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The Tribes of Britain [Hardcover]

David Miles
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 May 2005
The diverse peoples of Britain and Ireland are revealed not only by physical characteristics but also through structures and settlements, place names and dialects. Using the latest genetic and archaeological research, the author shows how different peoples traded, settled and conquered, establishing the 'tribal' and regional roots still apparent today. Its vast scope considers the impact of prehistoric peoples and Celtic tribes, Romans and Vikings, Saxons and Normans, Jews and Huguenots, as well as the increasing population movements of the last century.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (26 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297830864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297830863
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 205,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'First-rate' (DAILY EXPRESS)

'A good background book. Massively informative and earthily evocative, it does some of the preliminary workd necessary to understand, if not cure, our current identity crisis.' (Bryan Appleyard THE SUNDAY TIMES)

'In The Tribes of Britain, [Miles] unpacks some of the chocolate box notions of what it is to be English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or British... Miles is at his best in showing how many of the conventional views of the origins of British identities are more myth than history.' (EVENING STANDARD)

'... a huge and fascinating subject... There is much to be learned here...' (THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

'Miles's copiously fascinating account... is not only highly enjoyable and instructive, but very timely.' (A C Grayling INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

'... scholarly but readable... a fascinating alternative to traditional history books.' (FAMILY HISTORY MONTHLY)

'A wonderful foray into British roots and hertiage.' (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)

'an engaging, informative and entertaining book... an excellent introduction to the complexities of British history and prehistory.' (BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGY)

Book Description

Who are we? The story of the peoples of Britain and Ireland, drawing on new genetic discoveries, language, buildings and landscape. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
84 of 95 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well informed but tendentious 8 Aug 2006
The book is very readable and lucid, but greater use of maps and charts would have helped. Miles is an archaologist and clearly most at home in prehistory and ancient history, though he provides a good if basic social and cultural history of the pre-modern period. The last chapter on contemporary Britain is by far the weakest, with a disappointingly thin and partial analysis and a couple of factually inaccurate throwaways - Miles is no demographer or social scientist, and he doesn't understand the economics of migration.

The theme of the book is Miles' attempt to prove the modern liberal thesis that Britons are a 'mongrel' society. True to some extent, but no 'race', nation or ethnic group in the world is "pure" - they are all genetically mixed "imagined communities" or historical accidents. There's nothing special about Britain in that regard. What's more, Miles himself cites evidence that contradicts his argument. The genetic links between today's Britons and Ice Age "Cheddar Man", and the growing consensus that the Anglo-Saxons didn't eliminate the native Britons, and may not have been very numerous, indicates that the majority of British people can probably trace an indigenous ancestry back thousands of years.

There are limits to the vision of Britain as an immigrant society, which is a modern political project designed to show that recent immigration is part of a historical continuum (again, only partly true).
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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In search of us Brits. 27 Aug 2005
By A Customer
An excellent history, detailed,written in an easily readable style.
Reccommended to anyone interested in our origins as a people.
The only reason that I gave the book 4 stars and not 5 is that there are no maps. Any history book worth its sort should cotain the relavent maps. (A few illustrations would not have gone amiss either).
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51 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Janus face of history 22 Jan 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Writing of one's own land carries certain risks. If the view is too internally focussed, the dynamics of human movements are omitted. Our species is highly dynamic in locating our "home". Yet a study giving an overview of our migrations around the planet may just as easily skip past details of nation forming. National histories have a tendency to reinforce local mythologies and traditions. Global views, on the other hand, overlook those traditional icons. David Miles has struck a fine balance with this study of British societies down the ages.
Britain, he contends, holds a special place in human prehistory and beyond. Situated at the edge of the EurAsian landmass, it was populated by early hominids long before the Ice Age [see "Fairweather Eden" by Michael Pitts & Mark Roberts]. When the ice arrived, humans were pushed back to the Continent, only to return again as the glaciers retreated. One of the more notable archaeological finds is "The Red Lady of Paviland". This skeleton was unearthed in 1823 and later proved to be the first early human fossil. It also was determined that it was a male. The remains are now dated at 26 000 BCE. Yet more appropriate is the Amesbury Archer. This grave, near Stonehenge, contained the body of an adult male who'd been born and raised in the Northern Alps. To Miles, these cycles of migration set a pattern for subsequent settlement. They also laid the groundwork for British expansion in later centuries.
At some point we must ask "Who are the Britons and who are the immigrants?" This is the very point Miles stresses as he explains the roots and impact of people entering the British Isles. The Irish, firm in their ties to their own island, clearly have Continental roots. How close are they to the Scots and other peoples crossing the Channel.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By John
A quick skim through this book found abysmal mistakes which seem incompatible with the academic distinctions listed against the author's name. He cites a Gaelic linguistic heritage for Wales, along with Scotland and Ireland. He posits a language shift from Gaelic to English in southern Scotland as a direct, blanket process of anglicisation without, apparently, being aware of the intervening shift from Gaelic to Norman French in all matters of any importance. Similarly, he implies that Scots Law undertook a wholesale adoption of English Law, rather than parts of it. These raise the suspicion that other parts of the book are similarly unreliable.
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