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on 22 February 2017
Peter Ackroyd has begun a venture which certainly few would undertake. He writes in his usual appealing way: briefly but not too superficially. His supplementary chapters dealing with social history are illuminating. This is not a great book, but indubitably a Good Read!
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on 16 March 2017
A wonderful work
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on 1 April 2017
Fantastic overview of early history. In the complexity of the back and forths between kings and nobles, ackroyd never lets you get too bogged down and always takes you somewhere else for respite. A must for fans of history spun into a good narrative
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on 4 March 2017
Informative, interesting book. Excellent introduction to the subject.
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on 5 September 2014
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on 18 September 2011
An accessible and highly enjoyable introduction to England's history: Ackroyd vividly sets the scene, cleverly shifting the focus between the detail and the bigger picture. The pace is fast-moving and engaging pulling the narrative along with fluidity and ease, then pausing at times to illustrate key facts, or to delight in the colour and tone of the everyday, evoking a sense of time and place and a taste of how our ancestors lived.

Perhaps his brushstrokes are too broad and sweeping at times for historical puritans, but all history is a narrative, and a retelling, and this is just one interpretation and contribution to that broader narrative and should be appreciated as such; a rich and textured examination of England's origins and identity, which leaves me keen to follow Ackroyd's journey in the remaining five volumes.
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on 12 May 2012
Reviews of this book seem split between the 'great overview' crowd and the 'not a serious history' bunch.

I'm definitely in the former camp and I really enjoyed this book. The author has a story he wants to tell and he gets on with it in an interesting and engaging way. I'm certain there are great arguments to be had on the nature of Englishness, the characterisation of King John, the importance of varying dramatis personae, and so on. But that isn't the goal of this book. Within a single volume it is impossible to cover all angles and viewpoints.

To misrepresent the title, this is a foundation book. Read it to get a broad and broadly acceptable understanding of the period covered. ...and then perhaps be inspired to go out and read more about the nuances and controversies of the time that interested you the most.
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on 24 September 2011
Having read both the previous customer reviews, especially the one that really slates the book, I felt obliged to add my two pennorth! I wanted an overview of English history to be able to get a chronological perspective on the history I can barely remember from school - this provided that perfectly. It is well written and readable, I have enjoyed the structure of the book which intersperses chapters on the royal succession with chapters on various aspects of life and if it is as factually incorrect as one of the reviews suggests then I neither noticed nor care. I am not going to sit a history exam, I wanted a readable, rough idea (what else could it be in one book)of English history (not bothered about when England became England)and that is exactly what I got.........horses for courses I suppose.
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on 27 September 2011
An accessible, easy reading and thoroughly enjoyable race through several thousand years of history. The author's origins as a writer of fiction rather than a historian gives him an eye for the little details that bring a story alive. Bring on the next 5 volumes!
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on 14 December 2011
It's difficult for a modern author to take on the history of a nation. Nineteenth century authors could typically begin from the national myth and just add detail and texture. Modern historiography is less romantic and has jettisoned the retelling of the political narrative in favour of closer inspection of cultural and social history. Writing a book that runs from the Brythonic tribes to the death of Henry VII, as this volume does, would be next to impossible under the terms of modern academic historiography, which is a shame because so much that is recounted here has largely fallen out of modern consciousness and benefits from the slick presentation for which Mr Ackroyd is famous.

The History of England: Foundation, retells the development of England from a disparate island of tribal nations, through multiple conquest and immigration (Roman, Angle, Saxon, Norse, Norman) as a national identity is forged. The first millennium AD is handled at a brisk trot: unsurprisingly given the dearth of information on the Brythonic tribes, the Roman 'occupation', the Danelaw and the Anglo Saxon kingdoms. Ackroyd alternates a political narrative with short chapters on cultural and social themes, providing a flavour of the country in addition to the movements of grandees and the ambitions of monarchs. This is more than a sop to current historical vogue as it is also a key element in his overarching thesis - that despite the prevailing political conditions and the actions of 'good' or 'bad' monarchs, the history of England is a history of continuity. Prevailing macro economic, climatic and natural factors have greater agency than kings but despite all of these things, places of worship remain holy whether the devotion is to pre-historic spirits, pagan Gods or the Christian God. Social structures remain largely static, whatever lord sits at their head. Day-to-day life in England remained, if not unchanging, recognisably similar whether it was in the Mercian Kingdom, the Danelaw or the England of Edward III.

It's an interesting approach that allows both Ackroyd's synthesis of existing secondary material whilst capturing the readers' natural desire for a narrative without reverting to the usual tropes of national myth (bad King John etc). Occasionally, Ackroyd's core theme does seem to skew the telling. For example, he suggests that Henry VII was the first English king with roots deep in the country, who was more English than foreign, having previously noted that he had spent most of his life on the continent in exile. There is also a tendency to challenge stereotypes that don't really need challenging (does bad King John resonate so powerfully that a defense of his justice system is needed? Is Richard III's legislative programme sufficient to counter-weigh his regicide?).

In order to keep his narrative moving forward, Ackroyd often simplifies and omits, particularly in the later chapters that benefit from a strong historical record. However, in earlier, pre-conquest chapters, despite a dearth of sound source material, he still finds interesting nuggets to hold the reader's attention. I did not know, for example, that the Roman Emperor Constantine was in York when first acclaimed.

Despite these (relatively minor) criticisms, which bring no more editorial bias than any history of England since Bede, the idea of solid historical retelling with the development a new and relevant national myth is very worthwhile. Principally, this is a good read that is both informative and entertaining. There may be questions over the historical art employed but as a retelling of much drier academic texts, this is an excellent addition to the story of England.
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