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Written by one of the most brilliant and provocative historians at work today, The Isles is a revolutionary narrative history that presents a new perspective on the development of Britain and Ireland, looking at them not as self-contained islands, but as an inextricable part of Europe. This richly layered history begins with the Celtic Supremacy in the last centuries BC, wh Written by one of the most brilliant and provocative historians at work today, The Isles is a revolutionary narrative history that presents a new perspective on the development of Britain and Ireland, looking at them not as self-contained islands, but as an inextricable part of Europe. This richly layered history begins with the Celtic Supremacy in the last centuries BC, which is presented in the light of a Celtic world stretching all the way from Iberia to Asia Minor. Roman Britain is seen not as a unique phenomenon but as similar to the other frontier regions of the Roman Empire. The Viking Age is viewed not only through the eyes of the invaded but from the standpoint of the invaders themselves—Norse, Danes, and Normans. In the later chapters, Davies follows the growth of the United Kingdom and charts the rise and fall of the main pillars of 'Britishness'—the Royal Navy, the Westminster Parliament, the Constitutional Monarchy, the Aristocracy, the British Empire, and the English Language. This holistic approach challenges the traditional nationalist picture of a thousand years of "eternal England"—a unique country formed at an early date by Anglo-Saxon kings which evolved in isolation and, except for the Norman Conquest, was only marginally affected by continental affairs. The result is a new picture of the Isles, one of four countries—England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales—constantly buffeted by continental storms and repeatedly transformed by them.


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Written by one of the most brilliant and provocative historians at work today, The Isles is a revolutionary narrative history that presents a new perspective on the development of Britain and Ireland, looking at them not as self-contained islands, but as an inextricable part of Europe. This richly layered history begins with the Celtic Supremacy in the last centuries BC, wh Written by one of the most brilliant and provocative historians at work today, The Isles is a revolutionary narrative history that presents a new perspective on the development of Britain and Ireland, looking at them not as self-contained islands, but as an inextricable part of Europe. This richly layered history begins with the Celtic Supremacy in the last centuries BC, which is presented in the light of a Celtic world stretching all the way from Iberia to Asia Minor. Roman Britain is seen not as a unique phenomenon but as similar to the other frontier regions of the Roman Empire. The Viking Age is viewed not only through the eyes of the invaded but from the standpoint of the invaders themselves—Norse, Danes, and Normans. In the later chapters, Davies follows the growth of the United Kingdom and charts the rise and fall of the main pillars of 'Britishness'—the Royal Navy, the Westminster Parliament, the Constitutional Monarchy, the Aristocracy, the British Empire, and the English Language. This holistic approach challenges the traditional nationalist picture of a thousand years of "eternal England"—a unique country formed at an early date by Anglo-Saxon kings which evolved in isolation and, except for the Norman Conquest, was only marginally affected by continental affairs. The result is a new picture of the Isles, one of four countries—England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales—constantly buffeted by continental storms and repeatedly transformed by them.

30 review for The Isles: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Luke McCallin

