Customer Reviews


 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well informed
I've been moved to review this item mainly in response to the only other review on this site having awarded it one star, and seemingly holding against Simon Schama personally the misguided and belligerant conduct of kings.

Certainly this work is a whirlwind tour of history. A lack of detail may be a partial downfall but this is inevitable when faced with the...
Published on 4 Mar. 2010 by R. P. Caulfield

versus
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very much like the curate's egg - good in parts
however:-
Despite considerable detail about the French component of the English nation in earlier chapters, along with the campaigns and consequences, the Hundred Years War only gets mentioned by name!
My main irritation however, and the complete spoiling of the book for me, is the fact that the first third is quite good, and the last third OK, but the middle...
Published on 12 April 2001


‹ Previous | 16 7 8 9 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 1 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
Great as expected
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good but ..., 17 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
I was disappointed. There was too little about pre conquest history - British history didn't start at 1066, after all. I was very disappointed with the almost pro Norman view Mr Schama seems to have taken. Frankly, for a better version of the events that led to Hastings without the Norman propaganda try Helen Hollick's novel Harold the King - I thought it more accurate!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read - and insightful, 9 Dec. 2011
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
I really enjoyed this whole series. Yes there are times when you'd like a bit more depth or when a favourite topic is skipped over with hardly a mention; but the thing I really like about it is that it offers genuinely new insights; it never fails to imagine what situations were really like, that they were carried out by real people. I think it's the best of the general Histories I have read
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Uneven, flawed, incomplete, ultimately a mediocre piece, 14 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
After the smashing success of the television series, someone at the BBC must have thought it wise to follow through with a written accompaniment. The author mentions in the preface that the History of Britain book series is supposed to stand on its own. I'll be explaining precisely why this isn't the case, at least concerning this first instalment.

Assuming one manages to read though the abstruse, extremely convoluted preface (typical of an academic, one would have thought), a rather dubious beginning is waiting: the author praises the British weather, especially the mildness. Schama himself mentions in the preface that he hadn't been in Britain in 20 years. Presumably, he has forgotten a lot about the weather here - its dominant feature is not its mildness, but the almost ridiculous unpredictability.

One reads on about prehistoric Britain which is explored in an interesting section regarding Orkney islands. However, in the relatively modest amount of time it takes to read about seventy pages into the book, one sees huge swaths of history covered in just a few paragraphs, which is to say that by page 70 we have already reached 1066. There is very little concerning British tribes in Celtic Britain, perhaps the peoples closest to what one could term "native" Britons. Roman Britain leaves a lot to be desired too. Almost all of this early chapter is focused on the Norman invasion. And while one cannot help but admire the vivid writing, especially concerning battle scenes, or the exploration of the socio-economic changes that were brought about Anglo-Saxon and Norman conquests, one also cannot help but notice that the Viking/Danish conquests are largely glossed over.

By this time it becomes apparent that the book focuses on England, rather than Britain- Scotland and Wales are conspicuously absent in these early chapters. We only have a chance to glance at Wales before it's conquered and colonised by Edward Longshanks. Scotland is only seen through the efforts of the English to conquer her as well, never mind that she has a rich list of monarchs of her own.

These omissions are curious in a book heavily marketed as "A History of Britain" and detract a bit from its value, in my opinion. One the one hand, Schama goes into a lot of trouble arguing that Britain is a happy conglomeration of different ethnicities (he does this throughout the series)- on the other what he wrote in this first volume here is definitely an Anglo-centric view of British History. I find this to be an immense contradiction. You could argue that Britain is Anglo-centric- but does that justify not even paying rudimentary attention to the histories of the other cultures?

What I found to be a slightly redeeming point was the author's expansion on the effects of the Black Death and how it shaped the society and economics of the time.

As one continues reading, however, it is striking how some events and people are overemphasised at the expense of others. The most famous of monarchs are predictably enough, greatly elaborated upon- it is convenient for the author to use the dramatics of their reigns in his attempt to tell a story- others, however, are almost completely glossed over, such as Henry I. Henry V and Elizabeth I occupy dozens of pages whereas events like the Wars of the Roses and the Hundred Years' War barely get a paragraph's mention, with the former denounced as the "bloody bickering of overgrown schoolboys". Focusing on Elizabeth's hysterics and Ann Boleyn's turbulent life at the expense of even touching upon the nature of a war that shaped Britain's attitude towards France for the following centuries gives the book an unfortunate, sensational tinge.

