In a beautifully written and thoughtfully crafted book, studded with striking portraits, pictures and maps, Schama, the bestselling author of books on European cultural history such as The Embarrassment of Riches and Citizens, as well as 1999's Rembrandt's Eyes, has managed to be both conventional and provocative. He tells the official version of Britain's island story--from Roman Britain, through the Norman conquest, the struggles of the Henrys and Richards with their bolshie barons and cautious clerics, Edward I and the subjugation of Wales, King Death (the plague), and on to the Henrician reformation, before closing with the remarkable reign of the virgin queen, Elizabeth I.
While sticking to a script familiar to anyone who sat up and listened in history lessons at school, Schama brings it all alive, with memorable prose--Simon de Montfort's rebel parliament is described as inaugurating the "union between patriotism and insubordination"; with Henry VIII, Schama says, "you could practically smell the testosterone". And with fine sensitivity too, particularly on the symbolism of buildings, memorials, language and ceremonies, and on the complex relations between England and her Celtic and Catholic neighbours. If history must have gloss, then let it be written and presented like this. --Miles Taylor
"He remains a master storyteller, admirably and sceptically well read in current revisionist histories, and a wonderful guide to a new history of Britain." (The Times)
"A History of Britain, its text supplemented by wonderful illustrations, affords the rare joy of witnessing a scholar at the peak of his powers convincing the reader that he has a cracking good tale to tell and that he is loving every minute of the telling." (Literary Review)
"Popular history at its finest." (Sunday Express)
"Simon Schama's A History of Britain is far more than the book of the TV series... The book is far richer and fuller, covering a huge span so economically that there is room for plenty of arresting detail... It is the sort of vivid history that keeps you awake." (Peter Lewis Daily Mail)
From the Back Cover
'History clings tight but it also kicks loose,' writes Simon Schama at the outset of this, the first book in his three-volume journey into Britain's past. 'Disruption as much as persistence is its proper subject. So although the great theme of British history seen from the twentieth century is endurance, its counter-point, seen from the twenty-first, must be alteration.'
Change - sometimes gentle and subtle, sometimes shocking and violent - is the dynamic of Schama's unapologetically personal and grippingly written history, especially the changes that wash over custom and habit, transforming our loyalties. At the heart of this history lie questions of compelling importance for Britain's future as well as its past: what makes or breaks a nation? To whom do we give our allegiance and why? And where do the boundaries of our community lie - in our hearth and home, our village or city, tribe or faith? What is Britain - one country or many? Has British history unfolded 'at the edge of the world' or right at the heart of it?
Schama delivers these themes in a form that is at once traditional and excitingly fresh. The great and the wicked are here - Becket and Thomas Cromwell, Robert the Bruce and Anne Boleyn - but so are countless more ordinary lives: an Irish monk waiting for the plague to kill him in his cell at Kilkenny; a small boy running through the streets of London to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth I. They are all caught on the rich and teeming canvas on which Schama paints his brilliant portrait of the life of the British people: 'for in the end, history, especially British history with its succession of thrilling illuminations, should be, as all her most accomplished narrators have promised, not just instruction but pleasure.'
'Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict'
Ben Rogers, Financial Times--This text refers to the Paperback edition.