    I love a history book--any book, really--that makes you look at the world differently when you're finished with it. I love a book even more that stays with you long after you have put it back on the shelf and, like a favourite friend, you can't resist popping back to, to look up something, anything, just to pick the book up again. I consider myself fairly well versed in the history--or, as Mr. Davies would say--the 'histories' of my islands, but that was before reading The Isles. It is a work of I love a history book--any book, really--that makes you look at the world differently when you're finished with it. I love a book even more that stays with you long after you have put it back on the shelf and, like a favourite friend, you can't resist popping back to, to look up something, anything, just to pick the book up again. I consider myself fairly well versed in the history--or, as Mr. Davies would say--the 'histories' of my islands, but that was before reading The Isles. It is a work of great sensitivity, at times iconoclastic, sometimes witty, often incisive, invariably trenchant. Considering the centrifugal forces currently at work in the United Kingdom, reading this book with its lessons culled from over two thousand years of history helps to put things in some perspective, starting with the concept of 'identity'. Considering as well the vast span of time it covers, it retains its pace, its rhythm, and its relevance to today's events. There is also a fine set of maps and other appendices, like timelines, chronologies, genealogies, photos, even sheet music! So much of this book is about identity: what it is, where it comes from, who makes it, what happens to it over time. In a way it is interesting this is such a treasured book to me, as it does merrily explode conceptions of what it means to be British, while exposing the debris of that identity to another--that of being European. To be 'European' is another identity--or layer of identity--that I respect and cherish. Having lived and worked in countries that could not resist their own centrifugal forces and that span themselves to their own--often messy--destruction, my instinct is to resist any moves to deconstruct my own country. Having lived and worked on Europe's borders, I see it first from the outside in, and thus I see it as something of a haven, something to be aspired to. Again, not something these days that many of my co-citizens of this European project would easily relate to. The Isles is something of a balm to that feeling of being adrift, or at least it helps to put it in perspective. Far from being set in stone, the islands that make up the United Kingdom have always been a site and source of innovation and inspiration to those who live there, and I hope they always will be.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is not so much a history of the British Isles, strictly speaking, as it is an extensive historical reflection on national identity. It examines changing concepts of "England," "Britain," "Great Britain," "the British Empire," "the British Commonwealth," and "the United Kingdom." Davies has two primary concerns. First, he challenges any and all assumptions that such titles for the island nation at any given point in its history are interchangeable or appropriately used at any given stage of This is not so much a history of the British Isles, strictly speaking, as it is an extensive historical reflection on national identity. It examines changing concepts of "England," "Britain," "Great Britain," "the British Empire," "the British Commonwealth," and "the United Kingdom." Davies has two primary concerns. First, he challenges any and all assumptions that such titles for the island nation at any given point in its history are interchangeable or appropriately used at any given stage of its history. The particular focus of his challenge opposes assumptions of England's/London's superiority. His second concern regards what it means to be "British." He works hard to devote as much attention to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales as most past histories (according to Davies) generally emphasize England. He follows the story of national identity from pre-historic through contemporary times (published March 2000). An updated version would already be welcome in light of 9/11, 7/7, the second Iraq war, the 2008 financial collapse, and continuing developments regarding the European Union. As any good modern historian, Davies strives for objectivity but as he moves into the twentieth century, his political opinions begin coming through on issues like the place of the British monarchy, different twists on WWI and WWII, and - most clearly - GB's dependence on the USA. Specific and complete historical narratives are lacking, as the point is not a strict historical account but historiographical thought on national identity. Even so, it's good to have such an expansive story with such a broad view.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dhsparkman

