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A History of Wales Hardcover – January 4, 1994

4.0 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Davies, a teacher in Cardiff, has not only taken cognizance of, and fluidly applied, the new tools history avails itself of--such as economics and archaeology--he first wrote his history in Welsh. His tremendous exertion was something new that the readers of Wales recognized, and they made it a best-seller there. Davies unearths the evidence of prehistoric hill forts and Roman ruins; he delineates the feudal wars, the 1536 union with England and the ensuing Reformation; and he explains the transformations of the Industrial Revolution. Accurate in all details, using meaningful modern maps, balanced where doubts exist, this impressive history could be criticized as a labor of patriotic love, if not for the visibly high professional standard to which Davies adheres. Nothing even remotely as accomplished has been written about Wales since 1950. And, for a few future decades, don't expect a vessel this sturdy to pass by. Gilbert Taylor

From Kirkus Reviews

From the Ice Age until 1992: the story of Wales, expertly chronicled by renowned Welsh scholar Davies (Welsh History/University College of Wales). The Welsh can claim to be the original Britons. They preserved a language and culture--and, for many centuries, a legal code-- that, along with their topographical isolation, kept them distinct from the Angles (``English''), Saxons, and later Norman invaders. The subjugation of Welsh land by the English occurred in stages: the vanquishing of Llywelyn's revolution in 1282; the Act of Union in 1532; and the effects of the new commercial world that opened up after the Revolution of 1689 and led to the mixed blessings of the Industrial Revolution. Here, Davies relates the history of his people with proper pride. Avoiding sentimental generalizations and the temptation of portraying the Welsh as victims, he offers a closely written monument of scholarship lightened by flashes of dry humor. Davies sees radicalism as an important Welsh trait, exemplified in the Welsh role in the Chartist movement and, more recently, in the politics of the Liberal and Labor parties. He questions the common view that Methodism and Revivalism were authentic expressions of Welsh culture, and he points out that many Welsh migrated to America, especially to Pennsylvania, and that one-third of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were their descendants. In the late 18th century, he adds, rumors abounded that America had been ``discovered'' in 1170 by a Welshman, one Madog, and that a tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians, the Madogwys, still dwelt deep within the continent. Davies devotes the last third of his book to the recent political scene in Wales, including the growth of the nationalist party, Plaid Cymru. He concludes that tenacity and adaptation to changed circumstances are the hallmarks of this nation, whose fullness is yet to be. Not for the casual reader--but a must for all who love to trace the story of an ancient people. (Thirty-three maps and diagrams) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First English Edition edition (January 4, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713990988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713990980
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #802,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Even in the great 'Celtic revival' of the past generation, where the cultures of the Celtic fringes of Britain and continental Europe have re-exerted themselves in various political and non-political ways, the Welsh revival has been late in coming, and a little less forceful in affect and event.
Perhaps history is to blame here -- the Welsh have been only marginally protected by geography; the mountainous area was difficult terrain to conquer, but the supply lines to those mountains were relatively easy to maintain and sustain, unlike the trek to the northern reaches of Scotland or crossing the sea into Ireland, areas that (however much English history might want to contradict this statement) never were completely conquered and subdued, remaining under the hegemony but outside the total control of Londinium/London from Roman times to the recent past. Wales was never so fortunate. Indeed, it is a miracle that the Welsh survive. The Scots lost land, language and independence, but retained administrative and legal systems separations that preserved many aspects of nationhood. The Irish never completely lost independence. The Welsh, however, lost everything of nationhood, and barely sustained an independent culture. Thus, when the 'nations' of the British Isles began to re-exert their independent interpretations of history, the Welsh were among the last.
However, sometimes the last shall be first. In terms of quality of writing and interpretation, the volume by John Davies, `A History of Wales', is indeed in a class of its own in terms of Welsh history. Dafydd Elis Thomas read into the `Hansard' (the British Parliamentary equivalent of the `Congressional Record') that this is 'the greatest of book of Welsh history ever written'.
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Format: Paperback
Over the years, several English kings and numerous politicans had a disliking for the Welsh and refused to allow any representation of Wales on the British "Union Flag". Instead of disappearing, Wales has survived and is now fighting for recognition, both as the first nation of Britain and as a modern European region.
To understand Welsh history takes time and nobody acts a better personal guide than John Davies. This insightful book goes a long way to explain the curious juxtapostion of Welsh sympathy and antipathy to its domineering neighbours in England and the reasons for the demise of its language and culture, particularly during the last century. Although his writing is factual and unsentimental the book enables the reader to get a real flavour for Wales.
'A History of Wales' addresses the failure over many centuries to allow Wales its rightful place within British history. The text is thorough and comprehensive, yet never difficult to digest.
As Wales revives its national identity and political future, it's culture will gain increasing recognition worldwide over the next ten years, much as Ireland did in the eighties and nineties. Those who wish to know more about this fascinating nation should read this book.
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Format: Paperback
John Davies book does an excellent job tracing the path of Welch civilization from the dawn of time to the Thatcherisim of the late 1980's. The book coveres with an exceptional clarity the issues, consequences and decisions of the Major Historical eras of Welch history. By focusing not only on Welch power, but on the people in their darkest hours, Davies provides a balanced, well thought out work that is indepth enough to be a survey text, yet researched extensivly to be a companion to the research of Wales' history. I strongly recommend this work to any who wish to see the legend of King Arthor's homeland in a balanced, explained historical light.
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Format: Paperback
The back of this book's cover has quotes from several authorities who praise the book and its author, and I found no reason to take issue with their evaluations. This book seems to be a definitive work on the history of Wales and has clear value to people who are interested in understanding their heritage, although it was written for the serious historian (which I am not) as well. Perhaps in keeping with this audience, the book is not an easy read -- it is packed with facts, interpretations, and ideas that really need careful study to appreciate and understand fully. It has many maps, but I found myself wanting better ones, and sometimes thinking that the author assumed the reader would be more familiar with Britain's geography and history than myself. The author writes well and the book is often engaging, reflecting Davies's concern with his own cultural affiliations. Roughly 700 pages in a typical Penguin paperback make for a considerable time investment.
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Format: Paperback
John Davies covers a lot of territory (in terms of time, if not in space) in his "A History of Wales", originally published (1990) in Welsh as "Hanes Cymru". This will probably stand as the definitive general history of this fascinating country for years to come.
Beginning with the earliest evidence for human occupation of Wales, Davies brings us up to the end of the 1980s. Each of his ten chapters covers a particular time period, and each chapter title features three place names that represent, and figure into, the theme of that chapter/period. Davies touches on nearly every aspect of Welsh history--the political, the social, and the cultural. If some themes garner less attention than others, that is to be expected in a survey of this kind. One theme, of course, dominates this volume (as it should), and that is the relationship between the Welsh and their much more populous English neighbors to the east. That the Welsh were able to resist English domination for so long is miraculous; despite eventual English hegemony, the Welsh have managed to preserve their language, while over the past century there has been a revival of Welsh culture.
The writing is clear and concise, a testament to Davies' skill as both writer and translator. Davies has included a wealth of maps and graphs to illustrate many of his themes. If I have one complaint about "A History of Wales" it is the complete absence of photographs and other illustrations that would have benefited Davies' narrative immensely. That being said, however, this is a fine introduction to a part of the British Isles that we in the US hear very little about. Four and a half stars.
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