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A History of Britain - Volume 1: At the Edge of the World? 3000 BC-AD 1603 [Paperback]

Simon Schama
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Nov 2009

'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.'

Frequently Bought Together

A History of Britain - Volume 1: At the Edge of the World? 3000 BC-AD 1603 + A History of Britain - Volume 2: The British Wars 1603-1776 + A History of Britain - Volume 3: The Fate of Empire 1776-2000
Price For All Three: 37.71

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (5 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847920128
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847920126
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and the prize-winning author of fourteen books, which have been translated into twenty languages. They include The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; the History of Britain trilogy and Rough Crossings, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written widely on music, art, politics and food for the Guardian, Vogue and the New Yorker. His award-winning television work as writer and presenter for the BBC stretches over two decades and includes the fifteen-part A History of Britain and the eight-part, Emmy-winning Power of Art. The American Future: A History appeared on BBC2 in autumn 2008.

Product Description

Amazon Review

"History clings tight but it also kicks loose. Disruption as much as persistence is its proper subject". If only it had been dispensed Simon Schama-style at school. His enthusiasm without being overbearing or overwhelming is astonishing, considering his erudition and esteem world-wide.

He puts human stuffing into remote cardboard cut-out progenitors of our dynasty and destiny, realistically conveying spiritual and temporal needs and failings. Indeed, immature princes, homosexuals, royal mistresses, divorce and remarriage did not originate with the 20th century, and the quotidian norm of verbal and literal back stabbing and saving one's skin, hypocrisies of Church and State and horrible death from battle have been conspicuous from the outset. "War's plunder was the glue of loyalty binding noble warriors to the king".

British history turns out to be a show of many foreign parts and Timothy West's enlightening reading irresistibly spurs involvement with Roman government, Anglo Saxon confusions, doings of French and Spanish nobility, Henry VII's manoeuvres and Elizabeth I's intrigues--specifically the latter's spider-and-fly activities with turbulent Mary Stuart.

Schama says in his absorbing introduction "History should be not just instruction but a pleasure", This production fulfils that principle, and is utterly marvellous. (4 cassettes, running time 8 hours) --Lyn Took --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An exciting, intensely seductive presentation of history." (Independent)

"Remarkably vivid pictures... A decade on, Schama's study remains a terrific read." (Paul Lay History Today)

"A bravura performance by the Lord Macaulay of our day." (David Cannadine The Observer)

"Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict." (Ben Rogers Financial Times)

"Popular history at its finest." (Express on Sunday)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well informed 4 Mar 2010
Format:Audio CD
I've been moved to review this item mainly in response to the only other review on this site having awarded it one star, and seemingly holding against Simon Schama personally the misguided and belligerant conduct of kings.

Certainly this work is a whirlwind tour of history. A lack of detail may be a partial downfall but this is inevitable when faced with the task of fitting 4,600 years into 8 hours. Given the constraints, it's a well researched, eloquent and balanced assessment. It maintains an admirable moral distance and like all the best historical works, it reviews and reports rather than judging history, but never steps back from expressing an apt opinion - this is no simple list of dates and events.

In contrast to the other reviewer, I found great examples of social history here. Schama's analysis of the changes in societal structure caused by the plague are intriguing, as is his discussion of the shifting and uncertain balance of power between monarchy and other echlons of society.

So, flawed by the time available it may be, but it certainly provides much that the inquisitive amateur historian may be looking for in its review of the period. It is an intelligent study of causation rather than monotonous historical list-making.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A readable primer 15 Jun 2011
I bought this book with a view to gaining a general outline of how Britain's destiny has been shaped. Having read a few in-depth history books on specific events and short periods, I felt that I would gain by understanding the wider context in which these events occurred. In the main, I feel that Schama's book has given me that, although, as ever, it means putting one's trust in the author's accuracy and judgement of what is relevant.

What I didn't expect, unlike some reviewers it seems, was a comprehensive account of every event of note. With a subject this broad, the content is necessarily selective. I'm guessing, of course, but I'd say Schama chose the events he thought were the most fundamental to the nation's destiny, rather than the juiciest ones. Every subject he covers has a bearing on what follows and generally involves significant change, while illuminating what it was like to live in the period under discussion.