    I don't like Norman Davies, but I have to give this book at least 4 stars. Davies is another revisionist historian, but unlike most, he gives good justification for most of his revisions, and is a first rate historian when it comes to historiographical criticism. I think all history students should read the part of this book where Davies savages the previous historical writing about the United Kingdom. He obviously writes from a Celtic/catholic viewpoint, and one has to be careful when one read I don't like Norman Davies, but I have to give this book at least 4 stars. Davies is another revisionist historian, but unlike most, he gives good justification for most of his revisions, and is a first rate historian when it comes to historiographical criticism. I think all history students should read the part of this book where Davies savages the previous historical writing about the United Kingdom. He obviously writes from a Celtic/catholic viewpoint, and one has to be careful when one reads him for this reason alone. But his criticism of previous histories of Britain and associated islands (one should NEVER call Ireland a British isle--"there's nothing British about it") and questioning of long-assumed positions is the stuff of which first class historiography is made, and well-received by me, whatever else Davies' faults are. If you want to understand how British history has been written, you need to read these sections. The book is huge; this is never a fault with a good book. The fault lies with some of text which is superflous and only provides gristle to get in the way of the meat. Fictional accounts of isolated instances of British history should never have appeared in such a book. Davies' revisionist sallies against the walls of British historiography are worth wading through this nonesense though. He also writes as if he were supporting trends that he assumes will happen in the future, which comes more to partisan politics than to sound history. This is not the book to read to come away from, saying one has completely learned British history from it. Davies is often too busy grinding his own axes to give time to the events and themes which need to be discussed. An example is his treatment of the Cornish language revival movement, which might be of interest to all 500 participants, but comes at the sacrifice of lots of European historical context which would have interfered with Davies`lashing of his pet peeves; protestants, Germanics, and royalty. But "The Isles: A History" is to be learned from, and it is a worthy read for many reasons.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    A history of the British Isles and it's peoples, from a non anglo-centric perspective. Many British people, let alone foreigners, don't understand the difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and England, believing them to be interchangeable at best. No wonder then that this tome begins with an attempt to unravel this knot of confusion and set things , from the off, on a more secure footing. From there we are taken on a systematic history of 'the Isles' as an integral inseparable whol A history of the British Isles and it's peoples, from a non anglo-centric perspective. Many British people, let alone foreigners, don't understand the difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and England, believing them to be interchangeable at best. No wonder then that this tome begins with an attempt to unravel this knot of confusion and set things , from the off, on a more secure footing. From there we are taken on a systematic history of 'the Isles' as an integral inseparable whole, with equal emphasis on the various 'native' Gaelic cultures as on the customary English narrative; this consists of an almost comprehensive discussion of the various strata left by each successive conquest as an incoming cultural influence. The tone of this book is really a search for identity; A subversive attempt to explode the myths of English or British identity and dispel the official versions of British history as politically motivated constructs invented after the events. The breaking of the myth is that these Islands have always been a meeting point for diverse, often conflicting cultures, be it through trade, Empiricism, proselytism and/or conquest; from native Pict and Celtic tribes through Roman, Scandinavian, Saxon, Friesian and Norman we are the product of diverse interaction rather than any single cultural dominance, and the rise of the English (but really British) to the status of C19th World super power, influenced, but neither hindered nor negated the importance of Welsh, Irish and Scottish history. Britain is, by nature, a multi cultural concept shaped as much by successive invading historical cultures as by it's own conquests. This is the best attempt that I know of at a comprehensive history of our islands that honors and acknowledges all that have lived and contributed here. As with all of Mr Davies' books it is spoiled somewhat by the over labouring of certain points and the sound of grinding axes in the background but that is a minor quibble. There is much a louder passion for prosaic subversive story telling and love of the subject that makes this a modern gem.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Monty Milne

    I’m sorry to say I found this a big disappointment. It starts off well enough – the early chapters on the prehistory of the British Isles are very good, brilliant almost...but it soon goes off, and gets so progressively bad that in the end I couldn’t finish it. The problem is that Professor Davies hates the English, and it really isn’t possible to write a decent history of the British Isles if at every point you relish a racist put down. I have read many of Davies’s books and, until now, loved t I’m sorry to say I found this a big disappointment. It starts off well enough – the early chapters on the prehistory of the British Isles are very good, brilliant almost...but it soon goes off, and gets so progressively bad that in the end I couldn’t finish it. The problem is that Professor Davies hates the English, and it really isn’t possible to write a decent history of the British Isles if at every point you relish a racist put down. I have read many of Davies’s books and, until now, loved them all. My disillusionment on finding that someone I have loved and admired actually hates me and all my tribe is therefore hugely upsetting. Until the English actually arrive the hatred is concealed, but the moment Hengist and Horsa swing on the scene we are treated to the poisonous invective of a seasoned Anglophobe. It didn’t have to be like this. Jean Sans Terre – as none of his subjects called King John – was no more a Frenchman than I am (the Normans, or Northmen, were not of course ethnically French at all), yet Professor Davies rubs his Frenchified moniker in our English faces at every opportunity. And of course, he hates the Church of England – as an expression of English nationalism, of course he would. Davies loves all supranational non-English institutions, whether they are the Church of Rome or the European Union, as the flip side to his hatred of everything Anglo Saxon. I haven’t been so disappointed since watching Edward I’s Irish levies switch sides to the Jockinese in one of the battle scenes in the film Braveheart. Ah Professor Davies, I would follow you anywhere in your historical exploration of all things Polish or eastern European, but in this book – alas! - the cloven hoof peeps from under your Welsh hose, and you show yourself to be just another chippy Celt.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vanjr

