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The Gentry [Hardcover]

Adam Nicolson
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Oct 2011

Prize-winning author Adam Nicolson tells the story he was born to write – the real story of England. It is the gentry that has made England what it was and, to a degree, still is. In this vivid, lively book, history has never been more readable.

We may well be ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, but for generations England was a country dominated by its middling families, rooted on their land, in their locality, with a healthy interest in turning a profit from their property and a deep distrust of the centralised state. The virtues we may all believe to be part of the English culture – honesty, affability, courtesy, liberality – each of these has their source in gentry life cultivated over five hundred years. These folk were the backbone of England.

Adam Nicolson’s riveting new book concentrates on fourteen families with a time-span from 1400 to the present day. From the medieval gung-ho of the Plumpton family to the high-seas adventures of the Lascelles in the 18th-century, to more modern examples, the book provides a chronological picture of the English, seen through these intimate, passionate, powerful stories of family saga. The families have been selected from all over the country and range from the famous to the unknown. Some families are divided by politics , such as the family that took different sides in the Reformation; others destroy their inheritance through reckless gambling or investments . All of them are vivid depictions of the life and code of the gentry, and have left deep archives of family papers which the author has been able to use, often for the very first time.

THE GENTRY is first and foremost a wonderful sweep of English history. It presents a convincing argument on what has created the distinctive English character but with the sheer readability of an epic novel.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; 1st Edition edition (27 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007335490
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007335497
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 232,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Nicolson is the author of many books on history, travel and the environment. He is winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives at Sissinghust Castle in Kent.

Product Description


“dazzling…..there is an exhilarating narrative sweep that takes the story across the centuries, but above all there is a unity of theme and place that roots it in English history and the English landscape….This is an enviably good book” THE SPECTATOR

“Nicolson is absolutely the perfect person to capture all this. He has a feeling for land and for tradition.…I was willingly swept along by his torrent of overblown romanticism…The other great strength of the book is the new path it beats through six centuries of English rural history….Clever, moving and put together with expert craftsmanship, THE GENTRY is the most enjoyable book I’ve read this year” FINANCIAL TIMES

“fascinating and brilliantly written…this book is a wonderfully readable memorial to (the Gentry)” SUNDAY TIMES

“masterly….. a wonderfully evocative work of historical rehabilitation” SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

“A consummate writer and keen-eyed reader of landscape, Nicolson gives us mouth-watering descriptions…a fantastic book”. TIME OUT

“Adam Nicolson has that rare ability to pluck people from the pages of the past and transform them into living, breathing figures….the author, whose skill as a writer has allowed him to unfold these lives…..and to describe their loves and fears with a well-judged elegance that make his book a complete pleasure to read” COUNTRY LIFE

“[Nicolson] paints a fascinating picture of forced marriages, violent deaths, corruption, loyalties, betrayals and, ultimately, a lost way of life… the book has flashes of insight and empathy to remind us that each family had its own individual dramas as well as being symbols of their time.” DAILY MAIL

About the Author

Adam Nicolson is the author of many books on history, travel and the environment. He is winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives at Sissinghust Castle in Kent. This is his sixth book for HarperCollins – his previous five being ‘Earls of Paradise’, ‘Men of Honour’, ‘Sea Room’, ‘Power and Glory’, ‘Seamanship’ and Sissinghurst.

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Customer Reviews

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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 7 Nov 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Every now and then someone sits down and writes a book on a peripheral subject that brings it into brilliant focus, totally accessible to, and enjoyable for, the general public. In sociology, an earlier equivalent might be Mark Girouard's Life in the English Country House.
Here Adam Nicolson illuminates the superficially dry subject of the gentry - the minor squires, squeezed between the overmighty nobles and the social oblivion of the yeomen farmers - who over the past 500 years have struggled to hold on to their place in the world.
Sounds dull? Not in this book, where he has taken a representative group from each era, incidentally taking us on a tour d'horizon of the major events of their day: the Wars of the Roses, Reformation, Armada, Civil War, American revolution, the Victorian bonanza and the Second World War.
By definition each family is seen spotlit while struggling with some major crisis, and the drama is so well presented that the reader is drawn into each family's battle for survival.
Very highly recommended.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gentry- Adam Nicholson 14 Feb 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting and informative book, well worth reading. Nicholson maintains our interest throughout and the research has been very thorough. With hindsight some descendants must be furious that their ancestors, in some instances, were so profligate with their estates.
Very worth buying.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece 18 Feb 2012
By Onora
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My initial attention was drawn to this book when Adam Nicholson was interviewed by Nick Higham on BBC. Nicholson has profiled twelve families over a period of six-hundred years (1410-2010). Excellent research is prevalent with personal letters written by members of the families , enabling the reader to feel part of the stories. The particularly striking part of this book is that even during the fifteenth-century, material extravagance and inequalitites were in full existence. From the Plumptons of Yorkshire to the Hugheses of Kinmel, Denbighshire and Grosvenor Square, London,we see the extremities to which the gentry stooped to in preserving wealth within the family bloodline,such as marrying off six year old children, demonstrating the precariousness of the gentry. Adam Nicholson gives wonderful descriptions of the countryside and informs readers of what remains of the mansions featured in the stories. My favourite stories are the Lascelles, the Pinckneys, the Aclands and the Cliffords. To a certain degree, this book is about the rise and fall of the gentry. It is useful to readers interested in the evolution of the English language and social history and it is beautifully presented. Highly recommended.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
For centuries, gentry families have been at the centre of English life: they owned most of it and governed much of it, and were the link between manor and church, farm and village.

