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4.8 out of 5 stars36
4.8 out of 5 stars
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 9 December 2002
The second of Schama's beautiful volumes technically covers 1603-1776, but (naturally) spends most of the time discussing the era around the Civil War: it was here, after all, that Britons actually spent considerable energy deciding what sort of country they were: blank canvas after blank canvas was begun only to be torn up, until the monarchy cum Parliamentary democracy compromise was reached.
Schama writes on two levels: the first is just to tell you what happened and to cover off the classic stories along the way, hence longish excursus on e.g. the Great Fire of London, the building of St Pauls, Wolfe in Quebec etc. The second is to offer his own vision for the forces behind what was going on.
Since Schama's vision is invariably fresh and insightful, this is a constantly illuminating read: he can shed light on topics you think you know well, as well as just lucidly explaining the things you knew nothing about.
Occasionally, though, this makes it a strange work. His explanation for the bringing to trial of Warren Hastings, for example, is that the Governor of India was a vicarious scapegoat for Britain's failure in America: though fascinating, that has to be a very idiosyncratic view, and yet he doesn't flag this up. All this means, I suppose, is that you shouldn't read Schama to get the standard account of things, there may be other books that do that job better.
Rather, read Schama's history for his unceasingly fresh vision.
Moreover, he expounds his themes magnificently, for example, the way Britain gravitated away from the "right" (mercantile) to the "wrong" (governing) sort of empire, or in how responsible Charles I actually was for the onset of the Civil War.
Unafraid to back the out of favour Whig view of history (that it was all inevitable progression) with relatively few qualifications, Schama's confidence is invigorating.
One minor quibble is a fallout from his TV narration, where things, instead of being "probably true", are "not altogether unfounded" or instead of being "reasonable" are "not without reason". After a while, this grates.
But this is a trivial thing.
All in all, this is simply magnificent.
I started with Volume 2 and am now beavering through Volume 1 in an effort to get myself on track.
Much, much more than a book of the series.
A classic.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2003
This is by far the best of the three volumes of Schama's History of Britain. Volume 1 needs more space to tell all the stories Schama wants to discuss; Volume 3 loses a little coherence because of its thematic rather than purely narrative approach. Volume 2 is the jewel in the crown though - an account of the 160-odd years from the start of King Charles I's reign through to the start of the American Revolution - the years that saw England transform into Britain, and from a marginal state at the edge of Europe into one of the Great Powers.
The themes of the book are nationalism, power, trade, and the complex relationship between government, monarchy and the people - Schama is a master at juxtaposing the stories of all three, showing the chains of chance, cause and influence that shape history. He quotes original sources liberally, writes in a wonderfully fluid and unaffected style, and has chosen a sensible set of illustrations to accompany the text.
Since Schama covers 150 years in the sort of space he'd previously used to cover the previous 4500 years, there is plenty of room for background, for personality and character (both the author's and those of the protagonists) to be revealed, and for analysis of the what-if's and might-have-beens.
This is narrative history at its best - a book as powerful as Schama's "Citizens" which singlehandedly rekindled my interest in European history.
Absolutely superb - a master at the peak of his talent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2014
One thing to note (on the Kindle version) is that the pictures at the end are all blacked out, so you can't discern a thing, which was a little bit disappointing. But don't let that put you off, as I'm sure that it is just bad luck. The book itself was really good! To me this was much better than the first volume of A History of Britain. Though I still think that Simon Schama's writing can be a bit too articulate for a layman. Practically, every paragraph, I had to use (Kindle's) dictionary to look up a flamboyant word. There must be thousands of such words in the text, and he never seems to use the same word twice! But then again, I suppose we all have to learn sometime. The book itself, however, did fill in those gaps in my own history, such as, who are the Stuarts? How did we pass from the Tudors to the Stuarts? What does Jacobean mean? Who is Charles I? How did the English Civil War(s) start? What did Oliver Cromwell do? Who is Charles II? What is the Restoration? What does Caroline mean? Who is James II and VII? Who is William of Orange? What is the Glorious Revolution? How did we pass from the Stuarts to the Hanoverians? Who is James Francis Edward Stuart? Who is Charles Edward Stuart? Who were the Jacobites? What did these people do? What were their religious beliefs? How did they view monarchy? How did religion play a part in all this? How are all these events connected? How did these people affect British history? Etc. In short, this book answers all of them deeply and in a very detailed way. I now know my stuff about seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain. I would highly recommend this book, and in fact the whole series, to anyone who would like a deeper understanding of British history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2013
This book although well written, is in fact a comprehensive History of England. I found very little at all on Scotland and only one paragraph in this huge book about Wales. The title is totally misleading, Why did Scharma call it a 'A History BRITAIN' is a mystery.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2013 the Kindle edition many of the illustrations are illegible, some of them nothing but black rectangles. Thankfully, the text is OK - unusual in my experience of Kindle. Schama is a master, and I'm looking forward to reading Volume 3 - probably the Kindle edition, so more black rectangles no doubt. Does anyone actually check Kindle editions to see whether they're up to standard? It would appear not.
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on 18 November 2014
IN (my) humble opinion (a-hem)... it was great. Period. I not only checked it out once, but three times, from the library. At first, Professor Shama's delivery seemed a tad stuffy (?), but it soon became an indispensable part of the presentation. He, given half a chance, will grow on you with his inimitable charm. As for nitpickers who would fault him for not "breaking cadence" by mentioning everybody's great-uncle twice removed, or mentioning one of your droll head-bashing Neanderthal-era relatives, please satiate your prurient curiosities by immersing yourselves in a copy of (your own) Unabridged Dictionary. DON'T take the one from the reference room, please. The praise from other reviewers is well stated and deserved, needing no further embellishment (from me), even though he left out the Neanderthals from the other side of my family...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2007
I read this close upon having finished (devoured rather) volume 1, and this is as good if not better. Predictably, it's not exhaustive or extremely detailed but precisely therefore it offered what I was looking for: an easily readable, engaging (Schama is a master storyteller) overview of British history.

It's so good that afterwards I couldn't wait to get my hands on volume 3, AND buy a host of more in-depth books on particular periods or events, and surely that is the best than any history book can hope to achieve?
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on 29 January 2015
Great book, the second in the series of three, all three need to be read starting with volume one obviously, written for everyone who wishes to know the history of Britain but doesn't want to spend months reading and researching heavy tomes, keep a dictionary handy as there are some words you don't use in daily speech. (If you find the three volumes second hand, check vol.2 has all the pages, starting about 62 to 128approx, I purchased this volume as a replacement for my original which had a missing section).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2010
Schama presents a clear and lucid view of the period and the developments there in. A good read with lots of insights.
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on 10 July 2012
This book is a really good read, even more so after reading Vol 1 Sometimes Simon Scharma's style is a little difficult to follow, but there are some very good descriptive parts of Britain's history, which I vaguely remembered from school, but did not fully understand. This book held my interest, and although not a textbook, I felt I now have a much better understanding of the subject. A thoroughly good read!
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