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4.0 out of 5 stars Expansive History of England for Experienced Readers, 1 Mar 2013
This review is from: The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain (Paperback)
The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain takes you through the tumultuous story of Britain. It starts with Rome's first expedition in 55 BC and takes you all the way to modern time ending in the 1990s. Obviously with a story of this magnitude, not every detail can be entertained, but I think Oxford does a good job providing the framework. The years roll by quickly in the early chapters on Roman Britain by Peter Salway and the Anglo Saxon Period by John Blair (~100 pages for 1100 years). The main point of the first section is to discuss the Roman conquest and how Britain was transformed. The second section discusses how Britain evolved after Roman rule and then struggle for power with the Vikings and later the German tribes.

The next two chapters cover the Middle Ages with John Gillingham thought the Thirteenth Century and Ralph Griffiths up to the Fifteenth Century. This is the part of English History I know the most about. I actually have other books by Gillingham. I think this section is done well enough, but it reflects how the space limitation causes important aspects to be glossed over.

The next two chapters cover the Tudor and Stuart eras. This time period was significant for religious turmoil. The beginning of the Anglican Church and the waves of protestant reform. The rule of the English queens also gets its start here. The Stuart era sees continuing religious intolerance and resulting civil war. John Guy comes down heavily on Elizabeth, but I found him unconvincing. His claim that she left England ungovernable and his supporting evidence seem to fall apart in the next chapter. Again with more time to explore the topic, the author may have been more compelling. But, the inconsistency in these two chapters is also a reflection of the format of the book. Common themes and progression in particular areas are not explored, since each author's scope is restrained.

The last four chapters cover the eighteenth through the twentieth century. These chapters primarily focus on the social, political, and cultural evolution of England. The development of Parliament and the political parties is explored. The industrial revolution and the genesis of the middle and working classes is outlined. The expansion of England as an imperial power and impacts are discussed. The establishment of world free trade and its impact on the economy is explained. The world wars are briefly commented on, but only is so much as their affecting social change. Decolonization resulting after World War II is examined. The establishment of the "welfare state" is explained as well.

There are several appendixes including recommendations on further reading by chapter, a chronology from 55 B.C. to 1991, genealogies of the major royal lines, and a listing of the prime ministers.

The authors take for granted that the reader has good grasp of world history. For example, the Reformation definitely impacted England and the book discusses the divisive religious environment, but the author fails to explain what was going on the continent which led to the movement in England. Novice readers may find this book a bit overwhelming. The writing styles are disjointed. But I don't think they take away from the readability of the book. I think this volume would be good for those that are familiar with parts of British history, but want to appreciate the whole picture.
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Initial post: 22 Dec 2013 12:31:05 GMT
You seem to have used the words 'Britain' and 'England' interchangeably throughout your review. Why is this? Are you unwittingly suggesting that the author(s) have concentrated much more on England as opposed to the whole of Britain? Or is this just sloppiness on your part?
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