Adam Nicolson profiles a dozen gentry families from the fifteenth century to the present day, focusing on a particular crisis in their family history; some acquire a taste for reckless extravagance, others fall in love across social classes, while some change from rural landowners into urban business people.

Nicolson interweaves his narrative with extracts from private journals and personal letters, his purpose being in his words "to make the experience of individual moments the substance of the story".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight to read 29 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I must admit to only coming across this book by accident and as I thoroughly enjoyed the author's Sissinghurst I thought I'd give it a try. I'm very glad I did. Mr Nicolson delves into the family histories and presents us with a very readable, humorous and engaging read. A measure of the author's success is that I ended up having a great deal of sympathy for people I was determined not to like at first, not being overly fond of "toffs" as it were. The author has visited all the demesnes (always wanted to use that word) of the families concerned and brings the histories to life by relating them to present day activity. Whilst the book is obviously about the "Upstairs" I would have liked a little more about the "Downstairs" but that is my only, perhaps overly harsh, criticism and lets face it there are plenty other books about that. I suppose that the success of Downton Abbey could open up this book's readership and I sincerely hope it does, as it provides a valuable history lesson for those dazzled by the TV drama.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read 3 Jan 2012
I read a glowing review in The Spectator and have not been disappointed. The book is a well organised, well written, well researched study of several gentry. Some well known, others more obscure. I was particularly interested in the Acland story. As a child I went to see his Broadhembury house on a garden open day and was aware there was some whispered history as we walked around the garden. The stories have a great depth and breadth. I wish there had been more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adam Nicolson. 24 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Good book, excellent research, not really suitable for Kindle. Hardback includes documentary evidence. these are my wife's comments who has read all Adams material.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gentry 31 Oct 2012
By Martin
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Exactly what I have been looking for. I am keen on family and local history and this not only sets the scene but gives details of weather, political and agricultural changes that so affected life. It explains many of the puzzling incidents I had come across.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Intereting commentary
Published 5 days ago by HK
4.0 out of 5 stars Reassuringly scary
Reassuring scary confirmation that families can rise and fall ...and sometimes rise again. but not always.
Published 1 month ago by erser
5.0 out of 5 stars incredible read 3 times round & I think I have ...
incredible read 3 times round & I think I have injested what its all about Adam Nicholson top knotch author more books from this man
Published 2 months ago by John Clifford
4.0 out of 5 stars Left rather unsatisfied.
Feel the book doesn't get to grips with what the gentry was. There was plenty more out there to say but of course books have a limit. Perhaps more could be said in a second book.
Published 6 months ago by Rosemary Robson
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Informative Read
Absolutely fascinating introduction to all sorts of information about so many different ages and families. This book gave an experience of real people and real life.
Published 10 months ago by chel
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!
A spectacular and amazing book.

Nicolson takes the stories of various gentry families active during various times from the 1410s to the present day and uses a... Read more
Published 14 months ago by LyzzyBee
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish id owned this book
It is a really good account of the rich aristocrats from long ago and was very interesting and i like this sort of thing
Published 14 months ago by alice
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and informative book
Since reading 'The Gentry' I have recommended it to several people. If you are at all interested in British history - particularly, English history, and how England has been... Read more
Published 22 months ago by J. E. Michie
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely read
My husband thought this book was brilliant, stories about different periods in our history, it gave a real insight on English gentry. Would recommend it.
Published on 31 May 2012 by Mrs. D. P. Coleman
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