The second volume of Simon Schama's A History of Britain brings the histories of Britain's civil wars - full of blighted idealism, shocking carnage, and unexpected outcomes - startlingly to life. These conflicts were fought unsparingly between the nations of the islands - Ireland, England, and Scotland - and between Parliament and the crown. Shattering the illusion of a "united kingdom," they cost hundreds of thousands of lives: a greater proportion of the population than died in the First World War.
When religious passion gave way to the equally consuming passion for profits, it became possible for the pieces of Britain to come together as the spectacularly successful business enterprise of "Britannia Incorporated." And in a few generations that business state expanded in a dizzying process that transformed what had been an obscure, off-shore footnote to Europe's great powers into the main event - the most powerful empire in the world.
Yet somehow, it was the "wrong empire." The British considered it a bastion of liberty, yet it was based on military force and the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Africans. In America, the emptiness of British claims to protect "freedom" was thrown back into the teeth of colonial governors and redcoat soldiers, while the likes of Sam Adams and George Washington inherited the mantle of Cromwell.
Simon Schama grippingly evokes the horror of the battle, famine, and plague; the flames of burning cities; the pathos of broken families, with fathers and sons forced to choose opposing sides. But he also captures the intimacies of palace and Parliament and the seductions of profit and pleasure.
This is Volume 2 of A History of Britain.
Have you heard Volume 1?
Don't miss Simon Schama, Clive James, Bernard-Henri Levy, and Anna Deavere Smith talking about art and politics at The New Yorker Festival.
©2001 Simon Schama; (P)2001 BBC Worldwide; Produced in Association with Audio Renaissance, an Imprint of Renaissance Media Inc.
"A delightfully accessible and important book...an elegantly written, consistently engaging account...penned by one of today's finest historians." (Publishers Weekly)
"A powerful experience. Great drama, insight, and vivid detail." (Booklist)
Volume II is as good as Volume I of this work. An outstanding survey of British history, made exciting by good narration, good narrative, good organization. This volume does show some threadbare spots, some superficiality about important subjects, but that should be expected in a "grand survey" work, especially one that is somewhat abridged. Nevertheless, these are small & almost unnoticeable blemishes on the work. If you want to learn more about the events narrated, or the events skipped, there are a number of works available "on tape" (some on Audible, some not) that go into more depth on such things as the english civil war, the french & indian war, the "glorious revolution" and so forth.
If you're a history buff, this is definitely a book for you. Schama provides a great, lucid explanation of the very convoluted history of 17th century England, in particular. You'll know which Charles followed which James, without losing your head in the process.
I've listened to A History of Britain (both volumes) all the way through twice and have learned something new each time. The pace is generally brisk and sensible, although Schama is far more fascinated with doctrinal disputes circa 1600-1640 than most listeners are likely to be. The narration is good, too.
I enjoyed this volume a great deal, the book was arranged in chronological order, from Roman Empire right down to the post-colonial era, a great book for people who want a concise history of the United Kingdoms and the British Empire. It showed both the glorious side as well as the dark sides, also you may want to find the Documentry version produced by the BBC.
I was quite happy with the narrator, though that is probably a matter of taste. The book is very engaging, enlightening, the narration has a certain spell to it, and I do wish Audible would get some more of Schama's books on the list, notably Citizens, I believe it's called, on the French Revolution.
This book should come with a warning "Do not operate a moving vehicle while listening to this book". It goes from being very interesting to down right boring. It tends to ramble at times with no direction. It seems as if the author was trying to reach a goal of X number of words and was just filling in time and space.
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