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The English and Their History (2014)

af Robert Tombs

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609938,909 (4.18)3
"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 first inhabitants 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"--… (mere)
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Viser 1-5 af 9 (næste | vis alle)
A comprehensive account of English History from earliest times to almost present day. Very enjoyable to listen to and contemplate. ( )
  charlie68 | Nov 24, 2022 |
"History, like travel, 'broadens the mind.' "

My fellow Americans could learn much from this.

Impressed at the breadth and clarity. Wonderful read for all. ( )
  btbell_lt | Aug 1, 2022 |
DNF pg.364. I had to stop reading due to all the revisionism. And the smug superiority. This isn't a history. It's propaganda and lies (okay, they're usually the same thing but in this case they're both the same and separate). The dismissal of events, the glossing over over of violence and deaths or the outright revamping the numbers downward, and he inclusion of certain people without explaining who they were or not including relevant people, and the deliberate lies and/or over simplification about why events happened just grated. This isn't history; it's a personal agenda to rewrite history to his own bias (a huge no-no among historians) to cover up certain events and truths while granting greater importance to minor or even trivial events. Like I said, propaganda. ( )
  pacbox | Jul 9, 2022 |
Still reading; about 300 pages in. This is a great book and I gave it 5 stars because I can't imagine Robert Tombs doing anything to make me change my mind. In the last few pages, Tombs discusses the development of English gardens, among other aspects of the cultural change and development following the period of Civil War. He is tracing developments in society influenced by the Enlightenment and a new reign of positivity: the importance of good manners, improvement on Nature; in Society, new freedoms in behavior and thought. "The people of this rational age (unlike their Romantic successors) could not leave 'nature' alone: they wanted to improve it, as with human society." "Sheep were put to graze picturesquely in the fashionable Crescent at Bath. Common and uncultivated lands--heaths, moors, marshes--were enclosed and improved. The English lowland landscape began to take its modern form as a huge garden, hedged, manured and commercialized. Here were Enlightenment principles in practice: the harmonization of man and nature, hierarchically organized as gentry estates and tenant farms, respectfully admired by foreign visitors awed by the wealth thus created. Even today, it can have a humane beauty that we feel to be "typically English."

I know this landscape is something I look forward to seeing again (Sep-Oct 2017!) and that it feels familiar to me and ancestral. ( )
  jdukuray | Jun 23, 2021 |
"By the standards of humanity as a whole, England over the centuries has been among the richest, safest and best governed places on earth…" (pg. 890)

"… the English, for good and ill, made a permanent impact on the common life of humanity…" (pg. 417)

It probably isn't on to offer a reader a long, exhaustive review before or after reading such a long, exhaustive tome as Robert Tombs' The English and Their History, but even though I'm conscious of keeping my thoughts on this short, it's hard to do so with any real brevity. Any single-volume history of England must be ambitious, encompassing more than a thousand years of detailed, academic history in a thousand pages, but Tombs' is especially so. Not only is that academic detail deeper than most modern histories I've read, but Tombs also accomplishes the scarcely believable feat of making his book keenly readable (it may be exhaustive but it's never exhausting). He also destroys more than a few deep-seated myths and political narratives about our English past.

The latter point was a particular surprise for me. I had expected Tombs' book would be merely an academic achievement, a book lauded for being a comprehensive and sober history rather than for any bold or original approach. But what Tombs proves to do over his one thousand pages is provide a counter-revisionist masterclass. His arguments – meticulously sourced – refute both the contemporary orthodoxy of 'declinism' (namely, the idea that Britain was once great but is now an ever-diminishing shell of its former self) and the pervasive 'Whig' idea of history (that is, one of Progress with a capital 'P', of the masses struggling to achieve more rights and education against the deadening hand of aristocracy, superstition and vested interests). In fact, the Whig mode of history writing is so pervasive in our culture that you don't realise it until Tombs soberly deconstructs it and provides a counter-view. Consequently, his weighty history tome becomes a liberating lungful of fresh air.

It's not only the grand Whig and declinist narratives of our complacent historical orthodoxy that are diminished by Tombs' arguments and research, but innumerable other events of our history. Tombs provides provocative takes on, for example, the English Civil War ("the proportion of noble colonels on the parliamentary side was twice that on the king's" (pg. 223)), civil liberties (the 1832 Reform Act actually removed the rights of some women to vote (pg. 438)), the slave trade and the real foundations of the British Empire's strength. He points out things we should know but too easily overlook (the World War One battles of the Somme and Passchendaele were each a bloodbath greater than Stalingrad (pg. 622), whilst Oliver Cromwell did not turn down the kingship out of principle, but because a king's powers were well defined and limited, whilst a Lord Protector "existed in a dangerous legal vacuum" (pp247-8)).

