Customer Reviews: Britain Begins
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on March 12, 2013
Cunliffe is a noted archaeologist whose books are always a pleasure to read and highly informative. What I especially liked here was his examination of the possible origin of the Celtic language along the European Atlantic coastal region. It is possible that instead of the traditional view, which sees the Celtic language originating in Central Europe from Poland through Gaul and to Italy and Celtiberian Spain, that the Celtic language instead moved from the Atlantic coast, the peoples who eventually came to speak it, having come from the Anatolian region through Italy and along the Mediterranean to what is now
Spain and then to the Atlantic coast; then the developed Celtic language moved to Central Europe. Cunliffe was greatly affected by the DNA analysis of Stephen Oppenheimer in reaching this view, but Cunliffe has long been an expert on the Atlantic coastal regions. Since neither Cunliffe nor Oppenheimer are professional linquists, it will be interesting to see how the linquists react to this view. Cunliffe also follows Oppenheimer in positing that the inhabitants of what is now England may have been speaking a Germanic dialect from as early as 6000 BCE or have developed one from their known frequent interactions with the mainland European Germanic dialect speakers. This would explain why Celtic has left so relatively little trace on present day English and why the Anglo-Saxon dialects became so readily accepted.. Cunliffe is less sure than Oppenheimer that we can differentiate the early Neolithic Germanic influences from the later DNA supplied by by Angles, Saxons, Frisians, and Jutes of the 5th century CE and the still later Viking influence from CE 800 on. Readers should note that these speculations take up but one chapter in a many chaptered book on early Britain.
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on February 7, 2013
Barry Cunliffe is one of the leading lights in the study of European prehistory. This is a wonderful (and highly readable) overview of the latest thinking about the prehistory of Britain and its environment. Thorough without being boring and overly detailed, scholarly without being inaccessible, "Britain Begins" is one of the best books on prehistory and archaeology I've read in a long time. Cunliffe brings together archaeology, climatology, geology, genetics and linguistics to set out a comprehensive view of the settlement of Britain in the late Ice Age and the societies that subsequently arose there.

A particularly nice touch is that all the many maps and graphics come out very well even in the Kindle edition.

If I have one criticism, it is that I thought he was a bit uncritical of Sykes' and Oppenheimer's interpretations of the genetics. I'm no expert in the field but I know there is a bit more controversy about this area than Cunliffe's exposition suggests.
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on December 7, 2013
Another wonderful book from historian Barry Cunliffe, who can meld archaelogy and history into a fascinating tale better than any other writer I know. This book traces the history of the British Isles from the earliest human habitation up to the Norman Conquest. Most of the book, therefore, is based on archaelogical records rather than on written ones; it presents these so clearly that one can envision them, and shows how they suggest a pattern of history. There are a lot of unknowns, Cunliffe makes very clear, but there are also strong probabilities. Absolutely fascinating, and an engaging read as well
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on March 18, 2015
The settling of the islands that would one day come to be known as Great Britain is one of the most fascinating times of history, as so much of what would become Western Europe was shaped and formed by these early periods and yet it is also one of the lesser known periods of history. But thanks to numerous advancements and discoveries made in the fields of archaeology and genetics, Barry Cunliffe brings readers the new definitive text on the founding of a nation, people and culture.

Cunliffe is a renowned British professor who has specialized in archaeology and is known for his excellent history books on early Britain and Europe, including The Ancient Celts, Facing the Ocean and Between the Oceans. In Britain Begins, he takes readers far back, starting with the myths and ancestors of Britain and then leading into shortly after the end of the last ice age, when the freezing waters retreated and Britain became an island once again. He then takes the reader down a detailed and fascinating history road addressing who the ancient Britons were, the settling of the Celts, on through the Roman invasion and ruling period, up to the Anglo-Saxon and then Norman invasions.

It is rare to see a book that ends with the battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror, but this is not just any history book. Scholars and fans of the history will both delight in owning Britain Begins with its detailed text, numerous photos and illustrations lending visual proof and answers to a period that up until now has remained relatively unknown.

Originally written on March 24, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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on March 30, 2014
This book is written by an archeologist (a good one at that) and thus it covers with some detail our understanding of ancient Britain through that lens. It lacks, however, in providing additional context and generally does not provide information from other areas of study to create a fuller picture of British ancient history. The figures are typically diagrams of archeology sites, etc. It is a handsome book--beautifully put together. I disagree with describing review that it is perfect for the beginner. It has way too much archeological detail and too little contextual overview of early Britain.
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on August 29, 2013
This is a lovely book. The cover is beautiful and the paper and fonts etc are good. It is a delight to even hold and that is before you open it. Inside it is packed full of maps and diagrams as well as the information which is given clearly and in great detail by one of Britain's best archaelogists. A treasure.
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on March 1, 2014
I can't imagine a better overview of recent work. Makes clear the importance of very early travel & trade by boat with continental Europe. It includes many very high quality photos and maps.

Note: Cunliffe attempts to include minimal information on what DNA studies indicate about population movement but this field is changing so fast that much of what is said is often obsolete before it hits the bookshelf.
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on April 8, 2013
The author has successfully combined the most recent information from a variety of disciplines to craft a readable account of the human migrations to the western islands of Europe. It would be difficult, I believe, for the interested general reader to find such current thinking on this subject so well presented.
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on April 25, 2016
Cunliffe brings the past to life, and mingles Oppenheimer's genetic narrative into the fabric of the story. I love his books. (I have to set asside the obvious bias against religion, but I genuinely love the way he puts it together for the layman to understand.)
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on March 3, 2016
Dr. Cunliffe is one of the outstanding scholars of the United Kingdom and this book does not disappoint. It is an excellent overview of Britain from prehistory to the Vikings. It is very readable and an excellent reference to have in your library.
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