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A History of Britain at the Edge of the World: 3500 B.C. - 1603 A.D. [Hardcover]

Simon Schama
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: BBC (2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786867639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786867639
  • Product Dimensions: 25.4 x 7.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,444,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
119 of 122 people found the following review helpful
Far more than "the book of the TV series", Schama's History of Britain is a delight to read and a masterpiece of narrative history. Simon Schama's erudite but accessible style works as well in print as it does on screen.
His History of Britain takes very different approaches in each of its three volumes. Volume 1 has the broadest sweep, from the Iron Age to the death of Queen Elizabeth. This is history on a grand scale, charting the birth of the nations of England, Scotland and Wales and the clashes between them, the invasions that made the British people what they are today, and the birth of the idea of statehood. There is time for vivid and detailed description of the Romand and Romano-Celtic eras, the Dark Ages, the endless dynastic wars and intrigue that followed the Norman Conquest.
Volume 2 works on a much shorter timescale, moving from the death of Eilzabeth via the Civil War and Restoration, Union with Scotland, and on through the eighteenth Century to the American Revolution. The tale is rather more linear, England's establishment of dominance over the rest of the British Isles, the beginning of Britain's rise to empire, wealth and world power. This is a dense and thrilling volume, full of the energy of a vibrant new nation exploring its place in the world, crackling with possibilities. It's clear that the 17/18th centuries are where Schama feels most at home (consider his other works like Rembrandt's Eyes, Citizens and Dead Certainties) and he certainly brings this period to vigorous life.
Volume 3 shifts focus again, to the close of the Millennium, looking at the origins, impact and decline of the Empire, the heights of the Victorian age and the despair of two world wars.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but you need a good vocab 11 Jan 2004
I've been reading this book and it has been excellent so far. The other reviews say pretty much what I want to say. Although I've given it 5 stars, I do have one qualm - that I find myself consulting my dictionary every paragraph or so because the author, at times, overuses very rich English and words that I have never seen before. Of course, if you have an extensive vocabulary of English or simply skim over new words that you come across without feeling the need to learn what they mean, then it is no problem. However, I find it a heavy read at times, especially when it is difficult to figure out the meaning of a new word from its context, because the context itself contains other new and strange words. I fear this may put off younger readers, or people like myself who have an average vocabulary. One the other hand, I suppose my English vocabulary is improving by the day ;)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Simon Schama really writes in a style you like to read. It feals as he would have been there! I can recommand this book highly, the only minus point I found was that 65 pages covered the time between 3000 BC and 1066 AD but 125 pages covered only Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. But overall, it's worth reading and you feal afterwards so much more inteligent!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eminently Readable Work by a Serious Scholar 9 Jan 2001
By Stephen M. Kerwick - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The overlap between excellent scholarship and exceptional readability in today's history writing is exceedingly slim. Schama's History of Britain is as good an example as the market holds today. While it obviously doesn't treat the subject area in the same depth as his his texts on Dutch and French subjects or on Art history, the area covered here is immense. From my standpoint, Prof. Schama performs a herculean task simply to distill the material into such a usable and enjoyable work. I am quite hard pressed to think of a another such work of excellent writing on a large subject area other than Shelby Foote's Civil War volumes, which seem somewhat comparable in every positive respect. Additionally, one can open A History of Britain and read with enjoyment at almost any point and for any period of time. The characterization of key players matches that of the best novels and Schama's writing compares favorably to a somewhat similar work, Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples. I recommend disregarding the less favorable reviews following as unfair in perspective. The combination of a powerful scholar of Simon Schama's caliber with such graceful writing is almost unheard of and the alternative of tedious fact recitation is no choice at all. This is a book to purchase twice, once for yourself and again as a gift for a good friend.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of British history 11 Dec 2000
By Andrew E Werchniak - Published on
Whether or not you enjoy this work will depend in large measure on the type of experience you are seeking. If it is linear narrative, elegant prose with a dash of wit, historical accuracy, and attractive pictures, you will be well served. If you seek an in-depth analysis of ANY of the topics covered, however, you will be sorely disappointed. In order to provide this and still cover the vast expanse of time he seeks to review, Schama's text would need to balloon to at least five volumes (a prohibitive size for a commercially-oriented publication). The novice historian will appreciate the fact that no prior familiarity with British history is assumed; the often bewildering array of cultural groups is clearly outlined and enough maps pepper the text to give the reader an appreciation of the role geography played in the development of the British isles. The more experienced individual will enjoy the lively pace, excellent focus, and interesting anectodotes. Overall, I highly recommend it and would definitely purchase it again.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to real history 23 Oct 2000
By Peter in Northfield - Published on
This is history as it should be: written with wit and perception. His telling phrases convey meaning - even with anacronisms slipping in occasionally! It does what an overview should do - it drives you to read more. It sweeps over thousands of years and picks out key turning points and explains them. Schama puts the 'story' back into history. A welcome addition to any non-specialist's bookshelf who wants a knowledge of the period with an enjoyable read.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the better general British history books out there 24 Nov 2003
By Megami - Published on
The first in this three part series (and companion to the amazingly good BBC documentary series) this is a fact filled history book that is actually easy to get into - you can actually read it cover to cover rather than look up in the index what interests you. Much of this is down to Schama's engaging writing style - not quite casual, but definitely not dry and dusty. This book manages to steer an even keel, avoiding parochialism and Politically Correct revisionism. An entertaining read for those interested in British history - the title really says it all.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This is NOT Early British History! 14 May 2009
By Anne Orsi - Published on
I own a number of histories of Britain, and while I agree with most of the reviewers that this one is engaging, I am greatly disappointed in this book as a whole.