I read the indignant reviews of those attacking what they see as anglo-centric bias with some amusement. Those with the greatest power have the most influence and if they happen to be English kings, what is Schama to do? By all means, seek out material on the history of Wales or Scotland to learn about their cultures, but are we to suppose that the likes of Llewellyn or Malcolm III shaped our destinies? Had Schama adopted a more provincial approach, the same people would doubtless have criticised him for portraying the Welsh and Scottish as greedy, backstabbing, bloodthirsty barbarians, as it's clear that most of the, mainly English, protagonists were just that. As it is, conquerors from Rome, Scandinavia and France are also given extensive room. Hardly anglo-centric.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History made accessible 31 Mar 2001
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette|Verified Purchase
This is a great book to read but I think it all the better for having Timothy West read it. He has the right voice to draw you into the story of Britain and want to keep listening. The best part about the whole story is how the book combines both elements of our history - continuity interspersed with shocks to the system - which the country deals with and incorporates into the fabric of what makes Britain. The other fascinating point is how the book deals with the successive influences on Britain and how we are the result of a continuing series of waves of immigration and war. I recommend this audio book because it tells a story and helps identify where we came from as a nation - something that is very relevant to today
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very much like the curate's egg - good in parts 12 April 2001
By A Customer
Despite considerable detail about the French component of the English nation in earlier chapters, along with the campaigns and consequences, the Hundred Years War only gets mentioned by name!
My main irritation however, and the complete spoiling of the book for me, is the fact that the first third is quite good, and the last third OK, but the middle third is completly missing!! He quite reasonably and perfectly legitimately divides the time period by the reigns of the monarchs, spending considerable time on the main events and ramifications of each reign, and then covers the events of the Wars of the Roses, the transition from the Plantagenets to the Tudors, the rapid succesion of monarchs (not even named!), the life & times of Richard III etc. all in one page! This is arguably one of the most action packed, interesting and important periods in our history, and not described at all!
This is all the more galling when you consider that the reign of Elizabeth I, important in it's own way, but - let's face it, pretty un-eventful (Mary Queen of Scots, and the non-invasion of the Spanish Armarda are considered by Scharma to be the most dramatic happenings) - gets the single most lengthy chapter! When you think about it, the most important part of Elizabeth's reign was her last breath, which ended the Tudor dynasty, and brought about the unification of Scotland and England, effectively creating the Britain that all the other reviewers are carping on about. Sorry, but Boswell Field and the period that preceeded it are probably more important, and certainly far more interesting than the peaceful flowering of the Elizabethan period.
You have been warned - it's disappointment.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very good
Published 2 days ago by sandy
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating glimose at the early development of Britain, mainly...
Very readable! The major events from pre-Saxon to Tudor times are referenced. However the bulk of the book gives details of less well known happenings. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Annie
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
First rate - on time, in good condition, good price, good cause All the best for the year opening before us
Published 8 months ago by kevin barnard
4.0 out of 5 stars Looks an interesting read.
This matches two other volumes i have, yet to read. It is good value and will be a source of reference.
Published 9 months ago by sally manning
4.0 out of 5 stars A good, detailed and interesting book, that works!
Firstly, this book is more like 55 BC - 1603 AD, as anything before 55 BC gets a couple of pages. One thing I noticed about the text is that is uses intellectual and articulate... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Graham Cammock
4.0 out of 5 stars Very comprehensive
Great overview of the history of England (Wales, Scotland and Ireland are no more than bit players) from ancient to Elizabethan times. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Superjeep
4.0 out of 5 stars An efficent view of history
Studying archaeology, other aspects appeared from many quarters. Schama's book gives an excellent and useful amount of overview, explanation and background
Published 14 months ago by Mr Patrick Cronin
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
This is good book for a broad outline of british history. Well written and informative, with a good dose of dry humour - I would certainly recommend it - it starts with pre-Roman... Read more
Published 17 months ago by T
5.0 out of 5 stars History lessons as they should be
Very well written.
Clever mix of modern language/references with the old makes it humerous and easier to understand and retain the information. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Samwise
1.0 out of 5 stars This is not a history of Britain, it is a history of the ruling...
I was disappointed by this book as I hoped it was a history of Britain, but instead it is for the most part a history of the squabbling of various nobs in Britain. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Dr. L. Goodwin
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