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on 15 November 2004
There have been a number of reviews complaining about this book because they wanted it to be something else, and perhaps the title is misleading. This is not the story of British history. Rather it is a guide to the various periods of British history. And the understanding of those periods you can gain from this book will give you the ability to hear the bear facts and make sense of them.
Having a series of experts writing grippingly on their specialism is not a flaw in the slightest. (And Kenneth O. Morgan is a great historian, as is John Guy.) When Morgan talks of the social trends of the twentieth century he does not give all the details of the rise of the labour movement of course - only somebody who already knew about them would be able to take it all in, and it would be a much longer book. What he does is provide insight (very eloquently) to the area, allowing further reading, or even reference in a conversation, to make sense to the reader.
J.M. Roberts is a fine writer, he makes history very accessible, but does not, himself, go into huge details in books like 'The History of the World' (where he mentions Elizabeth I only once and in passing).
This book is not a chronology of British history, nor is it an encyclopedia - but it is a great guide to understanding the history of Britain.
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on 30 September 2007
I glanced at this book and picked it up cheaply at a supermarket, thinking that it might fill a gap in our family resources, so my initial, not very great, expectations were of a soft narrative history.

Instead I found a fascinating set of essays written by specialists with self evidently deep knowledge of their respective periods. One interesting common thread to the essays is that history is presented as a set of interconnected parallel narratives; broadly these are political, social and economic, however each essay gives these areas a more specific theme for appropriate to the period. The effect of reading each essay is to leave with the sense of having been introduced to an encompassing overview of the period.

In such a book I would have welcomed footnotes to provide sources for the evidence cited, however there are copious suggestions for further reading.
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on 2 October 2003
Excellent book , as its tells the history of social changes , economic changes and about the Rulers . Not just about the great kings and queens and their events and war. But truly reflect the social and economic changes for over 2000 years . A must for any one new to British History .
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on 14 February 2014
A very helpful text book. Useful for dipping into as a study aid,although I do intend reading it in its entirety when I am able.
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on 1 March 2013
The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain takes you through the tumultuous story of Britain. It starts with Rome's first expedition in 55 BC and takes you all the way to modern time ending in the 1990s. Obviously with a story of this magnitude, not every detail can be entertained, but I think Oxford does a good job providing the framework. The years roll by quickly in the early chapters on Roman Britain by Peter Salway and the Anglo Saxon Period by John Blair (~100 pages for 1100 years). The main point of the first section is to discuss the Roman conquest and how Britain was transformed. The second section discusses how Britain evolved after Roman rule and then struggle for power with the Vikings and later the German tribes.

The next two chapters cover the Middle Ages with John Gillingham thought the Thirteenth Century and Ralph Griffiths up to the Fifteenth Century. This is the part of English History I know the most about. I actually have other books by Gillingham. I think this section is done well enough, but it reflects how the space limitation causes important aspects to be glossed over.

The next two chapters cover the Tudor and Stuart eras. This time period was significant for religious turmoil. The beginning of the Anglican Church and the waves of protestant reform. The rule of the English queens also gets its start here. The Stuart era sees continuing religious intolerance and resulting civil war. John Guy comes down heavily on Elizabeth, but I found him unconvincing. His claim that she left England ungovernable and his supporting evidence seem to fall apart in the next chapter. Again with more time to explore the topic, the author may have been more compelling. But, the inconsistency in these two chapters is also a reflection of the format of the book. Common themes and progression in particular areas are not explored, since each author's scope is restrained.

The last four chapters cover the eighteenth through the twentieth century. These chapters primarily focus on the social, political, and cultural evolution of England. The development of Parliament and the political parties is explored. The industrial revolution and the genesis of the middle and working classes is outlined. The expansion of England as an imperial power and impacts are discussed. The establishment of world free trade and its impact on the economy is explained. The world wars are briefly commented on, but only is so much as their affecting social change. Decolonization resulting after World War II is examined. The establishment of the "welfare state" is explained as well.

There are several appendixes including recommendations on further reading by chapter, a chronology from 55 B.C. to 1991, genealogies of the major royal lines, and a listing of the prime ministers.

The authors take for granted that the reader has good grasp of world history. For example, the Reformation definitely impacted England and the book discusses the divisive religious environment, but the author fails to explain what was going on the continent which led to the movement in England. Novice readers may find this book a bit overwhelming. The writing styles are disjointed. But I don't think they take away from the readability of the book. I think this volume would be good for those that are familiar with parts of British history, but want to appreciate the whole picture.
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on 16 August 2001
I'm a half-educated American, with the vaguest notions of British history. I bought this book hoping to be able to understand the story of the British Isles, in a more or less clear outline. That didn't happen: after 200 pages, I tossed the book, wondering just who it was written for. Here's why I tossed it:
(1) It doesn't have an author. Instead, it has a bunch of authors, each apparently assigned a certain portion of British history to cover. The problem is that none of the authors seem to have consulted each other, nor did the editor seem to edit. On every other page, you see a fact or definition repeated (by a previous author), or a topic referenced (but uncovered by a previous author). History is a messy thing, but it has to be organized to be learned, and any hope of presenting material in terms of themes or movements is lost, because styles and approaches switch radically from author to author, from clear and sparse, to confusing and overly-detailed.
(2) It should have an author. This sounds like point (1), but hear me out: the editor, Mr. Morgan, claims that writing grand history, spanning the length of the British past, just can't be written anymore. It is better, rather, to have specialists write about their specialities. Sounds good in theory, but is just abominable when placed next to comprehensive histories written by single authors. Toynbee and Trevleyan wrote such history earlier. And J. Roberts writes such history now, particularly his History of Europe, and History of the World, two models of lucid historical writing that make this disjointed compilation look like an ill-considered mishmash.
(3) It should have an audience. Or at least a different audience: the average intelligent reader wants a clean, interesting exposition of the important events and currents of the past. While some chapters achieve that, most seem to be written not to the Average Reader, but to the Rival Colleague. And so we see a few facts casually presented, and then a sudden digression into some piece of scholarly minutae that leaves the reader (me, that is) pexplexed.
(4) It should teach historical knowledge, not assume it. This is one of those histories that assumes from the onset that you know all the relevant history. That might be OK for a narrow scholarly article, but it's an awful presumption for a comprehensive history. I read dozens of pages discussing the 'Domesday Book,' its importance, and its effects. The authors never thought to enlighten the ignorant, and explain what this Domesday Book was (an very old tax survey). Things like this litter every page.
From previous reading, I've learned that good history can be written. From reading this, I've learned that very bad history can be written, too.
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on 1 August 2015
I love this book. A real masterpiece. Everybody who really wants to learn about Great Britain's history should have one.
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on 14 February 2016
Does the job, well made, very pleased with it.
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on 1 July 2002
I bought this book with the intention of fulfilling a long time intention to learn something about the history of Great Britain, a subject I recall very little of from school. Whilst the book, as claimed, comments on the political, social, economic and cultural transformations in British History, it is lacking in one vital area - the actual history! Too much time is spent explaining the whys and wherefores of particular situations without actually explaining in any detail what happened. Henry VIII's 'matrimonial adventures' are, for example, dismissed as being 'too familiar to recount in any detail.' Perhaps I'm just being naive to presume a book on the History of Britain would provide that very detail! Maybe I should have just listened more at school !!
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on 14 July 2015
Very good! Thank you very much!
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