The tone is easy to read, but the book's substance has the consistency of belly-button lint. Light to the point of irrelevant in far too many places, this volume is a good read for anyone who wants a fast refresher of high school English history. It is weak on causal connections, explanations, and the intrigue that I think makes history so fascinating.

Worst of all, its subtitle is completely misleading.

I bought it primarily because it purported to cover pre-Roman Britain. It's subtitle, "A History of Britain at the Edge of the World 3500 B.C. - 1603 A.D." indicated to me that it would address that period. And so it does - for six and a half pages, three of which are completely take up by photographs of neolithic sites. This coverage hardly merits a subtitle touting the book as a history of Britain from 3500 B.C.

Only one paragraph is dedicated to Julius Caesar's disastrous invasion attempts that failed two years in succession, and only two paragraphs talk about the British resistance to Claudius' successful invasion. Within two more pages, Hadrian's wall has already been built. The remaining 20 pages of the first chapter are a very general overview of the next 700 years. That's right: it takes only twenty of this book's nearly 400 pages to cover over 4,000 years of history.

I expected to read about discoveries of neolithic sites (only those in the Orkneys are mentioned - even Stonehenge and Britain's fabulous barrows are conspicuously absent here); the settlement of the Britain and its islands by the Celts; the effect of the Roman conquest and later withdrawal; the pre-Roman religions and spread of Christianity; trade and inter-cultural exchange among the peoples of Britain and the rest of Europe and Scandanavia; invasions of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and the viking Danes and Norsemen; magnificent kings like Alfred the Great (the only pre-Conquest king given so much as a passing mention); important religious influences in the guise of men like Bede and Augustine. All of these are covered in so little time and space that I can honestly say I learned more about this era in my poor, Southern, rural, American elementary school.

Chapter 2 starts with the Norman Invasion. Only a few pages of that chapter address the political and other events that explain why William the Conqueror thought he had a valid claim to the throne in the first place. There is practically nothing of the lives of any people other than notable rulers.

I cannot fault the rest of the book's treatment of English history. It does not go into great detail about much of anything, but as a cursory review of the high points of the monarchy it does passably well. It glosses over the bloody, twenty-year civil war fought between Stephen and Matilda over the crown of Henry II, but gives fairly admirable treatment of Henry III and Eleanor of Acquitaine and their incompetent and vile offspring.

Very little is said of the War of the Roses. We are told virtually nothing about Richard III's usurpation of the throne or of his nefarious kidnapping and execution of two adolescent sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, which ignited carnage among English nobility for a generation.

It is obvious that the Tudors are of much greater interest to the author than the Plantagenets (or Angevins), at least according to the detail with which he describes their reigns. The last 125 pages are devoted to the Tudors, who ruled England for 116 years. They were fascinating monarchs, indeed, but there is such a wealth of information about them I was still left feeling a bit cheated. I really wanted a readable history of early Britain.

Now, I suppose I could have been a more discerning buyer and read more in-depth reviews to find out whether this was the book I was looking for. I hope that this review provides someone else with that warning.

And although they are probably out of print, I highly recommend Thomas B. Costain's histories for great readability, more detail and better analysis of post-Conquest Britain. Start with The Conquering Family.
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