25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History of Britain turned upside down!
This book certainly doesn't shy away from controversy. Its basic message is that more or less everything you thought you knew about the history of English is wrong. Far from being brought across the sea by the Anglo-Saxons, it was probably spoken here when Julius Ceasar landed, and perhaps long before that. Oh, and by the way, England was never full of Celts: they...
Published on 25 Oct 2006 by D. Harris
87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A massive disappointment
I bought this book because I'd just read Stephen Oppenheimer's "The Origins of the British" and was fascinated by his take on the history of the English language. It made so much sense, I wanted to look into it further. I came across Harper's book and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Seemed to be.
Now I'll be the first to agree that academia...
Published on 29 Mar 2007 by Spence
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87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A massive disappointment,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language (Hardcover)I bought this book because I'd just read Stephen Oppenheimer's "The Origins of the British" and was fascinated by his take on the history of the English language. It made so much sense, I wanted to look into it further. I came across Harper's book and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Seemed to be.
Now I'll be the first to agree that academia needs a swift kick up the backside but, frankly, this ain't the book to do it. Harper spends most of his time slagging off academics, perhaps justifiably, but does so in such a smug, self-serving manner that it starts to grate within the first 20 pages. Meanwhile, those same 20 pages are filled with sloppy reasoning and throw-away statements, and not a single reference. This goes on for the entire text. Now, surely, if you want to beat the academics at their own game, you have to play by their rules. Any other approach and you'll be laughed out of court. Yet Harper singularly fails to provide one argument that would persuade me, let alone an Oxbridge professor. Word of advice Mike: know your enemy...
Not only is there the criminal absence of a bibliography or any other form of supporting evidence, the entire premise of Harper's argument is "It is as it was unless there is bone-chilling evidence to the contrary". Essentially, "This is right unless you can prove otherwise". Isn't that like arguing that God exists because there is no proof he doesn't? I always thought that was a logical fallacy.
This is all a real shame, because I so wanted to like this book. I agree with the author that the history of language in the UK as it is taught is seriously flawed. There is almost no evidence for the oft used argument that pre-Saxon England was Celtic-speaking, and the fact that you can count the number of Celtic loan-words in English on your fingers is pretty damn good evidence against. But Harper seems to want to deny the academic arguments so vehemently that he throws the baby out with the bath water. Arguing that English developed quite separately from Old English (which he conveniently refers to as "Anglo-Saxon" all the way through) seems like clutching at straws. Oppenheimer's view that pre-Saxon England already spoke a Germanic language that the Anglo-Saxon languages contributed to to form Old English seems much more plausible to me. The idea that everyone in the country spoke a separate language to Old English yet we don't see that language written down until many, many years after the Norman Conquest seems quite ridiculous. I'm sorry, I couldn't believe "The Da Vinci Code" when it tried to convince me that there were secret traditions hidden from us for hundreds of years, and I can't believe this argument either.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History of Britain turned upside down!,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language (Hardcover)This book certainly doesn't shy away from controversy. Its basic message is that more or less everything you thought you knew about the history of English is wrong. Far from being brought across the sea by the Anglo-Saxons, it was probably spoken here when Julius Ceasar landed, and perhaps long before that. Oh, and by the way, England was never full of Celts: they arrived from the sea in the West and only ever settled on the fringes. Ireland too.
In the course of expounding this idea, the author lambasts a number of disciplines - history, linguistics, geology - for woolly thinking, and deplores traditional subject divisions which, he argues, allow inconvenient facts to be tidied away and ignored.
Is it true? Frankly, I don't know, but it's a fun book to read, and made me think very carefully about why I believe what I believe about British history.
For a more sober view, Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons is I think coming from the same kind of direction (though doesn't really touch on language) but without the rather combative attitude of this book.
68 of 83 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Arrant Tosh,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language (Paperback)Whilst reading this stupid, stupid book, it became clear within the first few paragraphs that M. J. Harper must at some time have been dreadfully wronged by academe and borne a grudge ever since. I can only imagine that historians ran over his childhood pet, or that his father abandoned his family to become an etymologist. Whatever its cause, the deep and burning resentment this man feels is palpable. One could almost feel sorry for him if it wasn't for the overwhelming torrents of smug self-satisfaction that cascade from every page.
His argument is, of course, complete guff. It would take a book considerably longer than his to fully explain why every single point he makes is so wrong, although it mostly boils down to the matter of all the "bone-chilling evidence" that he chooses to ignore. I don't know, maybe to him engaging with the evidence would seem like sinking to the level of an academic, and anyway, why would you bother when you had such a prodigious talent for brazenly propounding twisted half-logic.
Of course, I would say all this. I'm a paid-up, (if junior), member of the "Anglo-Saxon studies mafia". I've been thoroughly brainwashed and now I'm cowering in some dark corner of my ivory tower, too terrified to confront the "common sense" of M. J. Harper, too blinkered to comprehend the dreadful truth and see my whole world come crumbling down about me. You see, that's how the likes of M. J. Harper operate. His argument works in basically the same way as a conspiracy theory. He cobbles together a series of "anomalies" in Anglo-Saxon history, often these are some of the most hotly debated, and well considered subjects in the whole field, although he always maintains that academics have never noticed them. He then completely denies, disregards, or misrepresents the serious academic response to these issues, and jumps to whatever fantastical conclusion he has already settled on. As is the case with any good conspiracy theory, anyone who voices dissent either has a vested interest in maintaining the lie, or is simply scared of the truth. So that's me taken care of, and he doesn't half like to gloat about it. M. J. Harper clearly thinks he has the most incredible mind, so much so, that at times his self-congratulatory tone becomes positively embarrassing.
