining in itself, history in every bloody detail.
Roman history is one of my favourites and the way it is brought to life with individuals lives of the conscripts from across the Empire.
this book made me think in terms of what I knew of this countries history, which it turns out was poor, and how the four countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were inextricably joined throughout the ages. makes me want to look at British history more.
this is a well read book. i have enjoyed it allot and often go back to it. i was never particularly alert at school and history class mostly went in one ear and out the other. So i decided that i would like to get a better grasp of the events that preceded me and this was great way to start. it is easy going and has just the right level of depth never tacking you to far down a rabbit hole as to make you confused when you reemerge.
"Better than the TV series"
I was hesitent to buy the audio version as I already own the DVDs from Simon Schama's TV series. However, I was very impressed at how much extra information there is here.
Very well narrated.
It was fascinating. I particularly enjoy the way in which he chooses to write about ordinary people as well as monarchs and important figures of the time.
Excellent series and one to listen to over and over again.
"The first part of Schama's trilogy ends with Elizabeth I"
Well read and enjoyable. A broad overview focussing on leaders and monarchs. Plentiful anecdotes and human details.
"Hugely enjoyable journey through Britain's past"
Scharma's rich telling of British history prevents over 4,000 years of stories becoming dry. I'd recommend this to anyone seeking an engaging overview of our country's past. Looking forward to volume two!
"HIstory meade digestable"
Yes - to anyone interested in British History - particularly English History, this is a great way to get from neolithic to The Middle Ages in an easy flow.
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