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Parliament: The Biography, Vol. 1 - Ancestral Voices [Hardcover]

Chris Bryant
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
RRP: £25.00
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Book Description

27 Mar 2014

The history of Parliament is the history of the United Kingdom itself. It has a cast of thousands. Some were ambitious, visionary and altruistic. Others were hot-headed, violent and self-serving. Few were unambiguously noble. Yet their rowdy confrontations, their campaigning zeal and their unstable alliances framed our nation.

This first of two volumes takes us on a 500-year journey from Parliament's earliest days in the thirteenth century through the turbulent years of the Wars of the Roses and the upheavals of the Civil Wars, and up to 1801, when Parliament – and the United Kingdom, embracing Scotland and Ireland – emerged in a modern form.

Chris Bryant tells this epic tale through the lives of the myriad MPs, lords and bishops who passed through Parliament. It is the vivid, colourful biography of a cast of characters whose passions and obsessions, strengths and weaknesses laid the foundations of modern democracy.

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Parliament: The Biography, Vol. 1 - Ancestral Voices + Parliament: The Biography, Vol. 2 - Reform + Civil War: The History of England Volume III (History of England Vol 3)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (27 Mar 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0857520687
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857520685
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"This magnificent book... Bryant is a fine historian. His understanding of political processes shines through. After this epic the next volume will be eagerly awaited" (Leo McKinstry Express)

"A bravura ‘biography’ of Parliament… both charming and important… A carefully constructed and lucidly written adventure story about the institution that – like it or not – still shapes our lives" (Roy Hattersley Telegraph)

"Admirably comprehensive… and written in the kind of lucid, elegant prose now rarely associated with our elected representatives" (New Statesman)

"a fascinating study into the lives and reputations of those who, honourable or not, have sat as parliamentarians... compelling reading" (Chris Skidmore Times Literary Supplement)

"This book tells the story of our greatest national institution. It it well-written, contains much truth, and a great deal of important information. It is a wonderful idea." (Peter Oborne)

"Lively... a warts-and-all account of how MPs have first survived and subsequently shaped and initiated policy" (The Lady)

"This is a wonderful, wry view of the history of parliament "from the inside". Chris Bryant is a great myth-buster. If you ever thought that modern MPs were more corrupt or worse behaved than their predecessors, then read on. You'll find it's not quite so simple." (Mary Beard)

"A remarkably readable and scholarly account of the emergence of the British Parliament over its first five hundred years or so" (Ken Clarke)

"A wonderfully iconoclastic yet affectionate history ... Bryant tells the story with clarity and verve." (Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, Oxford University)

"Worthy of its venerable subject" (Independent on Sunday)

Book Description

The fascinating and authoritative history of the institution at the cultural heart of Britain

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent effort 5 May 2014
The best thing about Bryant's approach to this important subject is that he doesn't subscribe to any grand theories about the development of Parliament over the ages. MPs came to London, outlawed crows, foreign hats, or whatever else bothered their constituents, and went home. They assembled infrequently, rarely aware of having parts in a great play whose final act would see the creation of a democracy, which of course is a 'Whig construct' of the 19th century which is still conveniently wheeled out when it suits today for political reasons. The book is a salutary reminder that Parliament didn't accumulate power in a linear fashion; It waxed and waned - and in some ways was not much more powerful under George III than it had been under Edward III.

The problem with this approach is that, in much of the first half at least, the work is a rather dense account that lacks much of a narrative arch. In this “biography”, Parliament emerges as little more than a series of meetings of burgesses, lords, bishops and abbots, all squabbling madly with the King and each other about posts and about the money supply. Another problem is that the stories of the Scottish and Irish parliaments are compressed into a few pages. However, the story gains pace and direction in the second half, when Bryant lets go of the fine detail and delivers some witty, sympathetic sketches of the great figures of the 18th century.

All in all, a decent effort - I look forward to the 2nd volume which continues the story after 1800.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and informative 25 Aug 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is the two volumes story of British Parliamentary history from uncertain beginnings almost 800 years ago to the present day.
It is well written and incredibly well researched with fine and interesting details.
Occasionally it becomes heavy sailing and sometimes i had to refer back a few pages because it was a little confusing.
However these are personal and minor niggles, if like me you want to understand our parliamentary history then stay with it.
There is so much to learn, not just in terms of laws and bureaucracy, but the colourful characters that litter our history, expressions and words that have entered the English language, all from the British Parliament.
Volume 1 takes you from the early days of the first meetings that were the forerunner of a structured system to 1800.
Volume 2 completes the history.
There is a lot of myth and misconceptions about our parliament and this book puts those to bed.
Remember this great institution affects every aspect of our lives, and will affect the lives of your children and grand children.
I do not know of any other books that are so specialised and comprehensive.
A permanent reference tome of immense usefulness that is also great value. Recommended.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It started well.... 2 Jun 2014
By Jay
I saw good reviews for this and it started well, the early years of parliament seem well written and reasonably balanced but by the 17th century the authors list of rouges grows to anyone who disagrees with 'progress' as he defines it.

Two bits particularly annoyed me. I'm not a fan of Edmund Burke but to describe "Reflections...." as "asserting the priority of established rights such as that to private property over what he considered the entirely speculative rights to food or medicine espoused by the revolution" deliberately missing the point of "'What is the use of discussing a man's abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In this deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor" that Burke was making about abstract theories lead to disaster. I suspect the author may admire more Abbe Sieyes a fellow priest turned politician and master of impractical constitution who apparently considered his greatest achievement was to survive the havoc he played a large part in creating. He even manages to make me sympathetic to Lord Cardigan who wasn't tried for killing a man in duel but for attempted murder and its hardly one law for the rich when the Earl is tried and acquitted when his equally guilty (still living) opponent isn't even indicted
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20 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly unpleasant 20 April 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
First things first. As basic histories of the institution of the British parliament go, this is a reasonable effort. It gives sufficient factual detail, and puts the events of the early period of what was then the English parliament (British came later) in context reasonably well.


You may well find yourself rather coloured against the book, or more accurately, the author, but a shockingly self hating first section.

Ostensibly the first section is a reasonable attempt to debunk the whiggish assumption that Parliament represents something `unique` is the British character and the British development from monarchist absolutism, to restricted power and the primacy of the people in parliament. It rightly mentions the fact that the British weren't the first to have a parliament, and were far from the first to even give all of the population a vote for its members.

However the author takes excessive glee in mocking (the sense of self loathing and mockery at any attempt to suggest a unique path for English parliamentary development is pungent throughout the book) any notion of the phrase `Mother of Parliaments` as anything other than nationalist bluster. He rightly references the fact that the phrase was often used as a negative, but he totally ignores the fact that quite often in modern times, the concept of `mother of parliaments`, is not to say Britain was the first to have one, or the British one is the best, but to reference the fact that partly as a result of British involvement around the world, and partly just by example that it DOES work, the `Westminster system` is emulated in places as far flung as India, Canada, Australia and much of Africa.
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