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Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past Hardcover – 11 May 2017
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'In Watling Street, an exploration of modern Britain and what it means to be British today, Higgs offers a more nuanced understanding of the national psyche . . . a book for our times' (Ian Thomson Observer)
'Mischievous and iconoclastic . . . [Higgs's] is a systematising imagination, able to harness disparate elements and find the patterns that animate them; that he does so in a more socially inclusive manner than many enriches his theories enormously' (Melissa Harrison Financial Times)
'A new vision of England . . . full of magic, mystery and bits of William Blake' (Ian Samson Times Literary Supplement)
'A bravura piece of writing - Bill Bryson on acid' (Tom Holland)
'It has been said by the old magicians that Watling Street was created in a single night. Or revealed to us between sleeping and waking - a potentiality that is always there but which we have to learn to read. John Higgs does just that: a bright necklace of recoveries and collisions and remarkable witnesses. A tale-telling pilgrim to entertain and inform as we jolt along the way' (Iain Sinclair)
'A humorous and thoughtful guide' (Huston Gilmore Daily Express)
'Myths combine with staggeringly fascinating facts, while Higgs' take on our national imagination and the nature of history is refreshingly original . . . [A] mad, but brilliant, odyssey' (Rebecca Armstrong I Paper)
'Watling Street is unusual, original and strangely beautiful. It's full of wonderful stories about this remarkable road, expertly brought to life by Higgs. And even though it's a travel book, it has more to say about the current climate than most political books' (Jamie Bartlett, author of Radicals)
'On a long drive like this, your companion matters as much as the route, of course - and Higgs is an entertaining one, garrulous but disinclined to hector' (Tom Sutcliffe Mail on Sunday Event)
'A truly fascinating book . . . from one of the best writers on cultural history we have' (Scott Pack)
A journey along one of Britain's oldest roads, from Dover to Anglesey, in search of the hidden history that makes us who we are today.See all Product description
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As Higgs stops along the way, he introduces various unconventional guides, with distinctively weird and cranky perspectives, who give their own esoteric and occult versions of local history. The book's sections on Dover, Canterbury and the Edgware Road are well written and informative. The chapter on Bletchley Park is a fascinating brief account of social class, code breaking and early computer development. I also found Higgs' accounts of the relationships between politics and spirituality; and of the English education system thought provoking and stimulating. I was though far less convinced by his frequent references to an ancient past of Druids and moon-worshipping.
It is obvious Higgs' journey didn't take place over one consecutive period. Perhaps this is why there is less detail about the places he visited as he reached the end of the road. Compared to the opening chapters, the later ones seem rushed.
Nevertheless Watling Street is an interesting read. Certainly Higgs makes a convincing case that it's not possible for there to be only one fixed image of England - instead we all rely on invented pasts.
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