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A History of Britain, Volume 1: At the Edge of the World 3500 B.C. - 1603 A.D. Audio, Cassette – Abridged, Audiobook


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 and Citizens, 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).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: History of Britain (Book 1)
  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio; Abridged edition (November 18, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559276363
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559276368
  • Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 1.1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,633,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Mistakes - not differences in interpretation, but straightforward errors of fact - litter the text.
Charlene Vickers
This book is a very easy and enjoyable read read, and I think this book is perfect for the reader unfamiliar with British history but does not take to history per se.
"rolihlahla82"
If it is linear narrative, elegant prose with a dash of wit, historical accuracy, and attractive pictures, you will be well served.
Andrew E Werchniak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Kerwick on January 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The overlap between excellent scholarship and exceptional readability in today's history writing is exceedingly slim. Schama's History of Britain is as good an example as the market holds today. While it obviously doesn't treat the subject area in the same depth as his his texts on Dutch and French subjects or on Art history, the area covered here is immense. From my standpoint, Prof. Schama performs a herculean task simply to distill the material into such a usable and enjoyable work. I am quite hard pressed to think of a another such work of excellent writing on a large subject area other than Shelby Foote's Civil War volumes, which seem somewhat comparable in every positive respect. Additionally, one can open A History of Britain and read with enjoyment at almost any point and for any period of time. The characterization of key players matches that of the best novels and Schama's writing compares favorably to a somewhat similar work, Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples. I recommend disregarding the less favorable reviews following as unfair in perspective. The combination of a powerful scholar of Simon Schama's caliber with such graceful writing is almost unheard of and the alternative of tedious fact recitation is no choice at all. This is a book to purchase twice, once for yourself and again as a gift for a good friend.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Andrew E Werchniak on December 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Whether or not you enjoy this work will depend in large measure on the type of experience you are seeking. If it is linear narrative, elegant prose with a dash of wit, historical accuracy, and attractive pictures, you will be well served. If you seek an in-depth analysis of ANY of the topics covered, however, you will be sorely disappointed. In order to provide this and still cover the vast expanse of time he seeks to review, Schama's text would need to balloon to at least five volumes (a prohibitive size for a commercially-oriented publication). The novice historian will appreciate the fact that no prior familiarity with British history is assumed; the often bewildering array of cultural groups is clearly outlined and enough maps pepper the text to give the reader an appreciation of the role geography played in the development of the British isles. The more experienced individual will enjoy the lively pace, excellent focus, and interesting anectodotes. Overall, I highly recommend it and would definitely purchase it again.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Peter in Northfield on October 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is history as it should be: written with wit and perception. His telling phrases convey meaning - even with anacronisms slipping in occasionally! It does what an overview should do - it drives you to read more. It sweeps over thousands of years and picks out key turning points and explains them. Schama puts the 'story' back into history. A welcome addition to any non-specialist's bookshelf who wants a knowledge of the period with an enjoyable read.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Anne Orsi on May 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I own a number of histories of Britain, and while I agree with most of the reviewers that this one is engaging, I am greatly disappointed in this book as a whole.

The tone is easy to read, but the book's substance has the consistency of belly-button lint. Light to the point of irrelevant in far too many places, this volume is a good read for anyone who wants a fast refresher of high school English history. It is weak on causal connections, explanations, and the intrigue that I think makes history so fascinating.

Worst of all, its subtitle is completely misleading.

I bought it primarily because it purported to cover pre-Roman Britain. It's subtitle, "A History of Britain at the Edge of the World 3500 B.C. - 1603 A.D." indicated to me that it would address that period. And so it does - for six and a half pages, three of which are completely take up by photographs of neolithic sites. This coverage hardly merits a subtitle touting the book as a history of Britain from 3500 B.C.

Only one paragraph is dedicated to Julius Caesar's disastrous invasion attempts that failed two years in succession, and only two paragraphs talk about the British resistance to Claudius' successful invasion. Within two more pages, Hadrian's wall has already been built. The remaining 20 pages of the first chapter are a very general overview of the next 700 years. That's right: it takes only twenty of this book's nearly 400 pages to cover over 4,000 years of history.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Megami on November 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The first in this three part series (and companion to the amazingly good BBC documentary series) this is a fact filled history book that is actually easy to get into - you can actually read it cover to cover rather than look up in the index what interests you. Much of this is down to Schama's engaging writing style - not quite casual, but definitely not dry and dusty. This book manages to steer an even keel, avoiding parochialism and Politically Correct revisionism. An entertaining read for those interested in British history - the title really says it all.
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