Review : British History for Dummies

In case you missed my Twitter update, I wish all readers a Happy New Year ! ^_^

I paid a visit to the Rochford Library in the afternoon and I borrowed three books - I read the first one, and I'm doing a review of it... for the sake of those of you who love reading.

Presenting... British History for Dummies.

Several months after I arrived in the UK I had the gut feeling that to be a well-rounded Briton, there needs to be a good foundation of the history of Britain (and to a certain extent Ireland), among other qualities. So when I came across this book, I had it in my mind that I would pick it up and get a grasp of the contents.

The book, written by Sean Lang, co-editor of the Modern History Review, features the history of Britain from prehistoric times (read : Stone Age) right up to the 21st century. He tells it in a rather colloquial fashion for the layman to understand, similar to most, if not all For Dummies books. Lang has written mundane history textbooks before, and according to him, there is no completely "objective" history book : history, particularly that of Britain, he says, is written from the points of view of several leaders, historians and theorists.

The good

  • Very catchy titles : first, The British are Coming ! then, Everyone Else Is Coming ! (This particular title described Britain when the Romans, Angles, Saxons and Normans invaded the isle.) If you think that's not enough, try some quick wit. There's a section in the book which talks about Julius Caesar not conquering Britain. Every time Caesar invaded Britain, he would return to his home in Gaul (presently France). Lang says "he did more than enough to show that he could have conquered Britain if he'd wanted to, but really there was no need". The title ? I came, I saw, I decided it wasn't worth conquering.
  • Simple language was used, but there's the occasional use of flamboyant vocabulary, which makes this a very pleasant read. Sometimes, expressions in English are (deliberately) translated literally into the language of the invading fleet. In the page about the Gallic wars,  Lang recounts how Caesar embarked on a massive migration through Roman territory to find somewhere else in Gaul to live. And the quote used here was : "Migration my foot ! (or more likely, migratio meus pedus !) This is an invasion. Sound the trumpets !" Now, we wonder whether the actual Latin phrase was migratio meus pedus... but it conveyed the message well enough. :P
  • Lang takes the trouble to list down the stories whose veracity is doubtable, different opinions on historical facts, and even odd facts and small details.

The bad
  • Lack of citations. Historical fact, where available from archaeological or written evidence, should be cited. But here's the question : are there any citations in a For Dummies book ?
The ugly

  • Nothing that I can point out... OH WAIT : The entire story of Henry VIII has appalled me, no matter by whom it was retold. So it'd be no wonder that whenever it is retold in this book, it'd appall me too. In the introduction to  Part IV : Rights or Royals ? The Tudors and Stuarts, there's a comic where the dialogue goes like this :
Nobleman : How about this one, Your Highness, "Successful royal seeks long term caring relationship with fertile young female....... AGAIN.
Henry VIII : *thinks to himself* What is this - the age of sarcasm ?

But it isn't the fault of the book or the writer anyway. Oh, and let's not forget the 1135 Anarchy in the UK (page 111) :

"Empress Matilda's husband Geoffrey of Anjou invades Normandy and Queen Matilda (Stephen's wife) attacks Empress Matilda's supporter Robert of Gloucester at Dover while King David of Scotland, who supports Empress Matilda, invades England to get some of his father Malcolm III's lands back, but David gets beaten at the Battle of the Standard ; then Stephen attacks Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou at Arundel, but they escape, and the Earl of Chester takes Lincoln, and Stephen has to go and besiege it, but he gets captured, and the barons have to accept Geoffrey of Anjou as king until Geoffrey swaps Stephen for Robert of Gloucester, after which Geoffrey goes off to get Normandy and won't come back to help Empress Matilda, so their son Henry comes to lend her a hand, which is just as well since she's been thrown out of London and has had to take refuge in Oxford, but Stephen comes and besieges Oxford, and Empress Matilda has to escape down the walls over the river which - luckily for her - was frozen over, during which time the Welsh take the opportunity to chuck the Normans out, and King David of Scotland takes over a huge area of northern England - from Cumbria to Northumbria - and people say God and his angels slept, and Stephen is exhausted, and Matilda is exhausted, too, so exhausted, in fact, that she gives up her claim and goes to live in France, but her son Henry vows to jolly well make sure he is next in line when Stephen dies and WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU STOPPED READING THIS AGES AGO ?!"

The ending line : "Well, you can see why they called this period the Anarchy." Yes, we can see alright. We have one entire paragraph made out of only one sentence.

My last words before ending this post : READ IT.

Troisnyx's rating : ★★★★☆


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