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The Isles: A History [Hardcover]

Norman Davies
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Mar 2000

The bestselling and controversial new history of the 'British Isles', including Ireland from the author of Europe: A History. Emphasizing our long-standing European connections and positing a possible break-up of the United Kingdom, this is agenda-setting work is destined to become a classic.

'If ever a history book were a tract for the times, it is The Isles: A History ... a masterwork.' Roy Porter, The Times

'Davies is among the few living professional historians who write English with vitality, sparkle, economy and humour. The pages fly by, not only because the pace is well judged but also because the surprises keep coming.' Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Sunday Times

'A book which really will change the way we think about our past . marvellously rich and stimulating' Noel Malcolm, Evening Standard

'A historiographical milestone.' Niall Ferguson, Sunday Times

'The full shocking force of this book can only be appreciated by reading it.' Andrew Marr, Observer

'It is too soon to tell if [Norman Davies] will become the Macaulay or Trevelyan of our day: that depends on the reading public. He has certainly made a good try. This is narrative history on the grand scale - compulsively readable, intellectually challenging and emotionally exhilirating.' David Marquand, Literary Review

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 1200 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st Edition edition (2 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195134427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195134421
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.7 x 6.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,380,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

When did British history begin, and where will it all end? These controversial issues are tackled head-on in Norman Davies' polemical and persuasive survey of the four countries that in modern times have become known as the British Isles. Covering 10 millennia in just over a thousand pages, from "Cheddar Man" to New Labour, Davies shows how relatively recent was the formation of the English state--no earlier than Tudor times--and shows too how a sense of Britishness only emerged with the coming of empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. A historian of Poland and the author of an acclaimed history of Europe, Davies is especially sensitive to the complex mixing and merging of tribes and races, languages and traditions, conquerors and colonised which has gone on throughout British history and which in many ways makes "our island story" much more like that of the rest of Europe than we usually think. Many myths of the English are dispelled in this book and many historians are taken to task for their blinkered Anglo-centrism. But the book ends on an upbeat note, with Davies welcoming Britain's return to the heart of Europe at the dawn of the new millennium. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


"[Davies] invests The Isles...with energy and enthusiasm."--The New York Times"For all its length, it miraculously retains the pace and exhilaration of an iconoclastic essay."--The Economist"The book succeeds, boisterous in its sheer variety."--The Wall Street Journal"An audacious project, touching and reckless, enormously stimulating and hugely necessary."--Washington Post Book World"Brilliant....Davies's fast-paced narrative and reassessments are executed with such brio that putting the book almost impossible." --The Boston Sunday Globe"Any reader eager to challenge the enduring prejudices and bigotry that have dominated the history of the Isles for so long will find his myth-busting views both engaging and enlightening."--The Christian Science Monitor"Excellently organized and...well written."--The Boston Book Review"Davies has written a wondrous, landmark chronicle of the British Isles....Bursting with fresh insights on nearly every page, t --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Davies writes a superb book which is a wonderful antedote to all the horrendous old anglocentric histories I remember reading years ago. In my opinion Davies correctly emphasises the importance of all the constituent parts of the Isles. The book begins by examining the prehistory of the isles and I note that one other reviewer states that he felt this chapter to be a waste of time, concentrating on the minutae of an obscure academic argument. The opening chapter and its discussion readily puts over the point that when talking about place names etc., we cannot remove ourselves from a preconception of history and inevitably produces bias. If that reviewer had persisted with the book I suspect he/she may have got the point by the end.

The book then enters a more traditional history beginning with the Celtic domination of the Isles and proceeding through Roman, Saxon, Norse, Norman and Plantagenet eras of (attempted) domination. With each period there is a three part chapter consisting of a "scene setting" episode, the meat of the history and then a review of conceptions, misconceptions and previous views on those eras. The first part of the chapters are always excellent, the second as good but the third parts tend to be inconsistent, some good some rather tedious. Overall though the layout is good and the appendices at the end are wonderful, having the lyrics and music to various "nationalistic" tunes is a wonderfully original idea.

