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The Isles: A History [Kindle Edition]

Norman Davies
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The bestselling and controversial new history of the 'British Isles', including Ireland from the author of Europe: A History. Emphasizing our long-standing European connections and positing a possible break-up of the United Kingdom, this is agenda-setting work is destined to become a classic.

'If ever a history book were a tract for the times, it is The Isles: A History ... a masterwork.' Roy Porter, The Times

'Davies is among the few living professional historians who write English with vitality, sparkle, economy and humour. The pages fly by, not only because the pace is well judged but also because the surprises keep coming.' Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Sunday Times

'A book which really will change the way we think about our past . marvellously rich and stimulating' Noel Malcolm, Evening Standard

'A historiographical milestone.' Niall Ferguson, Sunday Times

'The full shocking force of this book can only be appreciated by reading it.' Andrew Marr, Observer

'It is too soon to tell if [Norman Davies] will become the Macaulay or Trevelyan of our day: that depends on the reading public. He has certainly made a good try. This is narrative history on the grand scale - compulsively readable, intellectually challenging and emotionally exhilirating.' David Marquand, Literary Review

Editorial Reviews Review

When did British history begin, and where will it all end? These controversial issues are tackled head-on in Norman Davies's polemical and persuasive survey of the four countries that in modern times have become known as the British Isles. Covering 10 millennia in just over a thousand pages, from "Cheddar Man" to New Labour, Davies shows how relatively recently the English state was formed--no earlier than Tudor times--and shows, too, how a sense of Britishness emerged only with the coming of empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. A historian of Poland, and the author of an acclaimed history of Europe, Davies is especially sensitive to the complex mixing and merging of tribes and races, languages and traditions, conquerors and colonized that has gone on throughout British history and that in many ways makes "our island story" much more like that of the rest of Europe than we usually think. Many myths of the English are dispelled in this book, and many historians are taken to task for their blinkered Anglocentrism. But the book ends on an upbeat note, with Davies welcoming Britain's return to the heart of Europe at the dawn of the new millennium. --Miles Taylor,

