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4.3 out of 5 stars
A Short History of England
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100 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2011
Simon Jenkins captured my attention when he wrote the wonderful England's Thousand Best Churches. I read a review of this book and realised that I am familiar with parts of English History but how they all link together is slightly fuzzy! Simon Jenkins, with his distinctive style, takes you from the Saxton Dawn to the present day. There is an enormous amount of information to pack into a 400 page book, and there are times when I desperately wanted more detail, but overall it is hugely satisfying: A chronological yet hugely interesting and entertaining account of our story.
I wish i had had read this when I did my A level in history. Now I will be sharing it with my family to ensure they have fewer gaps in their history
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2011
"I have roamed England all my life," writes author and National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins. "For all that, until recently I did not know England, for I was not aware of how it came to be." He rectifies that oversight with this sweeping one-volume history of England, from the departure of the Romans in the late third century AD to the recent forming of the Coalition Goverment. He structures the book as a narrative, centred on key events and individuals, which is readable, gripping and almost breakneck in style (he covers over 1,500 years in only 350-odd pages) -- a real page-turner, in fact. The book is an exposition of how and why, as Jenkins concludes, "England has been a success as a country".
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2012
A highly commendable volume.Lavishly presented and extensively illustrated. Covering the period 410 to the present in 384 pages it is, as its title indicates, a "short history". However, all key individuals and events are covered chronologically in summary form in thirty-two chapters making for extremely easy reference. Thus the book fills a gap between the alphabetically-arranged quick reference type book and the multiple-volume extensive works. Thus there are separate shortish chapters on such periods as "Saxon Dawn", "William the Conqueror", "Magna Carta", "Reformation", "Victorian Dawn", "The First World War", "Thatcherism" and so on. There is also a lists of "One Hundred Key Dates", "Kings and Queens of England from 1066" and "Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom". Written in easy to read manner, this is a 'must' book for those who want a reference book about all the significant events and people of English history that is neither too brief to be of much use or too detailed and extensive for ready reference.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2012
Having read quite a few complete histories of England, I have to say that Simon Jenkins has produced something of a masterpiece of brevity. For some reason people get very shirty about popular histories as if they must be long and detailed to have any merit. Personally, I disagree; and Jenkins rather proves the point. He writes engagingly but seriously and pulls together the threads of English history into an even and compelling narrative. He is especially good on the evolution of Parliamentary democracy from its early beginnings. If you want an undemanding, concise but remarkably complete history of England, then look no further.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I've never been one to learn lists of kings, queens or prime ministers. This book appealed precisely because it deals in just that sort of thing. This is unabashedly old-fashioned 'great men' style popular history, and hugely enjoyable and readable. Bite sized chapters can be devoured very easily, in swift moments between other activities, or as several courses in one sitting. There are 32 chapters, not including intro, epilogue or addenda, the latter taking the form of an author's note and several lists: 100 key dates; kings & queens; prime ministers.

I was hooked on the book: it's enormous fun to read, and it's short and easy enough to get through it pretty swiftly too. I found it to be both very informative and a great deal of fun. Sadly though, there are also some very good reasons why much of the practice of writing on history has changed.

Two things that irk are unreferenced quotes (there are so few quotes that end- or foot-notes, citing sources, would hardly have been intrusive), and an apparent occasional indifference to history vs. myth. So such fanciful 'facts' as the witches plot against James I or the romantic symbolism of Charles I's standard bearer, found dead on the battlefield still gripping the flag, are simply trotted out, unremarked and unquestioned, amid more widely accepted and (apparently/hopefully) genuine historical fact.

The first is a sin of omission, and perhaps part of the choice to employ a simple populist style, but the second is a sin of commission, and to my mind signals a potential lack of respect for both history as a field of endeavour, and readers. Clearly Jenkins relishes his subject, but is he also simply peddling myth to make a buck?

His two other books so far are Britain's 1000 Best Churches and Britain's 1000 Best Houses, and this book is in association with the NT, so perhaps one might expect a penchant for a kind of love affair with history that doesn't want to probe too deeply, but instead just 'celebrate' our rich heritage. As a member of the NT myself and someone who enjoyed this book immensely, I nonetheless feel that it's important to cite sources, separate (where possible) myth from fact, and treat history with, if you like, due reverence. I worry that some might read certain parts of this book and not be able to separate out the myth from the facts.

On the other hand, taking this book just as it is, it's a fun read, covering a huge span of time, packed full of fascinating events, featuring a long and excitingly varied cast, and written in a simple, straightforward and engaging manner. It also stimulates a desire to read more widely on the subjects it so swiftly and succinctly relates and, compared with the seemingly endless torrent of in-depth and sometimes overly detailed history books we are privileged to have at our disposal, with their maelstroms of facts and names, this is deliciously easy reading.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2013
This is a very annoying book. The author often leaves out important information.
The first time the House of Lords was mentioned I wondered - where did that come from? That's the type if thing you read a book like this to find out, but there's no explanation at all. I thought I may have missed something and checked the index, only to find that the House of Lords doesn't get a listing for another hundred or so pages.
The author tells us of the death of people he's neglected to tell us were alive to begin with. If someone's death is important enough to include surely we should be told who they were and why their death is of note.
Most surprising of all is how badly written this book is. The writing here tends to confuse rather than clarify. I find myself having to constantly look things up to discover what the author was trying to say. That many of the wikipedia pages I've looked at in order to make sense of this book are more accurate and written in far better prose than the author's should make him ashamed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2013
`A Short History of England' is essentially a Whig narrative. England, according to Jenkins, has been shaped by the political elite and thus, his book delves into the legacies of its kings, queens and politicians. In around 300 pages, Jenkins has written finely considering the amount of content covered.

Firstly, the chapters are short and generally under ten pages. It is therefore great for those who lack time or prefer quick reading bursts.

Secondly, Jenkins' writing style is very readable and understanding. As a History (BA) graduate, I often encounter dull, dry texts which hardly inspire and entertain. Jenkins, however, provides enough detail for understanding without tiring the reader.

Thirdly, the book provides sufficient information on phases of English history to fill in those gaps in your knowledge. Some have criticised that areas are left untouched. This is unfair; for instance, most battles, although interesting, are irrelevant to the general theme of English history. Jenkins' superbly narrates the significant actions of leaders in detail from the Saxons to David Cameron.

History at its most easy to read with countless, memorable facts. Go buy it!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 2012
I am a great admirer of Simon Jenkins' writings in The Guardian, and it's almost impossible to believe this book came from the same pen.

It's simply a catalogue of dates, events and personalities, with precious little meat on the bare bones of fact.

As a quick reference guide to who followed whom in the monarchic and political history of England, I suppose it's just about readable, but it's certainly not an enjoyable, entertaining nor edifying read.

As I say, I can't believe Simon Jenkins actually wrote this book; it's a million miles away from what he normally writes.
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91 of 108 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2011
This book made me realise I had huge gaps in my knowledge! Now I have a good picture of English history, as well as a strong sense of how important Parliament has been to the development of England. And some brilliantly colourful facts too - like where the word 'cabal' comes from, what the war of Jenkins' ear was and who the first 'commoner queen' was.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2011
Heard about the book from the author during a programme on radio 4 . Inspirational talk which prompted me to want to buy and read more I am dipping in and out of each section/chapter which is easy to do.It is a must for everyone curious or wanting to find out more about the (hyphen people) Anglo-Saxon race and the growth, contribution and resiliance of this talented race to present day England.
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