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The Isles Hardcover – 5 Nov 1999


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1222 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; 1st edition (5 Nov. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 033376370X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333763704
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.5 x 7.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 455,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

Review

"[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 down...is 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, this magisterial narrative, scholarly yet down-to-earth and engrossing, reveals Davies at his iconoclastic best."--Publishers Weekly (boxed review) "A key book for its time....Moved by corrective passion and insatiable curiosity....Seizes the conventional wisdom of the moment, and destroys most of its foundations."--London Review of Books

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mike J. Wheeler on 21 Mar. 2007
Format: Paperback
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 By A Customer on 30 May 2002
Format: Paperback
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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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 8 Mar. 2000
Format: Hardcover
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 By G W MCQUARRIE on 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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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME on 8 Mar. 2006
Format: Audio CD
The British Isles are a unique geographical location in the world, having been provided by nature with advantages and problems unique in the world, and peopled by various groups who have worked together and against one another for domination of the Isles. Only for the briefest periods in history did the Isles truly represent a unified group, and even these times were more of an appearance of unity rather than actual unification.
Norman Davies, author of the critically acclaimed `Europe: A History', has put together an interesting history of the British Isles, trying to portray them as a group that, while lacking unity, should be at least addressed as a unified group, always influencing and co-dependent upon each other.
Davies is rather modest in his self-description of the book:
`This book necessarily presents a very personal view of history. Indeed, by some academic standards, it may well be judged thoroughly unsound. As I wrote in relation to a previous work, it presents the past 'seen through one pair of eyes, filtered by one brain, and recorded by one pen'. It has been assembled by an author who, though being a British citizen and a professional historian, has no special expertise in the British historical field.'
Davies self-criticism is really far too strongly expressed here, for he does an admirably thorough job at documentation, reporting, and theorising. Taking a cue from other historians who worry about the increasing lack of historical knowledge of the general public coupled with the increasing specialisation which causes people to lose proper perspective, Davies has put together a comprehensive history of the British Isles which strives to escape at least some of the problems of previous histories.
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