    I got this book cheaply (10 US dollars at a Half Price bookstore-list price was 19.99 pounds which is about 30 US dollars) without any idea of how good it was. I had no significant knowledge of the history of Britian or the Isles but hoped to learn. As I have read this book I have learned a significant amount but unfortunately for me this is a history book to "correct" what one has wrongly already learned-ie that which I had not learned. I am sure I missed a lot of what he was saying. So it is n I got this book cheaply (10 US dollars at a Half Price bookstore-list price was 19.99 pounds which is about 30 US dollars) without any idea of how good it was. I had no significant knowledge of the history of Britian or the Isles but hoped to learn. As I have read this book I have learned a significant amount but unfortunately for me this is a history book to "correct" what one has wrongly already learned-ie that which I had not learned. I am sure I missed a lot of what he was saying. So it is not a particularly good introduction to the topic if you have a week "history of britian" background such as I. It was however very engaging and entertaining and had to be as long as it is. As a survey for that long it certainly leaves out a lot. It bills itself as a survey of the Isles, but it certainly seemed Ireland, the Welsh and Scotland could have been covered more. This is a secular history but religion is important and covered to some degree but I would have been interested in more about William Wilberforce and the abolition movement as well as Methodism and its roots. Recommend-for those with a background of history of England/Great Britain or who want a broad overview. One point he nicely makes is that historians have become so focused and have such narrow fields of study that no one can look at a broad picture. It is important to study the trees in the forest, but it is important to study the forest as well. While this book can be read in sections of time, the sections overlap and tie into each other. Not recommended for a quick read or the faint of heart.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    For someone educated at an English school, this book is a useful corrective to the history taught there. I left having been taught nothing about the history of the rest of the British Isles not indeed pointed at any areas where I might study further for interest' sake. He goes into the history of the Isles with a broad brush and the book was and is a pointer to further reading and understanding. As someone who is perhaps genuinely British by family background (English, Scottish, Welsh with a lit For someone educated at an English school, this book is a useful corrective to the history taught there. I left having been taught nothing about the history of the rest of the British Isles not indeed pointed at any areas where I might study further for interest' sake. He goes into the history of the Isles with a broad brush and the book was and is a pointer to further reading and understanding. As someone who is perhaps genuinely British by family background (English, Scottish, Welsh with a little Cornish but no Irish that I can trace), I've always been hacked off at the lazy conflation of English with British and anything that can shift that perception is valuable.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    Mr. Davies does a delightful job of bringing history to life in his clear, concise writing style and attention to detail. Rather than an endless drone of dates and figures, this book is full of rich illustrations, maps, charts, and even music notations which bring his subjects to life. He also scatters through vignettes of the "regular" people caught up in the history he discusses, clearly conveying the certainty that momentous events affected not only kings and princes but more poignantly the p Mr. Davies does a delightful job of bringing history to life in his clear, concise writing style and attention to detail. Rather than an endless drone of dates and figures, this book is full of rich illustrations, maps, charts, and even music notations which bring his subjects to life. He also scatters through vignettes of the "regular" people caught up in the history he discusses, clearly conveying the certainty that momentous events affected not only kings and princes but more poignantly the people they ruled. I own three of Mr. Davies books and plan to own several more.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Everything you know about British history is wrong, unless your name is Norman Davies. The heck with "There will always be an England", according to Davies there never was an England. The very idea of "England" is a whiggish plot. And don't even get started on the idea of "Britain". But you should probably visit Wales if you have the properly reverent attitude. A clearly written and enjoyable "one man's view" type of history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Williams

