- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 15 hours and 47 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.com Release Date: September 6, 2012
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0097TFK5K
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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A History of Britain: Volume 1 Audible – Unabridged
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Top Customer Reviews
Though taking British history from 3000BC to AD1603 in this first volume, by its first 100 pages Schama provides the most robust coverage of pre-history to the crowning of William the Conqueror I’ve ever seen.
Where authors like Peter Ackroyd in “Foundation” and of recent note, Robert Tombs, in his massive “The English and their History” have attempted similar introductions, Schama pulls off what these others have failed. (Ackroyd offers no maps with scant context; Tombs believes he can meaningfully take readers from whoa to the Norman Conquest in just 20 pages – he can’t.)
The novice to British history will want to ask: Who were the first British? How were they organized? Why did the Romans invade? Why the Anglo-Saxons? Why then the Vikings? Who was Alfred the Great? Who was Edward the Confessor? What made William finally cross the Normandy shore? And what then? For these underscore the “British” story thereafter.
So Schama takes the reader’s hand, and replete with narrative, humor, opinion and chronological flow provides meaningful answers to each concern.
But there is a word of warning. To appreciate Schama’s thoroughness, readers need to prepare for a solid read: the secret to Schama’s story telling is his magnificent economy with words. Narrative twists and crescendos are at times found mid-paragraph – and Schama extrudes his paragraphs into elongated strings of thought. Blink and you may miss something. It takes a little time to adjust to this writing style – but once you do the pages flow, and you begin to appreciate a total absence of fluff, filler or repetition. It soon explains why the volumes in the series each run just 350 pages approximately – and why so much detail can be offered in such little space.
Further, many will also appreciate Schama’s almost deliberate shying from nomenclature, and academic pretentiousness. His aim is to teach – and to me, he succeeds.
The beauty of history is in the detail. And once the basics are tucked away (and remember that no matter the source, history – especially that of Britain – is a tale of names, family trees and places), you will want to flesh out eras of interest: and when you do you may come across information omitted or treated pithily in this book. That is the game we play whenever “introductory” texts are studied.
The danger, however, is wasting money on books that cut their stories too fine. With Simon Schama’s “A History of Britain volume 1”, you’ll not find this the case.
about the history of Britain to this text (not a text for beginners) it is so very
witty and whimsical, intelligent that the reader can enjoy, enormously, the
finesse and nuance of Schama's profound knowledge and clarity on historical
cause and effect as well as anecdotes which fill in the spaces we might have
in our understanding of Britain. Excellent in every way
The book is unavoidably chronological in the way it presents the stories, but Schama does attempt to group events together in themes. This comes across as a bit of a gimmick, because each chapter/theme is conveniently about the same number of pages and the theme is only really mentioned at the beginning and end of each chapter.
This book has two particular qualities that make me strongly recommend it. First, the writing is excellent throughout. Schama keeps it simple and lets the stories speak for themselves. When he does add opinions, it is usually to correct a commonly mistaken belief or myth.
Second, the book contains some beautiful pictures. Just when you feel you are getting a bit bombarded with facts, there will be a striking colour image of a 1,000 year old document. It adds impact to the words and helps you remember that you are reading about real people and real events.
The book starts off a little slow and hard to read. That is understandable when you think of the subject matter. Few facts are really known about the BC years and the names don't exactly slide off the tongue. As soon as we get to Alfred the Great the story becomes one you really don't want to stop reading.
I was a little surprised when I first saw that Schama's History of Britain was split into three and that the first volume stopped at 1603. Even more so when I saw that volume one was the shortest of the three. It seemed that far too much space was being given up to more recent centuries. Having read volume one, I still think that separation point was a bit of a mistake.
For the casual history reader (and I still count myself in that category), most of the key points are covered, but there are some fairly glaring omissions. First, the Crusades get little attention. I know that they did not take place in Britain, but they did have a significant impact on life in England at the time. Actually, a number of foreign wars get minimal treatment, and I think this area should have been expanded.
Second, if you did not know anything about the War of the Roses before reading this book, then you won't after either. The term is only used once and the events are barely discussed. Third, Richard III, one of England's most notorious Kings, is given one sentence! I personally believe that Shakespeare's image of Richard III is inaccurate, so I was really hoping for some discussion of this, but none was forthcoming.
Finally, while I appreciate that "Britain" did not exist in the period under discussion, I still feel that Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are given short shrift here. Wales is discussed when it was involved in the fighting with Henry IV, and Scotland got a couple of mentions, but only when it was directly involved in fighting with England.
I try to be sympathetic to anyone attempting to write a complete history of Britain, because it is not possible to cover it all, however Schama does set himself up for this criticism a bit, by only using 400 pages to discuss everything up to 1603.
Still, the content that is here is brilliantly written and an easy read. I read the whole thing in a week even though I had many more important things to do!
It is the stretch of British history most outside Schama's remit, and probably as a result the weakest of the 3 CDs. Schama's skill in using miniature individual stories to elicit sweeping narratives and themes of a period fails to work so well here, given the large time scale covered.