Focusing on the writing style and the structure does not help, either. The shoddy, convoluted chronology jumps back and forth between events. Chapter 3 ends with the death of King John and the ascension of the nine year old Henry III. Yet, Chapter 4 "Aliens and Natives" starts the first few paragraphs by examining events a full 70 years after the ascension of Henry III, namely Irish and Scottish rebellions, only to digress by referencing Edward I "Longshanks on the very next paragraph (on account of his being called the "Hammer of the Scots") and then mentions 1776 anecdote of a some people opening his grave to see what his looks like. Thusly go the first few pages of Chapter 4. After that, Schama jumps straight back to what he was writing about in the end of Chapter 3: Henry III. This inconsistent chronology repeats itself in numerous places, makes for some confusing reading and doesn't help the reader retain significant amounts of what they read. The same happens with Chapter Elizabeth which starts with describing events and situations of her middle age (working backwards from there), whereas the previous chapter ended with her ascension.

When coming close the end of the book, it becomes startlingly apparent that Schama tried to write an "accessible" history, which sounds like an amusing paradox. "Accessibility" dictates that a book be mainstream and that means it needs to be short- no one today has the patience to read through the unabridged History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, a short book can at best try to be comprehensive and this one has failed at that, since Schama tried to do in writing what the BBC series did through visuals: that is, tell a story and in doing so sacrificed tremendous detail and thoroughness.

Of course, this isn't the first time that an author approaches an immense historical record by using a storytelling narrative- John Julius Norwich did it with his splendid three-volume history of Byzantium, which covered over 12 centuries of history in an accessible style. But where Norwich restricted his prose and for the most part let the events do the story telling, Schama seems more intent in maintaining the friendly and jocular style which I'm told he uses in the TV-series while also mixing it with the verbosity that marks the academic.

Unfortunately, I am forced to comment on some objectivity issues: why does Schama make references to himself in the book? Why are places and schools qualified with the remark that Schama studied there (yes, I'm referring to Oxford), why is Schama paying due attention to his own kin (the Jews) throughout the book and why does the 1290 expulsion of the Jews from England take a page-and-half where events far more important to the history of Britain are only referenced by name?

A few final remarks on the writing style: the text is not free from typos (which is surprising coming from a book that carries the BBC stamp on it), it also includes a few Americanisms and some sentences are finished with exclamation marks!

To be honest, I wouldn't know to whom to recommend this book. You would expect that an add-on to the TV series would include considerably more detail. Native Brits would know all this already from their school education anyway (well, hopefully). So, they wouldn't find it very edifying either. Foreigners would probably go for something more condensed. I suppose this leaves immigrants to the UK, who would want an introduction of sorts? I can't recommend another one since I haven't read any yet, but I will say instead that this is a mediocre one, for all the reasons listed above.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 20 Nov. 2014
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
ecellent read
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 28 Aug. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
very good
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally a Honest Book!, 2 Nov. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
Finally a Honest Book that tells it all. I have read alot of books about this then, and have not found such a good book. Being that a american living in the U.K. this book helped more for me to understand the rich history that is Britain.
Signed, American living for now in London, England.
P.S. LOVE ENGLAND LITTLE MORE THAN THOSE COLD STATES.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a thoughtful and intelligent look at British history, 28 Nov. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
As a history graduate I have to say I immensely enjoyed Schama's take on the history of Britain. Naturally, by covering such a wide period he had to make some sweeping statements but I very much approve of looking at our kingdom's history via kings and religion as these were fundamental to the times. Scotland and Wales were covered entirely appropriately and to try to look at past events through modern patriotism is inappropriate. Facts are facts and no amount of Blairite rewriting will alter them. Bravo Schama for daring to take his modern approach to make history more accessible to us all.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An efficent view of history, 19 Jun. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
Studying archaeology, other aspects appeared from many quarters. Schama's book gives an excellent and useful amount of overview, explanation and background
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars schama's book is an unfortunate blunder, 24 Nov. 2000
By 
johanlouw5@hotmail.com (Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 (Hardcover)
Simon Schama is undoubtedly one of the great literary historians of the english speaking world. For this reason his History of Britain is all the more disappointing in its repetition of a fundamental error concerning the relationship of england to its conquered neighbours. He repeats the calumny of G.M. Trevelyan whose chapter on Scotland in the English Social History failed to give the northern kingdom full credit for its independent achievements. Why does someone as gifted as Schama continue to treat the Celtic fringe in this way? It is probably no more than academic laziness and insulting to people who, like myself, would rather see this island split into its natural constituencies. English cultural imperialism started as early as the 11th century with Malcolm Canmore's wife - a woman who preferred english to gaelic at court. Perhaps Dr. Schama would have been better served by restricting himself to producing a history of England instead of pretending to provide an objective account of three separate kingdoms.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 16 7 8 9 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603
A History of Britain, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World: 3000BC-AD1603 by Simon Schama CBE (Hardcover - 5 Oct. 2000)
Used & New from: £0.01
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews