6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slightly flawed masterpiece
This is the book I have been waiting for! The antecedents of the British people is a subject that has long fascinated me and at last we have a proper, full-length yet approachable and easily-understood study of the subject.
A word of warning however: I know nothing about Neil Oliver (I gather from comments in his "introduction" that this book is a spin-off from...
Published 17 months ago by P. Bolwell
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars reads as he speaks
the text reads as the presenter speaks and this can become wearing after a while. Found that during one chapter it then wandered off through the ages into Scottish history, I had to re-read twice and then check I hadn't accidently hit his History of Scotland by mistake which was also on my kindle, still confused by that passage as it ends as abruply as it started and then...
Published 12 months ago by debbiem
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slightly flawed masterpiece,
This review is from: A History of Ancient Britain (Hardcover)This is the book I have been waiting for! The antecedents of the British people is a subject that has long fascinated me and at last we have a proper, full-length yet approachable and easily-understood study of the subject.
A word of warning however: I know nothing about Neil Oliver (I gather from comments in his "introduction" that this book is a spin-off from a television series which I did not see). He says he is an archaeologist, and for all I know a very good one: we non-specialists have to take him on trust so far as that goes. I was disturbed however to discover that when he strays from his particular field of expertise, he is surprisingly prone to rather basic errors of fact.
For example, who on earth told Neil Oliver that before the inter-planetary collision that formed the moon, the earth's orbit around the sun would have been circular rather than elliptical? As any A-level physics student knows, all planetary orbits are, must be, and always have been elliptical: remember Kepler's First Law of Motion? (see me afterwards, Oliver!) Also, it is absolutely not true that the crescent moon is caused by the earth's shadow falling on it. That cannot possibly be the case in fact since the new moon only appears when the moon is closer to the sun than we are! Oh and by the way, Krakatoa was actually west of Java, not east (don't rely too much on Hollywood to teach you teh facts of geography!)
These are minor quibbles in what was otherwise a fascinating and informative book, which is particularly good at really getting under the skin of the people who lived in ancient Britain and imagining their world and the kind of society they lived in. To adopt the rather over-used cliche, the author really does "bring the past to life". However I confess it always makes me uneasy when the only facts in a book which I am able to check, or which I know something about already, are demonstrably wrong. It would be good to see another archaeologist do a review of the book as regards its archaeological reliability.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surrounded by our Ancient Past,
This review is from: A History of Ancient Britain (Hardcover)I'm already a fan of the author, having read some of his earlier work, including 'A History of Scotland', which I thoroughly enjoyed. I find his enthusiasm as a broadcaster and archaeologist fully engaging. This book goes back into the ancient history of the British Isles. When he says ancient he means it. Fossil records of pre-neaderthal man have been found in Wales dating back to before the last Ice Age. Our early British ancestors, Homo Erectus, began to use stone tools at some point around 1 million years ago. The earliest hominid remains, of Homo heidelbergensis, were discovered in Britain date back 500,000 years, being found in Boxgrove, West Sussex in 1993. These time scales are mind boggling, and I think put into perspective just how our species has developed a DNA of tenacity and adaptability. Oliver explores the life and experiences of our early ancestors, using geography and psychology as major factors influencing the way they lived and developed.
We think times are hard today with recession, global warming and EEC banking meltdown in the news everyday. If nothing else this work helps keep things in perspective. Compared to our early predecessors we've got it easy. This is a very well researched work, full of thought provoking material. Including the fact that we were once linked to continental Europe along Dogger Bank, (an old Dutch word for a cod fishing boat), before a huge Norwegian Tsunami flooded the East coast of the British Isles with vast volumes of water. Almost unbelievable to think of the devastation this event caused to those caught up in the catastrophe.
This book is a wonderful contribution to the history of the British Isles from Deep Time to the Middle Ages. Definitely one of my favourite books from this year.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Big Surprise,
This review is from: A History of Ancient Britain (Paperback)I ordered the book for my granddaughter having previously purchased a copy for myself to read on a long flight.
Obviously I had not finished reading it by touch-down but found much of the pre-history gripping. What I was taught in school during the 30s/40s had not even been discovered and I became painfully aware of my complete lack of knowledge about my my mother country.
I liked the way the author led painlessly from one era to another. The vastness of the early millennial periods is quite literally staggering.
British readers will find their sense of pride as they discover what their forefathers managed to do with a mere modicum of equipment.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like poetry, but easier to understand,
This review is from: A History of Ancient Britain (Hardcover)My reading of this book did not start out well, as I encountered that howler which movie buffs will recognize, the placing of the volcano Krakatoa as being east of Java. I worried that maybe the book had not been fact-checked. Then the text made so many references to the work of Sir Barry Cunliffe and Francis Pryor that I thought, why not just read (in my case, re-read) what they have written. But gradually it became clear what this book is --- a comprehensive survey of Britain's prehistory and the Roman period along with a very personalised and engaging interpretation of it all. The writing is at its best when trying to get into the minds of ancient people. The descriptions of how handaxes were made and how they feel in the hand, and what it's like to smelt metal from ore, are particularly good. That is in the tradition, but not the format, of Steven Mithen's book After the Ice. Neil Oliver's word pictures are excellent, but there are also two sections of high-quality photos not referenced in the text which show some of the places and things described. That is, after the author wrote the text, an editor stuck in some separate pictures. So I suggest that, like a child does with a new book, look at all the pictures before you start reading, and find the relevant photo when the text jogs your memory. Much of the action in prehistoric and Roman Britain took place in the south of the island, but unlike some other books, this one is balanced with lots of information about Scotland too. I was delighted that after the author described a rare fragment of 1,800 year old fabric, he digressed to note that Scottish clan tartans are not ancient, authentic, or from the Highlands, and they were not even designed by Scotsmen. (They were an Edinburgh marketing ploy in the 1820s.) Well done true Scotsman Neil Oliver for telling it like it is. No footnotes, but a useful bibliography which actually includes lots of URLs, and for good sources too --- only one is for a Wikipedia entry (on "British language"). So I certainly recommend this book as an up-to-date, thorough, and inexpensive survey and interpretation of prehistoric and Roman Britain. The Amazon listing for this book does not currently have a "look inside" feature, so I confess I looked through the book and bought my copy at Waterstone's.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as Good as the TV Series,
This review is from: A History of Ancient Britain (Hardcover)Like the TV series, Neil Oliver's book is not a general sweeping history of ancient Britain as such. Rather, he illustrates the ages by moving from insightful example to insightful example. The eight chapters of the book mirror those of the TV series, but I feel Oliver made a mistake here, for each episode lasted an exhausting hour; reading each chapter took far longer. As well as the use of imperial measurements (with no metric equivalents - this is the twenty-first century!), the book suffers from a lack of any maps and too few illustrations.