From Publishers Weekly

Following his acclaimed Europe: A History, British historian Davies has written a wondrous, landmark chronicle of the British Isles--already a bestseller in the U.K.--that challenges conventional Anglocentric assumptions throughout. Davies situates prehistoric Britain as part of a Celtic world stretching from Iberia to Poland to Asia Minor. Unlike most historians, who stress Britain's Anglo-Saxon heritage, Davies shows that the isles' fourfold division into England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales arose from a complex mixing of peoples in a constantly fluctuating patchwork of ethnic communities, statelets and kingdoms. Bursting with fresh insights on nearly every page, this magisterial narrative, scholarly yet down-to-earth and engrossing, reveals Davies at his iconoclastic best. He declares that the Viking legacy is much greater than traditional historians admit, and that the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not a famous showdown between the English and French, but an intricate scramble for the final Viking spoils in England (valiant English King Harold II was leader of the Anglo-Danish party). The dense narrative really hits its stride with serial wife-slayer Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and Davies gives full play to the distinctive yet intertwined cultural, economic and political affairs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Plumbing the roots of English (and British) prejudice, parochialism, xenophobia and imperialism, Davies includes vastly illuminating mini-essays on such sundry topics as class divisions, the loss of empire, race relations, the rise of organized sports, and the steady advance of a standardized English language. He closes with a provocative forecast: "The breakup of the United Kingdom may be imminent," a prediction he bases on the resurgence of nationalist consciousness and the fact that what he sees as the U.K.'s raison d'etre--the perpetuation of empire--has vanished. An advocate of Britain's full integration into the European Union, he chastises the U.K. for clinging to America's apron strings, yet he adds that a fuller embrace of the Continent might only hasten the U.K.'s breakup. No one who cares about Britain's past or future should miss this superb book. Color and b&w photos, maps. 50,000 first printing; author tour. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 9083 KB
  • Print Length: 1120 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; New Ed edition (September 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003GK22Z2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,672 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A flawed masterpiece March 3, 2000
Mr Davies' book is an excellent introduction to the history of the British Isles. The author is at pains to use terms like "British" and "English" only in their proper contexts, and is so careful to avoid anachronism that he refers to historical figures and places only by the names current at the time. King William I, for example, is "Guillaume" in the book. The separate and inter-dependent histories of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales are treated in depth. Unfortunately, the book is marred by several egregious errors of fact; notably the assertion on page 905 (hardback) that the Irish civil war was won by Eamon de Valera's anti-treaty forces. The edition I read also suffered from a lack of proofreading that showed up on almost every page. The concluding chapter on the "Post-Imperial Isles" consists of a series of essays documenting various strands of modern society. These essays are very strongly informed by events of the late 1990s and are somewhat out of keeping with the overall scope of the work. All in all however, for the tolerant reader this book is a most enjoyable route to a solid knowledge of British history.
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73 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Isles - The last dregs of the English empire March 25, 2000
Davies writes a superb book which is a wonderful antedote to all the horrendous old anglocentric histories I remember reading years ago. In my opinion Davies correctly emphasises the importance of all the constituent parts of the Isles. The book begins by examining the prehistory of the isles and I note that one other reviewer states that he felt this chapter to be a waste of time, concentrating on the minutae of an obscure academic argument. The opening chapter and its discussion readily puts over the point that when talking about place names etc. we cannot remove ourselves from a preconception of history and inevitably produces bias. If that reviewer had persisted with the book I suspect he/she may have got the point by the end. However the book then enters a more traditional history beginning with the Celtic domination of the Isles and proceeding through Roman, Saxon, Norse, Norman and Plantagenet eras of (attempted) domination. With each period there is a three part chapter consisting of a "scene setting" episode, the meat of the history and then a review of conceptions, misconceptions and previous views on those eras. The first part of the chapters are always excellent, the second as good but the third parts tend to be inconsistent, some good some rather tedious. Overall though the layout is good and the appendices at the end are wonderful, having the lyrics and music to various "nationalistic" tunes is a wonderfully original idea. Criticisms of the book are minor in comparison to its overall impact, but here goes. There appeared to me numerous typos in the book ranging from mis-spelling to factual inaccuracies. Whilst this can be forgiven, they did seem to get more frequent towards the end as if the proofreader had gone to sleep. Read more ›
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well, it's certainly long.... June 11, 2001
This 1000 plus page opus by Norman Davies purports to be an examination of the history of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, both in relation to each other and to the rest of the world, from the beginning of human habitation to the present day. If that sounds like a tall order, I'm afraid it is. The Isles is largely fun to read and even educational, but the work as a whole suffers from diffuseness and poor organization. Perhaps this was inevitable. After all, as noted by the previous reviewers, Professor Davies' main point appears to be that the four areas that made up the United Kingdom at its greatest extent are historically and politically distinct entities, and that the development of the history of the Isles is not solely the history of England. Furthermore, Professor Davies is at pains to point out, the birth of the modern United Kingdom was in no way the clean, orderly, almost linear process that it is often made out to be. Therefore, in the development of these ideas, there is, almost by definition, a fragmentary quality to the narrative with a lot of jumping from one region to another, and, in the later (Imperial and post-Imperial) sections of the book, from one topic to another, usually without a clear transition. For the last third of the book, only a semblance of linearity is preserved, with the author hopping from subject to subject, seemingly without a clear direction. While much of the information presented is enormously interesting, I was left with a sense that Professor Davies had overreached, gotten lost within his organizational scheme (or lack thereof), and just couldn't find his way out.
So, The Isles is an interesting read, but it could've used a firmer editorial hand. I would definitely turn elsewhere for a survey of the history of the nations of the Isles.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An impressive polemic May 20, 2003
By Suet
This book isn't a primer: you need a nodding acquaintance with the facts before you read it or you may come away with a partial (in both senses) view. Unkind readers might say this is a 1200-page exercise in ax-grinding; I prefer to call it a very long polemic. Nothing wrong with that, provided you understand what's going on. The spectacle is impressive if a little alarming, like watching an expert woodsman enthusiastically chopping up an ancient oak tree for firewood.

