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4.3 out of 5 stars157
4.3 out of 5 stars
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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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on 7 November 2015
Really good, measured, account of English history which presents all the key stuff such as the Norman Conquest, Elizabeth 1 and Winston Churchill without slipping over the narrow ledge into the heavy, self-absorbed examination that most formal accounts suffer from. This is achieved without making the reader feel that a more detailed discussion is needed. Excellent book.
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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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on 5 April 2013
If you want a quick and brief run through English History this is the book for you. I enjoyed the earlier parts of the book. After WWll the details petered out and the contemporary part of English History was sparse in detail and I feel, rushed. Well written and researched but a lot of important facts glossed over. Ended wanting more.
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on 7 March 2016
I'm quite a big fan of history books be they fictional or factual. I saw this book on offer on Amazon and was sufficiently interested to give it a go. The book is perfectly named as this is a quick romp through the (mainly political) history of England. All the major points are covered, however this book is primarily concerned with the political spectrum so if you are looking for a book with lots of details about war etc then look elsewhere. The Napoleonic for example is covered in a couple of pages whereas the political ramifications of the conflict covered in much more detail. I don't see this as a failing or shortfall in the book because at then end of the day the book does exactly what it says in the title. If you are interested in the history of England and want a nice easy read without too many technical details then buy this book. There may be more detailed books out there but there may not be any more accessible history books covering such a long period of time.
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on 21 January 2013
A beautifully crafted book that feels wonderful and contains many fabulous and bright pictures. That's the physicality of the book. In terms of the content, let's face it - trying to sufficiently cover the history of England in such a short book is always going to be impossible, and I think Mr Jenkins has done an ok job in selecting certain pieces along the way and fitted them together. Unfortunately, I felt the last 80 pages or so were pretty poor, and it is almost as if he is writing against a deadline to get the book finished. For example, the last few chapters read more like a chronology of recent politics than any meaningful history of England. I was particularly surprised by the lack of attention paid to Queen Elizabeth II. Having said that, I did enjoy it and I am pleased to confirm that it will remain on my shelves next to Mr Jenkins' other titles - not because I intend to refer to again, but because it looks such a great book!
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on 22 September 2011
In pursuit of brevity Simon Jenkins has managed to forget about short the book is confusing in several large sections. One review mentioned this as being a standard history reference book for the which case thousands are likely to be switched off history altogether. A list of names and dates may well have been more informative...certainly I'd have retained a bit more. The book does do better for early stages of English history and again with the Tudors and 19th/20th century, but leaves your head spinning for other periods. Anyone looking to get an overview of English history might do better elsewhere.
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on 3 December 2015
A great introduction to British history for students. Short but encompassing the major threads. However, for the regular history reader it was necessarily lacking in the minor stories that give breath to history. Amazingly condensed to retain the essential points.
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on 17 July 2013
This book is an adult version of H E Marshall's incomparable "An Island Story" I read as a child.

If you're looking for a modern, trendy "angle" on history, don't bother with this excellent book. If you want to refresh your school learning of the background to popular historical novels and plays like the current Philippa Gregory series, it's excellent.

Perhaps the only criticism I have is that Simon Jenkins ends his history with the present Coalition. As one who draws the line between History and Current Affairs at least 40 years back, the last two chapters are irrelevant, but just as television programmes one dislikes can be turned off, so too these Current Affairs chapters can be ignored.
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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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