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A History of Britain - Volume 2: The British Wars 1603-1776 by [Schama, Simon]
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A History of Britain - Volume 2: The British Wars 1603-1776 Kindle Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Length: 448 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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The second volume of Simon Schama's BBC History of Britain: The British Wars, 1603-1776 is a more serious affair than the first. A History of Britain Vol I was free-range history: a fresh and at times iconoclastic survey of more than 1,500 years of the nation's story. Now Schama is more penned in, covering just a century and a half in 500 pages, and mixing it with the cockiest and wisest historians in the farmyard.

The ingredients that made the first volume such a spectacular success are still there: highly visual prose, fine informative illustrations, insightful thumbnail sketches of all the leading players and above all a clever interplay between what happened and, often of more significance, what people thought had happened. But this time around Schama also has to weave his way through the complex narrative of the civil war and Protectorate, restoration, "glorious" revolution and establishment of empire. He does so with clarity and wit, but also with admirable sympathy for all the conflicting protagonists--the austere Stuarts, the reluctant hero Cromwell, the cunning Walpole, the gouty Pitt and the thousands of Scots, Irish and American, and the millions of Africans and Indians whose destinies shaped and were shaped by the forging of the British state in these years.

Predictably, some history gets left out. Apart from a colourful depiction of Hogarthian London, social and economic history get short shrift, leading Schama, for instance, to imply that the British push to empire was largely the result of a popular addiction to narcotics: tea, coffee and opium. However, Schama's larger story--how a nation that was created out of a titanic struggle for liberty then went on to impose dubious dominion on much of the rest of the world--is told in a masterly and compelling manner. --Miles Taylor

Review

"Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict." (Financial Times)

"Simon Schama's A History of Britain is far more than the book of the TV series... The book is far richer and fuller, covering a huge span so economically that there is room for plenty of arresting detail... It is the sort of vivid history that keeps you awake." (Daily Mail)

"He remains a master storyteller, admirably and sceptically well read in current revisionist histories, and a wonderful guide to a new history of Britain." (The Times)

"A History of Britain, its text supplemented by wonderful illustrations, affords the rare joy of witnessing a scholar at the peak of his powers convincing the reader that he has a cracking good tale to tell and that he is loving every minute of the telling." (Literary Review)

"Popular history at its finest." (Sunday Express)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5621 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (31 Dec. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A8FXTAU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #150,764 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is the second in a series that starts with a book that covers 3500+ years of history of the UK. In comparison this book overs a shorter period of time (175ish years), and is better for it I think. The previous book covered much of the history that any kid would remember from school (i.e. the Roman Invasion to Queen Elizabeth i). This book covers from shortly after her death to the loss of the US colonies and the take over of India.

Because my schoolboy history stops pretty much where the last book ends, I found this book more interesting. It still reads a bit like the "Greatest Hits of British History" inasmuch as he jumps from king to king to king, as if that was the only history that mattered (a grumble I had with the last book too), but because I was less aware of the history, it was more interesting.

The things I did learn focus on quite how much the early empire was held together by chicken wire and duct tape (instead of the many splendoured thing it's presented as in retrospect), and the fact that I suspected in my head that the British were more advanced than the American backwoodsmen that won the War of Independence, when I'm left with the impression now that they weren't.
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Format: Kindle Edition
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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