Robert Tombs' momentous The English and Their History is both a startlingly fresh and a uniquely inclusive account of the people who have a claim to be the oldest nation in the world. The English first came into existence as an idea, before they had a common ruler and before the country they lived in even had a name. They have lasted as a recognizable entity ever since, and their defining national institutions can be traced back to the earliest years of their history.
The English have come a long way from those first precarious days of invasion and conquest, with many spectacular changes of fortune. Their political, economic, and cultural contacts have left traces for good and ill across the world. This book describes their history and its meanings, from their beginnings in the monasteries of Northumbria and the wetlands of Wessex to the cosmopolitan energy of today's England. Tombs draws out important threads running through the story, including participatory government, language, law, religion, the land and the sea, and ever-changing relations with other peoples.
©2014 Robert Tombs (P)2016 Tantor
"European history buffs and readers undaunted by a 1,000-page history will find a lucid, engaging, and pleasantly nondidactic book, with helpful maps." (Kirkus)
anglophilic political drama
A similar concept, though far more in depth is Churchill's history of the English speaking peoples. Ironically Churchill's history does far less to cover up the insults and atrocities of the English on the world at large. The English and Their History tries to downplay the claims that the English kept a violently imperialist thumb over India and that the the Irish potato famine was exacerbated by the English parliament as a means of genocide.
He adequately captured the often light hearted tone of several of the asides, something often difficult during a long historical reading.
I was quite fascinated by the authors insights into the development of the English language. He makes a concerted effort to focus on political, social, and literary changes and avoids getting lost in lengthy analyses of wars and battles as many historians do.
This book, for the most part, focuses on England after the Norman conquest. If you are looking for an earlier history this is not for you. Also, the author goes all the way up to events in 2013, so if you have an active interest in English or British politics you may want to skip the last 3 hours or so.
An ambitious undertaking because of the scope, the author out of necessity glosses over many subjects of interest such as England's relationship with Ireland. The book tries to trace a sense of an English national temperment but generally gives for his examples "great men." To my American ears, about 10% of this book is made of apoligist phrases like "but still better than France and Germany." It seems a bit silly to praise your ancestors for burning slightly fewer witches per capita than rival nations. Then again, I guess it reiterates the theme of an island people anxiously comparing themselves to their continental neighbors.
All this said, this is a history of "the English" and not a history of the people of England, and does a great job at illuminating a few thousand years of the political and economic context of a nation.
This book endeavors to cover the entire history of England. From its earliest years under Rome prior to Saxon invasion to the Scottish vote to stay in the Union and how that effected England. The author also attempts to cover every aspect of England's long history, from religion to its scientific accomplishments, Magna Carta and parliament to Empire. At times the content seems to slow and getting through the subject matter a real slog in the muck. It may have been my disinterest in that particular subject and another person may find that area enjoyable but a spot that I enjoyed difficult to stay with. The author is largely pro-English, as one would hope a person writing such a tome would be, which gives a different, and at times defensive, tone than is common with books pertaining to England that I get to read here in the states. The narration, though at times droning, was excellent overall. It's difficult to listen to a subject for over forty hours and note start to feel the vocal drone. Overall I greatly enjoyed this book.
author of Lowcountry Legend's series
As an anglophile, I gobble up British history, unless it's political history. Whig and Tory must be printed 50 times in every chapter. This is a huge book, just note that 20 AD Thru 1680 is a mere quarter of the book while the rest is only through the last world war. To me, that it makes it profoundly unbalanced, and to me, boring.
Very listenable overview of history that attempts to remain above the political fray. Well done.
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