    A good informative read, hard to put down. I have read Norman Davies before and have found him to be a solid unbiased author. A good detailed history is given without trying to patriotically glorify it. With a keen interest in history i have learned a lot from this book and would recommend it to anyone willing to learn of the progressive development of all parts of the British Isles and Ireland. The History of England by no means overshadows that of Scotland, Ireland and Wales in this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joel Dishman

    I think that Norman Davies may actually have captured heaven in a paperback. Time vanishes as the pages turn because our puny experience of hours is as nothing to the awesome gulf of history, so much of which has swirled about a former peninsula in the North Sea.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    This may appear to be an epic of a book (and based on its size it is) it doesn't feel that way when you're reading it. Davies begins by setting out what he aims to do, which is to give one man's view of the history of the British Isles in all its many forms. He points out that this is not an objective work and is unlikely to be considered suitable by 'academic standards' but in my opinion it is a superb start to learning the long complicated history of Britain. Davies incorporates the histories This may appear to be an epic of a book (and based on its size it is) it doesn't feel that way when you're reading it. Davies begins by setting out what he aims to do, which is to give one man's view of the history of the British Isles in all its many forms. He points out that this is not an objective work and is unlikely to be considered suitable by 'academic standards' but in my opinion it is a superb start to learning the long complicated history of Britain. Davies incorporates the histories of the all the countries that have been a part of, are still a part of or have influenced the Isles in a coherent, readable and most importantly a chronological manner, showing the interactions between the different people, places and events. Davies also discusses the discrepancies and deficiencies in how British history has been and continues to be taught, including the ever present confusion/inter-changing between 'British' and 'English'. Although at times Davies seems to be English-bashing, his point is not that the English are always bad or wrong but that English history, culture and beliefs have over-ridden those of the other nations within the Union/Empire/Commonwealth. This may have been acceptable in the past, however, Davies points out that this should no longer be the case and that the historical and cultural wealth of the Isles would be far greater if all its constituent nations were treated equally and not as the defeated nations that they have been. Although the book does lack a lot of the detail that other histories include, Davies has still produced a comprehensive and thorough account of the long long history of the Isles and includes many references and notes that can be used for more detailed research on specific people, places, events and eras. Overall a great read that shows the many sides of the British Isles, both past and present.

  13. 5 out of 5

    John Newton

    This is a big commitment at 1000+ pages, but if you are interested in British history, it's worth the effort. At every step, Davies highlights what has been left out of the main story—often that means the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, as the history of England is treated as synonymous with the history of Britain. Beyond that, though, the French or German origins of different monarchs has been downplayed, as have the cultural and commercial ties that link the British Isles to the rest of Europe. (I This is a big commitment at 1000+ pages, but if you are interested in British history, it's worth the effort. At every step, Davies highlights what has been left out of the main story—often that means the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, as the history of England is treated as synonymous with the history of Britain. Beyond that, though, the French or German origins of different monarchs has been downplayed, as have the cultural and commercial ties that link the British Isles to the rest of Europe. (If you leave Scotland's history out of your main narrative, it's also easy to ignore the long ties between France and Scotland.) Davies tries to correct the record. I don't have a degree in British history, but I have long gravitated towards books on English history. I think if you pick this up as your first broad survey of the history of Britain, it could be somewhat confusing, not understanding what Davies is responding to—the record he is trying to correct. That said, even if you don't have any specific English-history context, much of what Davies does is make readers rethink assumptions and ways of thinking about history generally. In the British context, he ponders why contemporary Britons identify with the Celts, but not the Romans or the Vikings, who are portrayed as marauding hordes not settlers who lived in Britain for centuries. How nationalism distorts our understanding of the past is relevant beyond England, even if how it expresses itself varies from place to place. (And for Davies it's not just English nationalism that's problematic, the Celtic revival of the 19th century is perhaps even more problematically unmoored from any historical reality). All in all, a commitment but one that pays off, and may make you rethink much of what you thought you knew about Britain, and also how we understand the past in not just the context of the Isles but beyond them too.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Debattista