Oliver starts with the Big Bang, moving swiftly onto the origins of humans and of their unique relationship with time: "This urge to keep track is part service to the future and part vanity ... memory ... remembering ... history ... these are uniquely human." What follows is a replay of the TV series but with a great deal more flesh on the bones and told in a slightly different order within each chapter. There are clever and sometimes witty common threads running through the text, for example linking the narrative of Stone Age man's presence in Britain with the acceptance of geological and ancient-historical realities by our nineteenth-century forbears.
Oliver peppers his text with personal observations and experiences, which adds to the sense of his conversational style. The book is well-written, sometimes beautifully so. When he is in full flow, sometimes whole paragraphs are worth quoting, so full of profound insight are they and so wonderfully written, for example the first few pages of the chapter on `Bronze' where the author addresses issues of population and renewal. But also sometimes Oliver's text is strangely tedious, and awkward links are made, such as that to Bronze Age boats via seemingly-inappropriate references to Dark Age Scotland.
Indeed, links between paragraphs are often too radical and contrived (such as the first few pages of `Invasion'). It's as if he written on one item, and then on another, but seeks to make a join with the minimum of glue. Or rather he has a specific written description of an encounter with archaeology - in this case the Stirling torcs - and he clumsily slots this into the middle of his discussion about cross-channel relations between pre-Roman Britain and Gaul.
But Oliver has a knack of using short soundbites that surprise the reader with profound truths: for instance, that the introduction of agriculture may have transformed prehistoric man's relationship with the land in more ways than one - the hunter-gatherer belonged to the land, but the land belonged to the farmer. Another example: "It is strange to think the first people to spend the time inside permanent buildings in Britain were the dead."
Oliver likens archaeology to salvaging the Mary Celeste. But whereas the TV series begged so many questions, the book allows space for some answers and some explanatory details. But there is still much fog in this book that demands more light. There is much speculation of course: could not the throwing `sticks' carved onto the stone in Table des Marchands at Carnac rather be corn in the breeze? And there is no reason why hunting and gathering landscapes could not have existed side by side in the Neolithic with farmed landscapes (they did in Norman England). And could the "extremely unusual deformity" of the bones of the feet of both the Amesbury archer (from the Alps) AND his younger English companion be of ritual rather than genetic origin?
Unfortunately, sometimes Oliver's empathy with the ancient world betrays modern stereotypes. I had to re-read the following sentence about the Poltallach necklace to ensure I had read it right: "Such delicate finery was surely intended for a woman." And sometimes he (or rather his editor) commits offences of omission: when describing the "enormous rock-cut chamber" at the heart of the largest prehistoric copper mine in the world, he fails to inform us of its actual size! There are also some (embarrassing) errors: Krakatoa is WEST of Java; Bristol is omitted from the list of the eleven principal cities of Britain; and Birmingham has not been a busy urban centre for at least a thousand years.
There is no bibliography as such; rather, a string of haphazard references to various items raised in each chapter. Many of these are websites. Unfortunately not everything is covered, for I wanted to pursue the points he raises about DNA and language. There is also nothing, for example, on the Colchester circus.
In summary, I learned a lot from reading this book, for example that stone circles are virtually unknown outside Britain. But in truth, the book is not as good as the TV series. Beyond the engaging passages about philosophy and time, the contents jump too haphazardly from stage to stage and from site to site - and none of this with the illustrative support that the TV series can provide.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Excellent !,
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars reads as he speaks,
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This book was not edited,
This review is from: A History of Ancient Britain (Hardcover)I have flung this book against a wall several times and it is probably the higly interesting topics that bring me back to the book. BUT
I contend with my own uneven writing on historical topics and, as a result, I can spot books which suffer from lack of editing. I still want to see the BBC TV series of the same name, the book has not put me off his topic nor his ideas. But the book does him no favours...after the tautly-written first and second chapters, the chapters get pretty disorganized and rambling. Granted one of these chapters covers the "celts" and that is a trying topic...he could have presented the material in a more organized way
Surely the publisher can afford an editor and surely the heartbreakingly self-critical Niel Oliver can tolerate some editing?
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!,
5.0 out of 5 stars great,
This review is from: A History of Ancient Britain (Paperback)Looks a very interesting read in an easy format, am definitely going to borrow it back from my sister
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A History of Ancient Britain by Neil Oliver (Hardcover - 15 Sep 2011)