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The Story of Britain: From the Romans to the Present: A Narrative History Paperback – November 17, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This immense labor of patriotic love has already won widespread critical acclaim across the Atlantic for its fluid storytelling and evenhanded judgments. Its populism has nothing to do with, say, Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. Fraser intends simply to "guide the average person through the confusing shoals of disputed facts," and many an average reader (and student) will warm to her self-consciously old-fashioned narration. Her vision is gently Blairite: she considers the National Health Service to be one of modernity's great achievements and accuses Margaret Thatcher of a failure of sympathetic imagination, but she is resolutely hostile to the Old Left and generous in her appraisal of the monarchy. Daughter of Lady Antonia Fraser and heir to much of her mother's literary talent, she weaves together many of the distant moments that traditionally shaped the collective consciousness of the British, but which have been half-forgotten. Fraser celebrates a free-spirited resistance to tyranny, which she traces from the ancient chieftain Caractacus (who resisted Roman rule) through the bulldog bloody-mindedness of Winston Churchill, and gives broad latitude to myths that have dissipated in the glare of empirical history. Resurrecting King Arthur and retelling the gloriously ironic tale of King Alfred—burning a peasant woman's cakes as he hid from the Danish hordes—Fraser stokes the embers of pride in a past from which the British themselves have become emotionally detached, and in which an American audience will find much that is compelling. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In this popular, comprehensive history of the British Isles, the author's central theme is that the British people have consistently shown a dedication to individual freedom in the face of tyranny, and that love of liberty and the institutions developed to maintain it have been Britain's gift to the world. Unlike many modern historians, Fraser does not disdain the "great man" approach. Although she gives short shrift to broad economic and cultural transformations, her narrative advances with the emphasis on the roles of a litany of historical icons, from Queen Boudica to Margaret Thatcher. For those readers who are primarily interested in the "who, what, when, where, why" of British history, this is a valuable general study. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (November 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039332902X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329025
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Alan Beggerow VINE VOICE on May 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book tells the fascinating history of Britain from Roman times to the present day. It is written as a chronological narrative, and is a good general history of Britain.

It explores not only the personalities that lived the history, but tells about how English culture was brought about. Through the ancient Celts, the invasions of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Danes and the Normans, Britain was influenced by different cultures and traditions. These influences, along with the influence of Christianity, was molded into a country as diverse as those influences.

Most important events and personages are mentioned, some in passing and some at more length. In any case, a book like this won't be filled with minute details, but instead gives a broad view of the history of this great country. So if there's a specific time or event that you want to know more about, you'll find but small reference to it here.

At 700+ pages, this is not a short narrative. But the fact that it took so many pages to paint but a broad picture of the history of Britain says volumes about how rich the history of this nation is.

Written in a very readable style, and considering the type of history it is, I can't think of a better book for an overview of the history of Britain.

Highly recommended!
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Thomas A. Wheeler on June 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I truly enjoyed Rebecca Fraser's history of Britain and give it my highest recommendation. She covers 2000 years of history in 750 pages, discussing all the kings, prime ministers, parliamentary issues, and civil wars in a thoroughly readable fashion. Time and again, Fraser informed me about a subject, then sensibly and effortlessly segued to the next event. She presents the facts, the famous stories, and the fun anecdotes without a great deal of editorial analysis and - to my way of thinking - without a great deal of bias.

As with any survey of this amount of time, her coverage of most events is brief - never more than ten pages to a topic - but she engages the reader, and absolutely prepared me to read more detailed histories of the most compelling figures and times. Included are an excellent list of recommended books, quite a few clear maps, and adequate illustrations.

My biggest quibble with the book is the lack of detail about everyday lives as she discusses the first 1,400 years or so of history. As time marches on, the reader gets a much better sense of everyday life as Fraser talks about child labor, land ownership, health care, etc. but little information about changes in social organization is included in the first 300 pages of her work. I would have benefited from either a few more pages of this early history of a few less details about kings, civil wars, and religious disputes. Still, this is a book I will keep for years to come, and I am sure I will refer to it again and again. Combining its low price, the extremely engaging writing style, and the fact that the book works as a reference book, you can't go wrong.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Schmerguls VINE VOICE on July 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a non-pretentious history of England, mostly. There are no foootnotes and the three-page bibliography shows there is no original research. But for all that it is a good work, telling the story reign-by-reign from the time of the Romans till about 2002. After you read it you should read 1066 and All That, since you will be prepared to appreciate even more the humor of that great volume. I also found the account of Britain since the Second World War of great interest--maybe because it was turning into history what one has pcked up day by day during the period involved. The whole volume is easy to read and tells a great story.
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85 of 102 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have always enjoyed reading about American history, and to fully appreciate it, I feel I need to read about British history as well; it serves as something of a prologue. I went into Rebecca Fraser's Story of Britain optimistically, and while the writing is generally good, this is like a statue that looks good at a distance but close up, all the cracks are visible. The quality of this book is diminished by these "cracks".

The book covers Britain from Roman times to 2002. The first chapter deals with the Roman occupation of Britain, the next two with the early (pre-Norman invasion) kings and the remaining chapters cover each king's or queen's reign. For much of the book, these chapters are essentially biographies of the royals, but around the time of the Hanoverian kings (Georges I, II and III), the royalty fades into the background and this becomes a tale of Parliament and Prime Ministers.

The title for the British release of this book called it a "People's History" but that is appropriately changed for the U.S. release. This is not a history of the "people"; instead, it focuses almost exclusively on the people in power. The lives of the regular people are rarely discussed in any detail. Similarly, Fraser doesn't discuss much of the culture; there are a few references to Shakespeare and Dickens, but Shaw is only mentioned once, and many others not at all (including big-name writers like Oscar Wilde and - modern times - influential British musicians such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who) who had an effect on culture and society.

That, however is not really a flaw; it's just that Fraser's emphasis is more on the royalty and the politicians. But there are real problems.
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