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on 6 August 2017
Very interesting read, though not a light read
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on 7 April 2017
Excellent
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on 31 March 2001
This is a great book to read but I think it all the better for having Timothy West read it. He has the right voice to draw you into the story of Britain and want to keep listening. The best part about the whole story is how the book combines both elements of our history - continuity interspersed with shocks to the system - which the country deals with and incorporates into the fabric of what makes Britain. The other fascinating point is how the book deals with the successive influences on Britain and how we are the result of a continuing series of waves of immigration and war. I recommend this audio book because it tells a story and helps identify where we came from as a nation - something that is very relevant to today
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on 9 March 2016
A great read. Enjoyable for sure
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VINE VOICEon 15 June 2011
I bought this book with a view to gaining a general outline of how Britain's destiny has been shaped. Having read a few in-depth history books on specific events and short periods, I felt that I would gain by understanding the wider context in which these events occurred. In the main, I feel that Schama's book has given me that, although, as ever, it means putting one's trust in the author's accuracy and judgement of what is relevant.

What I didn't expect, unlike some reviewers it seems, was a comprehensive account of every event of note. With a subject this broad, the content is necessarily selective. I'm guessing, of course, but I'd say Schama chose the events he thought were the most fundamental to the nation's destiny, rather than the juiciest ones. Every subject he covers has a bearing on what follows and generally involves significant change, while illuminating what it was like to live in the period under discussion.

I read the indignant reviews of those attacking what they see as anglo-centric bias with some amusement. Those with the greatest power have the most influence and if they happen to be English kings, what is Schama to do? By all means, seek out material on the history of Wales or Scotland to learn about their cultures, but are we to suppose that the likes of Llewellyn or Malcolm III shaped our destinies? Had Schama adopted a more provincial approach, the same people would doubtless have criticised him for portraying the Welsh and Scottish as greedy, backstabbing, bloodthirsty barbarians, as it's clear that most of the, mainly English, protagonists were just that. As it is, conquerors from Rome, Scandinavia and France are also given extensive room. Hardly anglo-centric.

As for the book itself, Schama is refreshingly readable, rather than academically arid, and has a talent for dry humour. As such, this is a good way to get into the subject before looking for more specialised material. There are a few turgid passages, such as the first few pages of the chapter on the Tudors which rambles on about the Church, before cutting to the more absorbing matter of what Henry VIII and co did to Catholicism. This is not then a book to consult for detailed history, but a helpful introduction. I look forward to reading the other volumes.
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on 4 March 2010
I've been moved to review this item mainly in response to the only other review on this site having awarded it one star, and seemingly holding against Simon Schama personally the misguided and belligerant conduct of kings.

Certainly this work is a whirlwind tour of history. A lack of detail may be a partial downfall but this is inevitable when faced with the task of fitting 4,600 years into 8 hours. Given the constraints, it's a well researched, eloquent and balanced assessment. It maintains an admirable moral distance and like all the best historical works, it reviews and reports rather than judging history, but never steps back from expressing an apt opinion - this is no simple list of dates and events.

In contrast to the other reviewer, I found great examples of social history here. Schama's analysis of the changes in societal structure caused by the plague are intriguing, as is his discussion of the shifting and uncertain balance of power between monarchy and other echlons of society.

So, flawed by the time available it may be, but it certainly provides much that the inquisitive amateur historian may be looking for in its review of the period. It is an intelligent study of causation rather than monotonous historical list-making.
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on 8 May 2015
If seeking a vigorous first exposure to the history of Britain or a lubrication of lessons once learned and long rusted, Simon Schama's "A History of Britain Volume 1" is the book you'll want by your side.

Though taking British history from 3000BC to AD1603 in this first volume, by its first 100 pages Schama provides the most robust coverage of pre-history to the crowning of William the Conqueror I've ever seen.

Where authors like Peter Ackroyd in "Foundation" and of recent note, Robert Tombs, in his massive "The English and their History" have attempted similar introductions, Schama pulls off what these others have failed. (Ackroyd offers no maps with scant context; Tombs believes he can meaningfully take readers from whoa to the Norman Conquest in just 20 pages - he can't.)

The novice to British history will want to ask: Who were the first British? How were they organised? Why did the Romans invade? Why the Anglo-Saxons? Why then the Vikings? Who was Alfred the Great? Who was Edward the Confessor? What made William finally cross the Normandy shore? And what then? For these underscore the "British" story thereafter.

So Schama takes the reader's hand, and replete with narrative, humour, opinion and chronological flow provides meaningful answers to each concern.

But there is a word of warning. To appreciate Schama's thoroughness, readers need to prepare for a solid read: the secret to Schama's story telling is his magnificent economy with words. Narrative twists and crescendos are at times found mid-paragraph - and Schama extrudes his paragraphs into elongated strings of thought. Blink and you may miss something. It takes a little time to adjust to this writing style - but once you do the pages flow, and you begin to appreciate a total absence of fluff, filler or repetition. It soon explains why the volumes in the series each run just 350 pages approximately - and why so much detail can be offered in such little space.

Further, many will also appreciate Schama's almost deliberate shying from nomenclature, and academic pretentiousness. His aim is to teach - and to me, he succeeds.

The beauty of history is in the detail. And once the basics are tucked away (and remember that no matter the source, history - especially that of Britain - is a tale of names, family trees and places), you will want to flesh out eras of interest: and when you do you may come across information omitted or treated pithily in this book. That is the game we play whenever "introductory" texts are studied.

The danger, however, is wasting money on books that cut their stories too fine. With Simon Schama's "A History of Britain volume 1", you'll not find this the case.
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on 11 February 2017
Before the middle of the 19th century of the population of Britain or British Isles, half or just over half was in England. I include Ireland in this because even though Schama says Britain he includes Ireland in the text.
So with only half or just over half of the population being within the boundary of modern England Schama devotes 95% of his writing to that population. If this was a history of England that would well and good but it claims to be or implies it is about the whole British Isles. The TV version is even worse as he in an English accent sneers at the victims of English conquest. The inevitability of subjugation by this master race produce by the English land. No mention of Robert the Bruce's attempt to unify Scotland and Ireland, with the very different shape that would make modern borders. Modern England might very well have been reduced the midlands and southeast around London. So much for inevitability. Schama in adoration portrays England as the real country with those other peoples like so much local fauna only to be mentioned as the English encounter and subjugate.
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on 14 May 2004
This series (both the TV and the books) are wonderful. It guides you gently through the main historical events of our country, gory details included - the type of things you actually remember and are interested, in rather than a dry narrative full of dull facts.

It is written in a very laid back, easy to read style by an academic - a 'practising historian' and focuses on the history of the people who made the events happen and their affect on our lives today. Beautiful photographs accompany the accounts... it is worth it just for the pictures!
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on 15 October 2013
Firstly, this book is more like 55 BC - 1603 AD, as anything before 55 BC gets a couple of pages. After I'd read the book, I found that when I read a Wikipedia article on a subject (to clear up what I had just read in the book), I found that my knowledge of the subject was much more in depth. The knowledge does actually go in. In this way the book achieves its education of history. I can't say that I have a detailed chronological knowledge of British history (or a time-line), but my knowledge is certainly much more in depth. The book covers just about every major event in British history very well and in depth, especially the events you remember from school, such as the Norman invasion and Thomas Becket. It covers all monarchs in British history logically and chronologically. I did think however that the War of the Roses didn't get a lot of attention. All in all, I would definitely recommend this book, and will probably read the other two books in the trilogy.
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