English History Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable

Narrated by: Peter Noble
Length: 9 hrs and 43 mins
Categories: History, European
4 out of 5 stars (1,378 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Here at last is a history of England that is designed to entertain as well as inform and that will delight the armchair traveler, the tourist, or just about anyone interested in history. 

No people have engendered quite so much acclaim or earned so much censure as the English: extolled as the Athenians of modern times, yet hammered for their self-satisfaction and hypocrisy. But their history has been a spectacular one. 

The guiding principle of this book's heretical approach is that "history is not everything that happened but what is worth remembering about the past". Thus its chapters deal mainly with "Memorable History" in blocks of time over the centuries. The final chapter, "The Royal Soap Opera", recounts the achievements, personalities, and idiocies of the royal family since the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066. English History will be a welcome and amusing tour of a land that has always fascinated Anglophiles and Anglophobes alike. 

©2007 Lacey Baldwin Smith (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyable history

I've read some multi-volume English/British histories that present far more than I wanted to know, and that just seemed never to end. But this one-volume book is excellent in its presentation of English history from the earliest days to the present. The author tells the story well, keeping the reader (the listener) thoroughly interested from start to finish. The narrator is also excellent. I recently returned from a trip to England and realized that I needed to refresh my knowledge of English history, but I did not want to make that a months' long task. This book proved to be a wise choice. I have no hesitancy in recommending it.

162 people found this helpful

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Only one of three

Given the title, I expected a focus on sly characterization and wit, a focus on the absurd and unexpected, discussion of the foibles and failures of the monarchs, or at least a lively reading. Instead, it gets the job done in a reasonable amount of time for the amount of history covered. Brief is covered. But, I thought the reverence level stayed right down the center with neither a plus or a minus, and I did not laugh, chuckle, or engage in a wry smile at any point in the proceedings.

Also, a minor quibble: I thought the book spent too much of its time on post-WW2 history. I would think your average history reader is well aware of recent developments and is looking for insights into earlier events.

22 people found this helpful

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Wonderful overview of English history

This is a very interesting overview of English history. At just short of 10 hours it is far too short to cover even a small part of that history in any depth (G. J. Meyer's The Tudors, which covers only the Tudor monarchy, is more than twice the length of this book), but is a very interesting and enjoyable summary of that history. It starts with Caesar's invasion of the British Isles (55 BC) and goes through to the 20th century covering only those topics that the author considers to be relevant to English history. Thus the discussion of Henry VIII's rule, which often takes volumes, is covered in less than 30 minutes and is restricted to the core historical events - the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries - and largely ignores the more salacious story of his multiple marriages and the ends of his wives.

The book makes no pretense of being a true history of England, but does cover the main events and the lighter view allows the book to concentrate on those things that are meaningful in terms of history. It is true to its title in being a bit irreverent and, in spots, quite funny, and the last chapter of the book, which covers what it calls the "soap opera" of the monarchy, discusses the married life of the English monarchs from William The Conqueror on. As an overview I found the book to be a delight and felt a bit sorry to have finished it. The book is very well narrated and I recommend it as a overview of English history with the warning that if the reader wants a real history rather than an overview he or she should consider other histories. I think that this book works best as either an initial overview to allow the reader to decide which part of English history to concentrate on or a summary for those who are already largely familiar with English history. With that caveat I feel warranted in recommending it.

8 people found this helpful

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Cartoons mentioned in Publisher's Summary omitted

I haven't heard a word of this book, but do not doubt that I will enjoy it, and will try hard not to compare it with 1066. However, the "dozens of hilarious cartoons from Punch and other publications" mentioned in the Publisher's Summary are not included with the Audible download. For many other titles there are PDFs included, usually study guides, important illustrations, etc. It is a pity that the Audible Studios folks did not arrange for a way to view the cartoons.

198 people found this helpful

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Does not live up to its title

This is the usual stuff casual consumers of English history already know about. It seems to be aimed at Americans, with insights like the difference between "British" and "English," the U.K. vs. Great Britain, etc. Each episode is indeed brief. But irreverence is not just acknowledging in mild but frank sentences that sometimes English leaders didn't do things optimally. And all pleasure was stripped by the repeated use of the ill-formed phrase "the tight little island" to describe Britain.

21 people found this helpful

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They should take "irreverent" out of the title.

Not the English Cheekiness I was expecting when I saw "irreverent" in the title. The reader, of good voice, read the book more like a history professor reading to a disinterested class.

18 people found this helpful

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The Title is On the Nose

I very much enjoyed this book. As an American, my knowledge of English History overall is pretty minimal. In my desire to expand my knowledge, there are no lack of different books/histories I could choose from. This book proved to be funny, informative, and served to distill down literally centuries of history into an easy to listen to audio book. If you are looking for in-depth information, this won't be for you. But if you are a curious newcomer to English history, this is a nice place to start.

4 people found this helpful

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Misses on all three counts

It's probably a clue when a book such as this one references a different book multiple times (1066 and All That) in presenting examples of irreverence. I suppose 9h43 probably must be considered brief for English history (actually much less, since there was no way I was going to be listening at 1.0x), but even then it seemed to go forever. It's just thoroughly unmemorable. Virtually nothing humorous at all, unless the reign of Queen Victoria being deemed "interminable" qualifies as dry wit. Even the straight histories have more intrinsic charm. Give this one a miss.

14 people found this helpful

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Wonderful!

I loved this book. Nicely read. it gives the highlights of every period of English history in a most entertaining way. It will also be enjoyable to listen to again and again.

4 people found this helpful

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Too brief, not irreverent, barely enjoyable

You might as well read a timeline. The author assumes the reader already has a base knowledge, yet fails to add any real depth to that base. I already begin to forget what I learned, because the author made so little attempt contextualize or orgsnize.

3 people found this helpful