    This is a book of three halves, so to speak. The early, prehistoric sections are lavished with Davies' love and attention. Despite the slightly twee imaginary place names bestowed on Britain, this section is interesting, though perhaps not quite as fascinating for most readers as it is to Davies. Roman britain gets a perfunctory treatment - to punish us you sense, for being more interested in it, than prehistoric Britain. The second section, on the time of the Angles and the Saxons and the early E This is a book of three halves, so to speak. The early, prehistoric sections are lavished with Davies' love and attention. Despite the slightly twee imaginary place names bestowed on Britain, this section is interesting, though perhaps not quite as fascinating for most readers as it is to Davies. Roman britain gets a perfunctory treatment - to punish us you sense, for being more interested in it, than prehistoric Britain. The second section, on the time of the Angles and the Saxons and the early English Kings is fascinating, well written and engaging. Were the entire book like this part, it would rate more highly. Alas, sometime between Henry VIII and the Glorious revolution, Davies' interest in his subject matter begins to lag. The Victorian era is dealt with rapidly. By the time we get to the outbreak of World War 1 - a time when The Isles being written about are the homeland of the greatest Empire in the World and are in danger of being broken up politically through irish sepratism, this interest is exhausted - and the whole period from thence to yesterday is breathlessly summed up. I finished wishing the Book was less ambition; a tale of England from the Angles to the Glorious Revolution, slightly expanded, would have been outstanding. As it is, the curious beginning and the perfunctory end detract badly from the product.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lance

    I spent a couple of years in Scotland while I was in the U.S. Navy. While the Navy sucked, Scotland was great. Being over there for what was, in essence, a short time, I didn't quite get familiar with all the nuances of the culture. Some Scots would deride the "lowlanders," saying they weren't really Scots. I'd catch on the television programs that Scots were considered the "comic releif." For some reason, Cornwall and Wales considered themselves, for the most part, separate and apart from Engla I spent a couple of years in Scotland while I was in the U.S. Navy. While the Navy sucked, Scotland was great. Being over there for what was, in essence, a short time, I didn't quite get familiar with all the nuances of the culture. Some Scots would deride the "lowlanders," saying they weren't really Scots. I'd catch on the television programs that Scots were considered the "comic releif." For some reason, Cornwall and Wales considered themselves, for the most part, separate and apart from England. This book brings together all the tribal factions, empires, and other ethnic origins that make up what is now called Britain (even though the author detests that appellation.) The significance of Beowulf became clearer, and it's origins are now thought to be historical. After reading this I began to understand the disparity I saw when I was over there. This book does have an agenda though. It is stated at the beginning and at the end of the book. It was published at a time when Britain wasn't yet part of the European Union, and it emphasizes their closer relationship with Europe and encourages membership in the EU at the expense of relations with the U.S. Because of the agenda, I give it 4 stars.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mary Brodd

