A History of Britain Volume 2: The British Wars 1603 - 1776: British Wars, 1603-1776 Vol 2 Hardcover – 4 Oct 2001
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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
In [Schama's] typically readable style he moves the story on, from the accession of James I to the death of Clive of India, at a cracking pace. -- The Literary Review
Simon Schama is a historian of remarkable gifts and achievements. -- The Spectator
[Schama] remains a master storyteller, admirably and sceptically well read in current revisionist histories... -- The Times
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
What can I say about this series of books - well-researched and well-written. The perfect companion to the classic BBC series, or a standalone history of the British islands and... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Uncle Fester
A beautifully produced book, making it an ideal companion to the DVD series.Published 10 months ago by Peter H. Mussell