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Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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*Starred Review* The first volume of Ackroyd’s prospective six-tome history of England extends from Stonehenge to the extinction of the Plantagenet dynasty by Henry Tudor. The strongest impression Ackroyd acquired from his survey of land and time is that of the role that habit, custom, and contingency plays in shaping history. He repeatedly repudiates a view of English history as a conscious progression toward, for example, Parliament. Similar institutions associated with England, such as Christianity and common law, arise as incremental accretions in Ackroyd’s accounts. His treatment of 1066 is characteristic. He concedes the consequentiality of the Norman conquest while emphasizing the persistence of native modes of life, such as the vernacular language that eventually, albeit not for three centuries, with Chaucer, supplanted the invaders’ French as the language of society and the governing elite. The battles for the crown supply most of Ackroyd’s narrative, but while the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses rumble on, the peasants till the soil, quaff ale, and periodically raise pitchforks and torches. The hugely popular Ackroyd’s ease of erudition ought not to be missed. --Gilbert Taylor
“Ackroyd has drawn a large, loyal readership in his native land. Over some 50 books, he has seldom strayed far from the subject of the past and the traces it has left in the present. And the history that interests him most is the kind touching on national memory and a sense of place, ‘longing and belonging,' in his memorable phrase.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Ackroyd's trademark insight and wit, and the glorious interconnectedness of all things, permeate each page.” ―Observer (UK)
“Ackroyd brings delightful but revealing details of the lives of the people from the past into the present.” ―Sunday Express (UK)
“With Foundation, Ackroyd makes a compelling case to be the country's next great chronicler.
” ―Time Out (London)
“Given his eye for detail and the near-mythic writing in books like Thames: Sacred River, [Foundation]―not surprisingly, a huge best seller in England―promises to be an original read.” ―Library Journal
“The hugely popular Ackroyd's ease of erudition ought not to be missed.” ―Booklist (starred review)
“Once again, Ackroyd exhibits his magic touch with the written word, this time with the first in a six-volume history of England.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“An extraordinary book...Peter Ackroyd is arguably the most talented and prolific writer working in Britain today.” ―Daily Express (UK)
“Ackroyd paints a portrait of early England that is both historically rich and compellingly human.” ―Shelf Awareness
“[Ackroyd] is a natural storyteller and a passionate historian, but his true skill lies in his acute eye for revealing interesting details.” ―San Francisco Book Review
“Marvelously erudite and staggeringly industrious.” ―Los Angeles Times
“For Ackroyd, the past isn't merely past; it's alive.” ―The Boston Globe on Peter Ackroyd
“Ackroyd is a medium through which the obscured voices of the past are channeled.” ―Newsday
“His best work is in his marvelous cultual visions...because they convey a comprehensive and frequently dark sense of the English character and its vagaries.” ―Harold Bloom, The New York Times Book Review
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Top Customer Reviews
Perhaps he does sometimes draw firm conclusions in places where scholars argue otherwise, or where the jury is still out. Frankly, I don't care. I'm not looking for rock-solid detail, backed by endless footnotes and cross-references. If I were, I'd turn elsewhere. Instead, I was interested in finding a coherent narrative that would help knit together the bits and pieces of English history of which I had already read. "Foundation" is that narrative.
I'm looking forward to his work on the Tudors.
Ackroyd's style is a bit eccentric, and it sometimes results in odd sentences and odd punctuation, but it's not dry.
I have one big complaint about the Kindle edition, which is what I read. When I got to the end, I saw that there was a list of illustrations/photos, but only a list--no illustrations or photos. There's absolutely no reason why the publisher couldn't include these in the ebook version (unless they are actually there and I just can't find them--which is just as bad). That's just inexcusable.
First off, the beginning of the book bogged down a bit for me, as it went far back into the Stone Age. It was interesting, but that period of history is not wholly in my realm of interest, as so much of that history is speculation as there were no written records of any kind. Once I got through that and began reading about the earliest "recorded" history of England, I was hooked.
What I most enjoyed about this book was the reading style. It was not academically-slanted, but it truly seemed to be aimed at the general populace. I remember so many college history classes in which battles were laboriously described. The worst ones were the battles that went on for weeks, as then we'd have to read of how each army was lined up, where their flanks were arranged, who rode in first, where the first man fell, day after day, etc. That stuff is not what intrigues me. I prefer reading about the life of the people... not the battles of its armies. Ackroyd had a lot of battles to cover, as any history of a nation is really built upon battles and land seizures and cessions, but Ackroyd mercifully handled them in a nutshell.... sort of like "9,000 men met 6,000 men... they came, they saw, they conquered." Or, they lost. So, we knew who the major players were in these confrontations, and where they took place, but we were spared the minutia of every detail.
As Ackroyd progresses through the centuries, he not only adequately describes each new monarch and his court, but he also brings in collateral English history. For example, he talked about drastic climate changes as they occurred in the first 5 centuries BC and also during the 11th and 12th centuries AD and how these changes affected not only the economy of England, but it's people as well, and how times of exceptionally poor harvests raised the body count and ushered in epidemic diseases and crime rates.
Reading this book has confirmed by previous opinion that the entire history of Man is simply one of seizure and abuse. Throughout all history, and quite evident between these pages, 99% of the people in this world have been considered expendable and simply a means to an end by the 1% ruling elite. Whether that ruling elite was simply an early man who gathered others about him to pillage a near-by village, kill its inhabitants and take over the land in order to increase his own holdings and stature, or the leaders of today's nations who ignore their poor and hungry because all that matters is their self-aggrandizement and personal luxury, mankind's entire history has been formed by one group warring against another in order to satisfy some personal lust.
To summarize this book, I would say that it is an easy-to read tome, full of information not only about the kinds of England, but also about some of the daily life. What toys children had, what games men played, what foods they ate, what jokes they played on each other, and so much more. It's not a "dry" history. But history is certainly covered! After reading it I felt that the entire system of "monarchy" in England was (and is), simply a crock. These rulers simply never cared about the welfare of anyone other than themselves. They wanted power, riches, fame. They considered the unlanded serfs and slaves so beneath their dignity as to not be worthy of a thought. These kings felt they "deserved" to rule by some incredible gift of divine right. They murdered, they connived, they deprived anyone at all of their land and welfare in order to promote their own personal sense of worth. Honestly, after finishing the book, it simply boggled my mind that the English put up with it at all, much less to the present!
If you like history but don't want an academic book that might be required reading on your way to becoming a PhD in history, then you'll love this book. If you've heard of the Plague, the houses of York and Lancaster, the Hundred Years War, the War of the Roses, the Plantagenets, the Hanoverians, Angevins, Normandy, or the Tudors, then you'll find those topics adequately covered. I am looking forward to reading the further volumes in this series!