    Went looking for this book as part of my Brexit obsession - I realized I knew nothing about the history of England and Ireland's relationship. Spoiler - as always, history of weirder and more fractal than we've been lead to believe in school. One interesting point I hadn't considered regarding Brexit - that's the *second* time England has yanked itself out of the larger community of Europe. Henry VIII throwing over the Catholic Church was the first. Not having fully understood just how closely t Went looking for this book as part of my Brexit obsession - I realized I knew nothing about the history of England and Ireland's relationship. Spoiler - as always, history of weirder and more fractal than we've been lead to believe in school. One interesting point I hadn't considered regarding Brexit - that's the *second* time England has yanked itself out of the larger community of Europe. Henry VIII throwing over the Catholic Church was the first. Not having fully understood just how closely the Catholic Church connected the upper/educated classes, I hadn't realized what a wrenching break that would be. (Also, speaking as an American hard-cider fan, I now know never to go to an Irish pub and order Strongbow!) Other notes - I now know a bit more about the Commonwealth, and why the Irish don't have much time for Oliver Cromwell. The Civil War was actually a bunch of wars smashed together, including wars in Scotland over the status of bishops (!). If for nothing else, read this book for his discussion of "English" vs "British." It should resonate if you've been reading about current events.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susu

    This history of The Isles paints a broad sweep of development from early man to modern times. The history is very much dominated by English history with Scotland and Ireland in supporting roles. Apart from the historical events the author returns to the topic of naming conventions and an overview of historical works - both aspects take on a life of their own and tempt the reader to skip pages. Generally the author expects the reader to already be well versed in facts and having at least an idea This history of The Isles paints a broad sweep of development from early man to modern times. The history is very much dominated by English history with Scotland and Ireland in supporting roles. Apart from the historical events the author returns to the topic of naming conventions and an overview of historical works - both aspects take on a life of their own and tempt the reader to skip pages. Generally the author expects the reader to already be well versed in facts and having at least an idea on historical works - but the main reason to pick up a book like this is to get the overall picture and not to read essay-like criticism of other historical works you'll never pick up. The book does deliver on its basic promise. But for a book that claims to cover all history in the British Isles - well, it doesn't do much except lining up rough facts and giving of the impression of still neglecting all but the central English core. It raises expectations that are perhaps impossible to fill. Fat book with a few new insights, falling short of its self-proclaimed goal.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    I am a big fan of Davies and regret that he wasted his time with this dubious project. This format is somewhat unusual. English language historians often write the history of other European countries by drawing parallels to British history. Instead Davies writes the history of the Isles through parallels to Poland. Strangely enough he makes this curious piece of legerdemain work. The problem is that Davies makes some loopy decisions as to what to include in his book. The growth of labour unions, I am a big fan of Davies and regret that he wasted his time with this dubious project. This format is somewhat unusual. English language historians often write the history of other European countries by drawing parallels to British history. Instead Davies writes the history of the Isles through parallels to Poland. Strangely enough he makes this curious piece of legerdemain work. The problem is that Davies makes some loopy decisions as to what to include in his book. The growth of labour unions, the women's suffrage movement, and dissenter churches get almost no mention. There are better surveys of Britain and better books by Davies to read. This one is best left untouched.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kjersti

    This was a monster of a book. I'm glad I had already read many British histories and take some courses in the subject before picking up this book...I may have gotten lost in all the details that Davies provides otherwise. That said, the author does present a fresh perspective on history of the British isles region and brings attention to peoples, topics, etc. that reader may not have been exposed to before. If you are brave and want to read a comprehensive, in depth history, this is the book for This was a monster of a book. I'm glad I had already read many British histories and take some courses in the subject before picking up this book...I may have gotten lost in all the details that Davies provides otherwise. That said, the author does present a fresh perspective on history of the British isles region and brings attention to peoples, topics, etc. that reader may not have been exposed to before. If you are brave and want to read a comprehensive, in depth history, this is the book for you.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chris Davis