Tombs points out that, contrary to what contemporary learning and pop-culture tells us, Britain was not a junior partner (to either the USA or the USSR) in World War Two; his impressive chapter on the war shows Britain to be an equal power to both of those later superpowers, which mobilised its Empire excellently (Britain did not 'go it alone' in 1940-41) and was both the greatest contributor on D-Day (in both command and in manpower) and throughout the northern European campaign of 1944-45. In fact, the British war of 1939-45 saw the country mobilise against three major world powers – two of them extremely formidable martial countries – in multiple theatres around the world – something "more than it had ever tried to do in the past, and more than any other state in history has ever tried to do" (pg. 753). For six years. And it won. We already know this, of course, but it being framed in a wider history really brings the point home. Similarly, Tombs shows that the early Saxon kingdom in England was far from a European backwater, but instead was one of the richest and most industrious countries in the world (pp35, 41), something that has consistently been the case throughout our unbroken millennia of history. This forms a key point in Tombs' argument against 'declinism'. I could go on and on and on, but you get the point: each event in England's past comes under Tombs' withering historical gaze, and the reader gets a robust account that suffers neither from complacency nor cant.

Further to that last point, Tombs has come under some criticism for allegedly showing his political 'colours' in this account: namely, that he is a conservative, a Tory, a reactionary or some other such thing. Certainly, he doesn't apologise for Empire, he admires the personal role of Churchill in World War Two and he is sceptical of Progress with a capital 'P'. This apparently marks him out as a Tory snake in our culture; it seems not to matter to such critics that his book focuses as much on (if not more on) welfare and political freedoms and the lower classes as it does kings and battles. In truth, Tombs' book is not a nostalgic paean to English nationalism, nor a duplicitous hagiography of our 'long island story'. He's not even that political: I can easily imagine, for example, that Tombs would be just as withering on Tony Blair if Blair had been an eighteenth-century Whig; it is, alas, our misfortune that he's a much more recent malignancy. There has been plenty that's happened since Tombs published his book in 2014: Brexit, Grenfell, terror attacks, the collapse of the 'Red Wall' in the 2019 general election, and, of course, the Covid pandemic – but, crucially, these events don't date the book but instead seem an extension of it, suggesting Tombs' analysis is fundamentally sound. When you read Tombs' analysis of Britain's relationship with Europe, you get the sense that Brexit, when it came (or, at least, was voted for) two years later, was not a surprise to him. Whatever his political views might be, he doesn't let them form his narrative; it is great professional history writing on offer here, and a healthy tonic to the shoehorned, agenda-driven histories of race or class or gender which are so fashionable nowadays.

I all but promised a short review, and I've failed at that, but suffice to say that Tombs' book unlocks a great many thoughts in the reader. It is long and slow but it never feels like hard work; in fact, the book energises the reader by showing that what we thought was well-trodden ground is in fact grass that is fresh and rich. Tombs' narrative and his historical judgments are bold and lucid; and he occasionally introduces a flourish to his writing (on the relative lack of political violence in Stuart Britain, he says "there were more dead bodies at the end of a performance of Hamlet than after any political disturbance" (pp215-16), whilst on the 2008 recession he writes that "never in financial history was so much owed by so many due to the recklessness of so few" (pg. 860)). His mythbusting, if I may call it that, is rational and provocative whilst never becoming combative or divisive. Nor, perhaps most commendably, does he make it his Unique Selling Point or his raison d'être. When the orthodoxy is correct, he is more than happy to acknowledge it.

Tombs is, above all, concerned with creating a cracking academic history accessible to all, and he has done it. His success is nothing short of remarkable: he embraces more than a thousand years of English history (which ends up spanning the entire world) in a readable account, and in a way that gets his points and personality across in force whilst still treating class, race, gender and cultural and generational divides with an even hand. His success in all this, whilst also exposing the myth of English 'decline', also shows us the lamentable failure of history teaching and culture in the post-war period; a failure which Tombs' formidable efforts have gone a long way to correct.

"We like to think that liberty is fought for. Judging by occasional comments in the media and by politicians, a widespread belief is that liberty was won during the [English] Civil War. The reality is different: the war almost destroyed liberty. Only when the country rejected fighting, and zealots had to abandon their visions of a compulsory New Jerusalem, was liberty possible… Combining these seemingly conflicting principles produced characteristics of English political culture: suspicion of Utopias and zealots; trust in common sense and experience; respect for tradition; preference for gradual change; and the view that 'compromise' is victory, not betrayal. These things stem from the failure both of royal absolutism and of godly republicanism: costly failures, and fruitful ones." (pp260-1) ( )
1 stem MikeFutcher | Dec 18, 2020 |
Viser 1-5 af 9 (næste | vis alle)
Tombs confutes his fellow historians who insist that England should in the 21st century be denied a distinctive history of its own, but instead be subsumed into “British history”.
 
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"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 first inhabitants 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"--

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