It's true that Britishness is a working arrangement, not an organic growth (you can be naturalized British, but to be Scots, Welsh or English you have to be born that way). The author thinks the arrangement isn't working any more if it ever did; and he may be right. His book starts with the Stone Age and goes up to 1999. The main thrust is how Britishness has been invented and reinvented over the centuries to serve the interests of elites, who typically boil down to Anglos, and they wrote the histories. Revisionism on these lines has been attempted before but never so comprehensively or with such loving attention to detail. If you want to hear how Bad King Edward managed to beat William Wallace thanks to Welsh and Gascon mercenaries, but the English (minus the Welsh and Gascons) got their comeuppance at Bannockburn ("the flower of English chivalry perished"), Prof. Davies is your man. There's a lot more where that came from, most of it as interesting as it is one-sided. Coming to modern times, he thinks (in the 1st edition) that De Valera's Republicans won the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, which has annoyed Irish purists and Michael Collins fans who thought the Free-Staters won. Some readers have detected a cavalier attitude to social and economic issues, but they miss the point: that isn't part of the game plan.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Norman Davies goes to great lengths to front the argument that Great...
In The Isles, Norman Davies goes to great lengths to front the argument that Great Britain exists in rhetoric only and its dissolution into Scotland, Ireland, Whales and England... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Holly
5.0 out of 5 stars Not long enough!
Ok, it's long; but, so is the history. I don't think he bit off more than he could chew, as stated in some reviews here. I appreciate his balance between story and analysis. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Anton Reger
5.0 out of 5 stars It's the perfect text for anyone who wants an over-arching...
This book is incredibly informative and in-depth. It's the perfect text for anyone who wants an over-arching understanding of the United Kingdom's origins and history.
Published 3 months ago by Victoria Pelka
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very intrestig&informative.Progfound analysis of history
Published 9 months ago by Dr. Andrzej N. Malenda
4.0 out of 5 stars The Isles
The Isles: A History is a history of the British Isles focusing on two key issues: first, the evolution and interrelationships of its constituent parts, England, Wales, Scotland... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Steven Davis
1.0 out of 5 stars THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES
When it was first published in 1999 this book won considerable acclaim; but I am afraid it was not well deserved. Norman Davies was originally a historian of Poland. Read more
Published on December 20, 2011 by Stephen Cooper
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertainng But...
A reader of this book would do well to merely scan some passages, rather than reading them in detail. But this depends on taste; some of the author's ramblings are enjoyable. Read more
Published on September 9, 2010 by Invictus
2.0 out of 5 stars What would a future "Norman Davies" would say?
"The isles" can be described, at best, as a half truth.

Mr. Davies debunks and destroys many myths that prevail about English history. Read more
Published on August 10, 2010 by shikamaru nara
4.0 out of 5 stars "The Isles" is Captivating Thanks to Excellent Narration
[This review is for the abridged audiobook narrated by Andrew Sachs.]

I am no historian, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of Davies' nearly 2000 page tome, "The Isles. Read more
Published on May 6, 2010 by Brian (aka: Brainwise)
2.0 out of 5 stars I Got Lost in the Disjointed Rambling
As a person (with a post-secondary degree) who greatly enjoys reading history, I was excited to get into this book. At first, I was not disappointed. Read more
Published on February 10, 2009 by Jerry Palmroos
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More About the Author

Norman Davies C. M. G., F. B. A. is Professor Emeritus of the University of London, a Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and the author of several books on Polish and European history, including God's Playground, White Eagle, Red Star, The Isles, Europe, and Microcosm.


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