Criticisms of the book are minor in comparison to its overall impact, but here goes. There appeared to me numerous typos in the book ranging from mis-spelling to factual inaccuracies. Whilst this can be forgiven, they did seem to get more frequent towards the end as if the proofreader had gone to sleep.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read 30 May 2002
By A Customer
This book is a marvel. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Each chapter is memorable for the quality of the writing and the interesting facts and anecdotes which help to memorise what's going on. However, I found the maps were incomplete so I read it in conjunction with the Penguin Atlas of British and Irish History. I was also disappointed that the manner of the writing underwent a change after the 1700s and it seemed like the author assumed the reader knew the history from 1700s on (which in my case was not true) and wrote some chapters simply commenting on the history rather than explaining it. This said, I can't wait to start it a second time. Thanks Mr. Davies for a wonderful read.
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
With this his latest book Norman Davies has set the seal on his claim to be the foremost popular British historian of our times. This makes it all the more unfortunate that he perpetuates the old idea history is nothing more than the history of the governing elite. That is the subject matter of this this book. The other 99% of the British and Irish peoples, and the great historical forces which moulded them, hardly get a look in.
For example, dynastic politics in the late medieval period are covered in detail, with all the crownings, marriages, enfoeffments, rebellions and inheritances carefully recorded. But the Black Death, which utterly transformed the lives and economic relationships of everyone alive at the time and for centuries to come, is only briefly described and not discussed at all. The Irish Famine of the 1840's is referred to a couple of times, but not even described let alone discussed. The Industrial Revolution, surely the most important event since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago - and a uniquely British event at its beginning - is given approximately the same amount of space as a detailed account of the habits of the British aristocracy!
This approach to history may have been appropriate in an age when literacy was the preserve of a privilaged minority who were mainly interested in the doings of thier noble ancestors. But it 's woefully inadequate for the 21st century. It's an upstairs-downstairs version of history. It regards all the really important information about the past as 'social history', an inferior branch of the subject, to be treated with disdain by gentlemen historians. Their task is to make an intricate study of which individuals happened to be top dog at any particular time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ebook better than paper shock! 21 July 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I've had this book in paperback for quite a few years and keep dipping back into it.
It's always a pleasure to enjoy Norman Davies's broad view of our history.
It's accessible and fun. But the sheer bulk of the book is off putting.
So I decided to buy the Kindle version and for the first time I prefer an ebook over paper.
The ability to have bookmarks, to instantly get dictionary definitions and to read on a relatively light iPad is well worth the modest cost.
I recommend it highly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Britain & Ireland: the Full Monty! 7 April 2004
this is an excellent history of britain and ireland that delves into our shared history. it stands out from the crowd for three reasons:
i) davies questions every preconceived notion of national or historical identity (britishness, celtic-ness, etc.)
ii) context: every event or group of events that has taken place on these isles is put into its greater context. for instance, the author brilliantly evokes the world of the vikings and what it was that drove them to expand their world. the supporting maps are invaluable in this respect, and the reach of the book is illustrated by the fact that davies doesn't draw the line at, for instance, a map of the vikings' activity in these isles, but also a map of their scandinavian world.
iii) structure: the book is organised in chronologically ordered sections. in each section davies hypothesises what it might have been like to live in those times through well-crafted vignettes, then analyses the known history of the period, before going on to examine the many differing interpretations of that history. this approach not only makes us think about the period under examination, but is also a consideration on the nature of 'history as interpretation' itself.
it is undoubtedly a very ambitious book, and its length may seem daunting. but it is also a very readable book, and i'd go as far as to say an essential read for those interested in our shared histories.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Having previously read "Europe: A History" by Norman Davies ...
Having previously read "Europe : A History" by Norman Davies I knew what to expect. His style is engrossing, He acknowledges that there is nothing in his book which cannot... Read more
Published 5 days ago by David R. Swift
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
No Comment No Comment No Comment
Published 18 days ago by fawzigermanus
5.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of British history
This book is mainly good for people who really want to learn about British history. It's clear, brief and concise. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lenard
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
A terrific read which is incredibly well-researched. How one historian can bring together history, archaeology, legend... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Judith
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book bad packaging
The book - paperback and quite thick - was in good condition. However this was a bit of a miracle as the flimsy grey plastic sleeve used as packaging was torn open so that the book... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kath
5.0 out of 5 stars Europe's Off-Shore Islands
This is a magnificent book; a history of the British and Irish Isles from the dawn of time to the present day (when it was written in the late 90s) in a single volume, offering a... Read more
Published 4 months ago by S. Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent piece of work
I became a fan of Professor Davies after reading his historical account of Europe. Well written, well thought through. Well worth reading.
Published 7 months ago by Michael J. Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars unique history of britain
Norman Davies is a very good historian and an equally good writer.This is a truly interesting review of the known past of these British lands uninhibited by a brief but seemingly... Read more
Published 9 months ago by jsheerin
3.0 out of 5 stars Birthday Present
This was a very big book and quite heavy reading so did not tick all the boxes for my husband
Published 9 months ago by jenny
3.0 out of 5 stars History a pasion
I have read "EUROPE: A history" by the same author and he had impressed me. I am very pleased with this book as well
Published 10 months ago by Alexandra Mantikou
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