What do you get when you combine the resources and ethos of the BBC with the literary panache of one of the world's best narrative historians? The answer is Simon Schama's A History of Britain
, the first volume of which accompanies the BBC-History Channel series of the same name. In a beautifully written and thoughtfully crafted book, studded with striking portraits, pictures, and maps, Schama, the bestselling author of books on European cultural history such as The Embarrassment of Riches
, as well as 1999's Rembrandt's Eyes
, has managed to be both conventional and provocative.
He tells the official version of Britain's island story--from Roman Britain, through the Norman conquest, the struggles of the Henrys and Richards with their barons and clerics, Edward I and the subjugation of Wales, King Death (the plague), and on to the Henrician reformation, before closing with the remarkable reign of the virgin queen, Elizabeth I. But, while sticking to a script familiar to anyone who sat up and listened in history lessons at school, Schama brings it all alive, with memorable prose--Simon de Montfort's rebel parliament is described as inaugurating the "union between patriotism and insubordination"; with Henry VIII, Schama says, "you could practically smell the testosterone." And with fine sensitivity, too, particularly on the symbolism of buildings, memorials, language, and ceremonies, and on the complex relations between England and her Celtic and Catholic neighbors. If history must have gloss, then let it be written and presented like this. --Miles Taylor, Amazon.co.uk
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Popular English historian Schama (Rembrandt's Eyes) audaciously takes on 5,000 years of history in this the first volume of a two-part chronicle of Britain. He begins with the Neolithic peoples who built Stonehenge, discusses the often overlooked period of Roman Britain, asserts the long-accepted significance of 1066, recounts the rise and fall of the house of Lancaster and concludes with the golden age of the reign of Elizabeth I. However, despite his excellent credentials (former art critic for the New Yorker, winner of a National Magazine Award, professor of art history at Columbia University, etc.), Schama proves less than engrossing in the audio format. The confines of the medium do not suit him. The rhythm of the abridged narrative does not allow time enough for the stories that advance through the millennia, nor does the listener come away with a clear chronology, as names and dates are stuffed into his mental baggage. Unfortunately, West's flatly cadenced reading does not add any verve to the march of facts that were so successfully presented in Schama's book. By the time Shakespeare arrives on stage, listeners are more likely to feel exhausted than entertained. Based on the Talk Miramax hardcover (Forecasts, Sept. 25, 2000).
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