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Britain Begins Paperback – 18 Jul 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 568 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (18 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199679452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199679454
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 2.8 x 18.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 46,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Cunliffe steers a masterful course thorugh more than 11 millennia of human development ... This beautifully produced and informative work of synthesis and interpretation will provide an ideal starting point for those interested in the British past and a useful point of re-engagement for those who feel that they are already over-familiar with the basic narrative. (BBC History Magazine)

Few archaeologists have the breadth of knowledge or the nerve to write on such a canvas and Sir Barry Cunliffe has created an up-to-the-minute and accessible snapshot of recent advances in excavated data and palaeobiological research for both his profession and the general reader. (David Gaimster, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology,)

Barry Cunliffe's account is handsomely produced and impeccable in its scholarship, the nearest thing we have to a definitive account of Britain's story from the end of the ice Age to the Norman Conquest. (The Scotsman)

Sweeping from the end of the last Ice Age to the eve of the Norman Conquest, this book contains a vast amount of information, accessibly presented. It is an enjoyable journey, and one that never loses sight of the wider picture. (Current Archaeology)

About the Author

Barry Cunliffe taught archaeology in the Universities of Bristol and Southampton and was Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford from 1972 to 2008, thereafter becoming Emeritus Professor. He has excavated widely in Britain (Fishbourne, Bath, Danebury, Hengistbury Head, Brading) and in the Channel Islands, Brittany, and Spain, and has been President of the Council for British Archaeology and of the Society of Antiquaries, Governor of the Museum of London, and a Trustee of the British Museum. He is currently a Commissioner of English Heritage. His many publications include The Ancient Celts (1997), Facing the Ocean (2001), and The Druids: A Very Short Introduction (2010), all also published by Oxford University Press. He received a knighthood in 2006.

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70 of 71 people found the following review helpful By James Honeychuck on 5 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Another beautifully produced, glossy book by Oxford University Press, in which the renowned Emeritus Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe surveys the state of knowledge of prehistoric Britain, as well as later periods up to 1100 AD in which I personally am less interested.

I pre-ordered the book, and when it arrived I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it addresses Ireland as well. No prehistory of Britain could do otherwise. But the need to avoid the politically incorrect term "British Isles" does make titling difficult, such as with Bryan Sykes's "Blood of the Isles," which is about the DNA of Britain and Ireland. Anyway, the alliterative title "Britain Begins" does not do justice to the coverage of Ireland in this book.

At least one eminent archaeologist has scoffed at the idea that DNA studies are of much use in studying prehistory. So I was delighted to see that Prof. Cunliffe considers DNA findings in at least 17 places in the book. Skeptics will be satisfied to see that he does not believe everything he reads about DNA. To my knowledge, this book sets a precedent in at least considering DNA studies as part of a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the past.

This author's analysis of where on the Continent the people of these islands originated is the clearest I have seen anywhere. I finally think I have it straight in my own mind.

The section on the origin and spread of the Celtic languages is a concise summary of work published previously in the book Celtic from the West, which Prof. Cunliffe co-edited, and enhanced here by a brilliant new map depicting a model of that spread.

The book has no footnotes or bibliography.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sebastian Palmer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 27 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Wow! This book is a fascinating and exciting compendium of diverse facts, beautifully illustrated, telling the most incredible story. Cunliffe writes with great clarity and engaging straightforwardness, weaving together various strands of scientific deduction sufficient to put Sherlock in the shade. What science there is here is, on the whole, easy enough to follow. Certainly this isn't too drily technical a read. Indeed, throughout the book we often touch upon moments connecting us with our forebears, a very early and poignant instance of this being the discovery of Mesolithic footprints in the littoral muds of Formby point.

Covering 11,000 years, from the retreat of the ice around 10,000 BC (when these lands were still connected to the European continent), to the arrival of the Normans in 1066, Cunliffe tells how the people of these islands grew from bands of a few hundred hunter-gatherers to a mixed population of around two million. Before embarking on this epic tale he sets out what we used to tell ourselves was our history, from the first mentions of these lands in ancient Greek and Roman texts, through to indigenous writers like Geoffrey of Monmouth, examining how myth and fact interwove, before beginning on the journey to the more complex and nuanced understanding we have now.

More than half of the book is given over to the period prior to these islands entering into the written record, which Cunliffe describes as formerly belonging to 'shadowy pseudo-history'. It's quite moving reading Geoffrey of Monmouth, who belongs to this earlier semi-mythical phase, saying 'Britain, the best of islands...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Charliecat on 5 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sir Barry Cunliffe is a renowned archaeologist and Emeritius Professour at the University of Oxford. He has produced a host of excellent books regarding the ancient peoples of the British and Irish isles. Britain Begins is a stunningly produced and enthralling book. Moving through 11 millennia of history: from the very earliest prehistory of these islands to the pivotal year which every school child knows; 1066.
Lavishly illustrated with maps, diagrams and photographs of archaeological sites and finds Britain Begins is a fascinating and erudite introduction to the beginnings of Britain and Ireland. It's a shame that the title doesn't reflect the inclusion of Ireland but Ireland is included and no history of these islands would be complete without it so don't be put off by the title.
This is not the sort if book which you can read straight through. Many of the ideas are extremely complex and it would be far too much information to take in in one straight read through. I think the reader would get more out of the book if they read single sections or chapters at a time or the bits which interest you most. The book starts with a chapter on the myths and legends of the British Isles from Herodotus, Tacitus and Caesar and then moves on to the earliest settlers after the last ice age and then every age in between in chronological order until 1066. Cunliffe also includes interludes about physical characteristics and DNA, language and religion which really add something extra to the information. A fascinating and beautiful book and well worth buying if you are interested in the beginnings of Britain and Ireland and the people who occupied these ancient isles.
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