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The Isles A History

Is seen not as a uniue 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 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 secure footingFrom there we are taken on a systematic history of the Isles as an integral inseparable whole with eual 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 conuest as an incoming cultural influenceThe 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 andor conuest 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 conuests 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 uibble There is much a louder passion for prosaic subversive story telling and love of the subject that makes this a modern gem

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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 EuropeThis 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 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 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 againI 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 musicSo 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 toThe 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

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And the English LanguageThis holistic approach challenges the traditional nationalist picture of a thousand years of eternal England a uniue country formed at an early date by Anglo Saxon kings which evolved in isolation and except for the Norman Conuest 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 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 attitudeA clearly written and enjoyable one man s view type of history


About the Author: Norman Davies

Professor Ivor Norman Richard Davies FBA FRHistS is a leading English historian of Welsh descent noted for his publications on the history of Europe Poland and the United Kingdom From 1971 Davies taught Polish history at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies SSEES of the University of London where he was professor from 1985 to 1996 Currently he is Supernumary Fellow at Wolfso



10 thoughts on “The Isles A History

  1. says:

    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 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 againI consider myself fairly well versed in the history or as Mr Davies would say the 'histories' of my islands but th

  2. says:

    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 histor

  3. says:

    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 j

  4. says:

    A history of the British Isles and it's peoples from a non anglo centric perspective Many British people let al

  5. says:

    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 almostbut 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

  6. says:

    I got this book cheaply 10 US dollars at a Half Price bookstore list price was 1999 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 t

  7. says:

    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

  8. says:

    Mr Davies does a delightful job of bringing history to life in his clear concise writing style and attention to d

  9. says:

    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

  10. says:

    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 n

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