If you are really interested in Anglo-Saxon history, and are prepared to engage with the actual evidence, which is there, in spite of what M. J. Harper will tell you, then go to your nearest bookshop or library, pick up a book on the period, even a rubbish one, so long as it has footnotes and a bibliography, and follow the references. Yes, often we don't have all the answers, and there is little in the history of the period that isn't open to speculation, that's what it's all about, but wild and totally unsupported flights of fancy, based on a childish, bloody-minded determination to snub academics are not helpful. I suppose the most depressing thing is that, judging by some of the other reviews here, a lot of people are gullible enough to go along with Harper's insidious, 'Emperor's-new-clothes' style of demagoguery.
I realise the tone of this review is pretty confrontational, but to my mind, that is appropriate considering the shamelessly insulting attitude that M. J. Harper adopts towards anyone who might dare to challenge his piffle. His entire argument is based on defaming anyone with any understanding of the issues in question and caricaturing their views so that he can get away with saying anything he cares to dream up. That it comes in a smart edition, with so many positive testimonies gives the unfortunate impression that the book has some credibility. It doesn't.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language (Paperback)Deliberately provocative, but answers many of the niggling doubts about current historical orthodoxy about British History and pre-History. Excellent read!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the book and make up your own mind.,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language (Hardcover)It's clear from the Ad Hominem attacks in some of the reviews that the author has rattle the cage of a few orthodox historians. But if their position was so well-founded, they could just tell us how and why, instead of abusing MJ Harper and his witty and thought-provoking book. It deserves to be read.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy this; buy that,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed (Hardcover)This is a fascinating but infuriating little book. The premise is that english was spoken here before the Romans came and is not descended from Anglo-Saxon. The whole style is abusive towards linguists, historians and archaeologists. There is neither bibliography nor list of references, so it is never clear who the abused experts are.
The strange thing is, it's probably true. Read Steven Oppenheimer's 'The Origins of the British' if you want to see this done properly. He calls on linguistic and genetic research to show that we've been here, speaking english, for a very long time.Recommended.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Truth - a construct,
The academics don't seem to take any responsibility for having misled 99% of the population or for continuing to do so even now that there is substantial peer-reviewed evidence that backs up much of the argument of this book.
As a general reader, I have to say few books have made me laugh out loud as much, or think as much. as this one. Definitely a history book to set any intelligent reader thinking - and a fun read!
28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts off well, then goes horribly wrong.,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed (Hardcover)The review by 'Spence' sums up a lot of the problems with this. The core idea of the book, that English was spoken in Britain long before the Anglo Saxons arrived is an interesting theory and one that is not unique to M.J. Harper. Much of the traditional story is problematic and Harper raises some interesting problems with the idea that Anglo Saxon completely replaced English, the lack of Celtic place names in England, the fact that Scotland has been largely English speaking for a long time despite having only briefly been under Angle control in the South East of the country. In fact the first third of the book, 60 pages or so, very ably makes this point.
In the latter two thirds Harper makes ever more extravagant claims with very little corroborating evidence on subjects as diverse as Geology, Evolution, Ancient Greeks and the history of language more generally. On some of these subjects I can't judge his competence but where I do understand the subject he comes across as rather ill informed, for example claiming that Mitochondrial DNA ought to show the most variation not at the origin of humanity but instead at the point where mankind has travelled furthest to reach.
The genial humour he displays in the early section of the work descends into witless sniping about the orthodoxy who simply cannot handle the truth. By the end of the last chapter it feels like being stuck in a lift with the pub bore.
As it is, 'The History of Britain: Revealed' is an non peer reviewed work making extraordinary claims without extraordinary proof thus despite the fascinating forst 60 pages it belongs on a par with the works of Graham Hancock.
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forget what you knew about the history of the English langauge.,
The standard history of the English Language has it that, before the arrival of the Normans, we were speaking Old English (Anglo Saxon) - a language as different from today's English as, say, modern German. Then, within a few hundred years, we were speaking the English of Chaucer - a language not differing very much from modern English, if changes in spelling are allowed for.
Bearing in mind the slow communication of those days, the non-existence of printing (and, for the majority, the absence of formal education), it seemed to me that for today's English to have:
- come into existence as a single language (regional differences notwithstanding)
- to be spoken everywhere from Exeter to Aberdeen
all in just the few hundred years following 1066, was hard to believe.
M J Harper explains that the standard history of the English language is a myth. In scathing terms he explains that academics work on the basis of the standard history of the English language being an established fact. But, if you ask for evidence of it being a fact, the answer is along the lines "Everyone knows that is how it happened. Now shut up".
Working on the principal that, it's better to assume that things have not changed much (unless there is firm evidence to the contrary) he concludes that, most likely:
- English was already being spoken when the Normans turned up, and did not change much after their arrival.
- English was already being spoken when the Anglo-Saxons arrived, and did not change much after their arrival.
- Ditto all previous invasions and conquests, Roman included.
It's all plausible. Though I have to say that the stridency of the tone here and there gives me a feeling that maybe the conventional wisdom is being rubbished too strongly.
If you like books that give simpler explanations for things and give new ways of thinking about things, I think you will enjoy this book.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Anglo-Saxon invasion myth,
This review is from: The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language (Paperback)THOBR is an entertaining read well worth the effort, that casts doubt on the post-Roman settlement of Anglo-Saxons in Britain, through reasoned argument rather than on research evidence, which Harper deems to be virtually non-existent. His confident idea is that English may have arrived here after the last Ice Age as suggested by some DNA specialists. He may be partly right. Plots of place-names related to Hill forts and Roman towns depicted on the 'fchknols' website, seem to support the start of the Anlgo-Saxon presence to at the least the middle Iron Age.
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The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language by M. J. Harper (Paperback - 5 July 2007)