The Isles

The Isles : A History

3.95 (772 ratings by Goodreads)
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The bestselling and controversial new history of the 'British Isles', including Ireland from the author of Europe: A History. Emphasizing our long-standing European connections and positing a possible break-up of the United Kingdom, this is agenda-setting work is destined to become a classic. 'If ever a history book were a tract for the times, it is The Isles: A History ...a masterwork.' Roy Porter, The Times 'Davies is among the few living professional historians who write English with vitality, sparkle, economy and humour. The pages fly by, not only because the pace is well judged but also because the surprises keep coming.' Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Sunday Times 'A book which really will change the way we think about our past . marvellously rich and stimulating' Noel Malcolm, Evening Standard 'A historiographical milestone.' Niall Ferguson, Sunday Times 'The full shocking force of this book can only be appreciated by reading it.' Andrew Marr, Observer 'It is too soon to tell if [Norman Davies] will become the Macaulay or Trevelyan of our day: that depends on the reading public. He has certainly made a good try. This is narrative history on the grand scale - compulsively readable, intellectually challenging and emotionally exhilirating.' David Marquand, Literary Reviewshow more

Product details

  • Paperback | 1320 pages
  • 154 x 232 x 60mm | 1,599.98g
  • Pan MacMillan
  • Papermac
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Trade Paperback.
  • 8 colour illustrations, 24 black & white halftones
  • 0333692837
  • 9780333692837
  • 185,109

Review Text

History is ill-taught. Most adults still believe that British history began in a Sussex field in 1066. Children recently identified Churchill as a pop singer, and the Holocaust as Hollywood fiction. That England is part of one island amongst many, that Wales, Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkneys, Shetland, Isles of Wight, Man and Skye, have long distinctive histories is scarcely known. All, furthermore, are inextricably part of Europe, ultimately the world. To all this ignorance, Professor Davies provides a lengthy but engrossing remedy, backing up with essential facts much current debate about Britishness, Englishness, the reality of British global achievements, always contentious from whatever hand. He shows 'The Isles' not only from above, emphatically part of the larger whole, but from the viewpoint of invaders and neighbours: Celts, Romans, Teutons, Scandiniavians, Normans, French.By calling Canute 'Knutr', the conqueror 'Guillaume le Bitard', Edward III 'Eduard III Plantagenet', he induces an atmosphere slyly at odds with Anglocentric convention. The narrative sweep is immense, from prehistoric caves to unforeseen implications of the Treaty of Rome; from the impact of Christianity on Irish slavery and polygamy - rather small - and our history as seen by a forgotten Catholic historian, John Lingard (1771-1851), to the valuable post-1945 Polish Resettlement Corps. To illustrate the self-mocking humour which could fitfully soften British imperialism he provides the whole text of 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'; he quotes from Dickens's 'A Child History of England', though he omits Chesterton's quip that the child must have been not the reader but Dickens himself. Davies's own writing is a model of clarity: not a sentence imprecise. He culls witness not only from books but from coins, flags, old songs, traditional legends, immigration and demographic statistics, Gaelic place-names, the Ogam alphabet, the Manx language.A stone circle speaks louder than Mussolini. Constant details enliven the momentous Conquest, Reformation, Civil War, empire, contemporary dilemmas of identity, status, possibilities. That Cromwell was famed for football, cricket, wrestling, cudgelling, adds flavour to his relations with obstructionists, the ritual hanging of the royal arms from the Edinburgh gallows must have had a powerful theatrical effect. Within powerful 17th century constitutional developments was the founding at St Albans, 1661, of the oldest cricket club, though cricket itself was illegal until 1748, when King's Bench pronounced it 'manly', though contaminated by betting. Too many textbooks are based almost solely upon England, looking outwards only as doing a favour not only to foreigners but to fellow inhabitants of the Isles. Even a Euro-sceptic like myself can hugely enjoy this temperate, instructive and entertaining book. Review by PETER VANSITTART Editor's note: Peter Vansittart's latest book is In Memory of England. (Kirkus UK)show more

Review quote

"[Davies] invests The Isles...with energy and enthusiasm."--The New York Times"For all its length, it miraculously retains the pace and exhilaration of an iconoclastic essay."--The Economist"The book succeeds, boisterous in its sheer variety."--The Wall Street Journal"An audacious project, touching and reckless, enormously stimulating and hugely necessary."--Washington Post Book World"Brilliant....Davies's fast-paced narrative and reassessments are executed with such brio that putting the book almost impossible." --The Boston Sunday Globe"Any reader eager to challenge the enduring prejudices and bigotry that have dominated the history of the Isles for so long will find his myth-busting views both engaging and enlightening."--The Christian Science Monitor"Excellently organized and...well written."--The Boston Book Review"Davies has written a wondrous, landmark chronicle of the British Isles....Bursting with fresh insights on nearly every page, tshow more

Rating details

772 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 27% (208)
4 48% (371)
3 20% (155)
2 3% (26)
1 2% (12)
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