The English and Their History

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The English and Their History NYT Notable Books 2016
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Product Description

"The English and Their History presents the momentous story of England "first as an idea, and then as a kingdom, as a country, a people and a culture." Here, in a single volume, is a fresh and comprehensive account of the English and their history. With extraordinary insight, Robert Tombs examines language, literature, law, religion, politics, and more while investigating the sources of England's collective memory and belief. The English and Their History spans 700,000 years, from the island's very firstinhabitants to the present day, stopping along the way to recount the tales of conquerors, kings, and queens; a nation's myths and legends, facts and extraordinary truths. No history of England has come close to matching the scale and scope of this historical masterwork--with an eye for detail to rival his ambition, Tombs has managed to cover every significant happening and development over hundreds of thousands of years while accessibly explaining how they connect. But The English and Their History is more a work of narrative nonfiction than one of reference or record, expertly guiding the reader from footprints in the mud of early Homo sapiens through Shakespeare, Reformation, revolution, and industrialization in a narrative stretching all the way to the present"--

Editorial Reviews

A massive yet accessible study of the historical and linguistic continuity that make up the English people. In a wonderfully reasoned and tidily structured book presented in one surprisingly approachable doorstop, English scholar of Anglo-French relations Tombs (History/Univ. of Cambridge; The Paris Commune, 1871, 1999, etc.) finds much to (quietly) celebrate in English history since ancient times, especially compared to the more violent convolutions that have plagued neighboring European and Asian states—France, Russia, China, and others. The author embarks on his narrative with an eye toward how the English have regarded and valued themselves, a "collective memory" as recorded in Latin as early as the eighth century by Northumbrian monk Bede. He noted the English people's significance as deriving from their early Christian conversion, allowing them early access to power and allies and a "much better chance of survival." Thus, Tombs sees English identity as coalescing around Christian ministries, centers of political, economic, and even military power. A "customary law" emerged, a strong administrative system based on the "scir" (shire), governed for the king and involving, most important, a widespread system of participation in government. The "community of the realm," as reinforced by the Magna Carta (1215) and incipient Parliament of 1258, allowed the political continuity to prevail even after the cataclysmic upheavals of the Norman Conquest (1066). Moreover, as Tombs emphasizes, the English language displayed extraordinary durability in the wake of the French invasion, moving from vernacular to officialese to law and poetry, becoming a "language for a nation." While England's history is enormously complex, Tombs sharply organizes it by galvanizing themes, from the devastating religious wars (1500-1700) and the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and Victorian era to the two world wars and the debate over "an age of decline." What th e author calls a "national nonchalance" is perhaps surprising in light of this unique continuity of political structure and cultural treasures. European history buffs and readers undaunted by a 1,000-page history will find a lucid, engaging, and pleasantly nondidactic book, with helpful maps. Copyright Kirkus 2015 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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