    I listened to this as a 40 hour audio book. I actually set it to double speed and did it in 20 hours. The guy is a slow talker. It was very interesting from prehistory to present but most people will not care for this. He did a good job of tying the myths and history together of that region and relating it to the rest of the world a little. I would recommend this book to any history geek who just like to hear vast amounts about history. If you are a normal sort of person and watch Desperate Hous I listened to this as a 40 hour audio book. I actually set it to double speed and did it in 20 hours. The guy is a slow talker. It was very interesting from prehistory to present but most people will not care for this. He did a good job of tying the myths and history together of that region and relating it to the rest of the world a little. I would recommend this book to any history geek who just like to hear vast amounts about history. If you are a normal sort of person and watch Desperate Housewives, you are going to be bored out of your mind.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    3.7 have just re-read this and find it slightly less impressive than i had before, i think because there is so much great history being written now and 'isles' looks a little conventional and leaden in comparison. still, davies is a stalwart guide to monarchs, uprisings and battles, with better coverage of wales, scotland and ireland than often happens, at least during some periods. but he gives precious little social, economic, cultural reference - never a mention of the changing position of wo 3.7 have just re-read this and find it slightly less impressive than i had before, i think because there is so much great history being written now and 'isles' looks a little conventional and leaden in comparison. still, davies is a stalwart guide to monarchs, uprisings and battles, with better coverage of wales, scotland and ireland than often happens, at least during some periods. but he gives precious little social, economic, cultural reference - never a mention of the changing position of women, for example. the only comparison to anywhere else is occasionally to france.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Moominboy

    Always been a fan of N.Davies and this book didn't disappoint. As usually he gives a great historical synthesis of many different aspects. History of Scots, the Welsh and the Irish is not put aside either. The narrative is captivating and the book doesn't feel dry at all. It is not strictly an academic book, it's more popular history but it is detailed enough for everybody to learn something from it. And to remember it afterwards.

  23. 4 out of 5

    John Bentley

    This is the most up to date and detailed history of the UK as one could get. It has no hidden agenda others than to inform of events precisely. It is a brilliant reference book for anyone interested in the origins of the people of the British isles and I have used it as such in writing my novel The Royal Secret from the days of the Druids to King Arthur, the Tudors, Shakespeare and the foundation of the America; the New Atlantis - the utopian dream of Francis Bacon. America's would be King.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jim Corson

    The Isles are a very interesting history of what we think of as Great Britain which is and has been groups of people ie: Scotland, Wales, Ireland etc. The history continues up to what will happen June 23, 2016 when Britain will either stay or leave the European Union. This is even though it was published in 1999. Davies spends a lot of time going deep into the background of the people,ideas etc explaining why they developed as they did. Definately a good read and timely also.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anne Cupero

    I absolutely LOVED this book. Davies' writing style is terrific; he makes little turns of phrase come alive. I listened to the audio version of this and read the book version. It is not apologist, or too Anglophile, but there is a reverence. It is a beautifully told story of the triumphs and the hypocrisies. It made me start reading other books of English history because I just wanted this book to go on and on.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Leah W

    Norman Davies is an extremely accessible, clear writer of history. I plowed through this monster despite not being too much of an Anglophile. It's been a few years since I read it, but I recall it being a easy-to-digest, informative read. Having read enough dull/uninformative history books, I'm glad this exists.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Othy

    Rather disappointing. Davies' venture to write a history of group interaction turned very quickly into English-bashing. I think I've had enough of the English being made the bad-guys of history. Apparently even when they're being invaded by the Vikings they're still doing something horrible to a fringe group...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mikey

    It has some truly brilliant moments, but I get the feeling that Davies just doesn't find Britain's history to be that interesting. He spends a great deal of time on some rather obscure (but at the same time still interesting) issues, and totally glosses over major events. Still, I have to say that it is refreshing to finally read a history of the British Isles that is both honest and true.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    A counterpoint to the received wisdom of British history. Among the many fascinating points made are: Name one battle the British Navy or Army has ever won on its own? There may be no such thing as the British but there most certainly is such as thing as the Scottish. William the Conqueror was neither a Norman nor a conqueror -- he was one of three legitimate heirs to the English crown. Etc.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    What can you say? Norman Davies is one of the foundation stones of European history. Did not read the whole book because I was interested in the prehistoric period. The kings, queens and dynasties of later generations get a bit too melodramatic for me. Strongly recommend this book. Clear, concise, and informative.

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