A History of Britain, Volume 3: The Fate of Empire 1776-2002


Simon Schama's magisterial new book encompasses over 1,500 years of Britain's history, from the first Roman invasions of the early seventeenth century, and the extraordinary reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Schama, the author of the highly acclaimed Citizens and The Embarrassment of Riches, is one of the most popular and celebrated historians of our day, and in this magnificent work he brings history to dramatic life with a wealth of stories and vivid, colorful detail, reanimating ...
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Simon Schama's magisterial new book encompasses over 1,500 years of Britain's history, from the first Roman invasions of the early seventeenth century, and the extraordinary reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Schama, the author of the highly acclaimed Citizens and The Embarrassment of Riches, is one of the most popular and celebrated historians of our day, and in this magnificent work he brings history to dramatic life with a wealth of stories and vivid, colorful detail, reanimating familiar figures and events and drawing them skillfully into a powerful and compelling narrative.

Schama's perspective moves from the birth of civilization to the Norman Conquest; through the religious wars and turbulence of the Middle Ages to the sovereignties of Henry II, Richard I and King John; through the outbreak of the Black Death, which destroyed nearly half of Europe's population, through the reign of Edward I and the growth of national identity in Wales and Scotland, to the intricate conflicts of the Tudors and the clash between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

Driven by the drama of the stories themselves but exploring at the same time a network of interconnected themes—the formation of a nation state, the cyclical nature of power, the struggles between the oppressors and the oppressed—this is a superbly readable and illuminating account of a great nation, and its extraordinary history.

Simon Schama is the author of The Embarrassment of Riches, Citizens, Landscape and Memory and, most recently, Rembrandt's Eyes. He is currently Old Dominion Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. The second installment of his epic history of Britain is due to be published in April 2001.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Simon Schama escorts readers through the tumultuous first 1,500 years of British history, much as he did onscreen as the host of the well-received History Channel miniseries. The journey stops along the way at such notable landmarks as the Norman Conquest, the Middle Ages, the horrors of the Black Death, and the seemingly endless Tudor conflicts. Schama, currently Old Dominion Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, knows how to make the journey an educational yet entertaining one.
Hollywood Reporter
The History of Britain is enriched by grand language, the scenery of events, amazing truths, and wonderful, almost poetic imagery.
NY Times Book Review
Schama's narrative is magnificent.
Roy Porter
My literary discovery of the year...British history made so playful and seen through the eyes of today.
Los Angeles Times
The New Republic
Schama's style is as assertive, zappy and peremptory as ever, with an added spice of devil-may-care-colloquillism...brave and ambitious.
—(Dec. 4, 2000)
Washington Post
Schama, a master of big-picture topical narrative...marshals a wide range of material...handsome illustrations abound.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One suspects that Schama harbors a secret desire to be the Venerable Bede, whom he describes as a "consummate English story-teller, an artful retailer of wonders, a writer of brilliantly imaginative prose." In earlier works on the French Revolution (Citizens) and the golden age of Holland (The Embarrassment of Riches), he perfected his balance: market appeal is never sacrificed to condescension. This new volume is a model of literate elegance, enlivened by good humor and bursts of pugilistic directness: "The Faerie had warts all right," he writes of Elizabeth I. His task is not easy: British national identity is no longer axiomatic. Schama steers away from a Churchillian litany of patriotic glories, and from the revisionist pieties of the Left. In practice, this means, that unlike Landscape and Memory and Dead Certainties, this is not a work of great conceptual boldness. Its strengths lie rather in the detail. From his opening chapter, in which a prehistoric Orkney community is described as a "seaside village," Schama is ever alert to the unexpected. We learn that Hadrian's wall, far from being an impregnable fence, was designed to control the flow of men and goods; that Saint Patrick was not Irish (he was "a Romano-British aristocrat" by birth); and that the Battle of Hastings, at six hours, was one of the longest of battles in medieval history. His book has all the hallmarks that he admires in Bede, his medieval forebear: vigor of language, the capacity to evoke and clear-eyed common sense. (Oct.) market. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
Renowned historian Schama has done it again with the third and final volume of this magnificent work, displaying his gift for combining scholarship and grace in a highly accessible narrative. Schama begins with the French Revolution and the "back to nature" philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that made such an indelible impression on Britain. Radicals such as Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft demanded revolutionary changes to Britain's oligarchic government. The big question on everyone's lips was: Would Britain experience European-style, violent revolution? As Schama makes clear, Britain settled for incrementalism instead. Schama examines the omnipresent urge for political and social reform by devoting much of the middle part of the book to the evolving role of women. He gives us an array of Victorian female pioneers, from photographer Julia Margaret Cameron to Dr. Elizabeth Garrett, who were part of a network of social reformers seeking to ameliorate the lives of the poor. This reformist, "civilizing mission" also spread to the empire, as exemplified here by Thomas Babington Macaulay, who believed the British would eradicate poverty and ignorance in India. The natives, however, often held a differing view of British "civilization." Schama skillfully describes the 1857 Sepoy Revolt in India, and also depicts the horrors of massive famines there and in Ireland. Looking at the last century's gradual decolonization and imperial decline, Schama masterfully recounts the lives of Winston Churchill and George Orwell, who he says personify Britain's "difficult" 20th century. Schama has written a delightfully readable book that should be mandatory for anyone interested in British history. Color and b&w illus. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Readers should not be daunted by the ambitious timeframe of this first installment of Schama's (Rembrandt's Eyes) two-volume, popular history of Britain, which will accompany the History Channel's upcoming seven-part series. The author makes quick work of 3000 years of pre-Roman Britain, dispensing with the Iron Age in the first seven pages (roughly the same amount of space he grants the far racier trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots). This anecdote-driven narrative, complemented by 150 full-color illustrations and unencumbered by footnotes, steps on such familiar stones as the Norman Conquest, the War of the Roses, the Reformation, and the reign of Elizabeth I, whose death closes the account. Schama depicts a Roman encampment along Hadrian's Wall and the effects of the Black Death on 14th-century society, yet his eye is invariably drawn to the monarchy and nobility, whose deeds he describes in an engaging manner that only occasionally misfires (e.g., of Henry VIII, he notes that "you could practically smell the testosterone"). It is Schama's compelling, popular style, rather than new scholarship, that distinguishes this work from Michael Wood's In Search of England: Journeys into England's Past (Univ. of California, 2000) or Roy Strong's The Story of Britain (LJ 3/1/00), and the TV series will ensure demand. The second volume, A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire, is due in the spring of 2001. Recommended for public and academic libraries. (Index not seen.)--Richard Koss, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641622359
  • Publisher: Miramax Books
  • Publication date: 12/18/2002
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 8.04 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 1.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Schama
Simon Schama has taught history at Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard universities. Now professor of art history and history at Columbia University, Schama is also the award-winning author of The Embarrassment of Riches, Rembrandt's Eyes, A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World, and A History of Britain:The Wars of the British.

Read by Timothy West
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  • Posted December 22, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Over-rated, conventional and smug

    Schama presents Britain¿s history through a series of portraits ¿ Wordsworth, Churchill, Orwell ¿ like a stroll through the gallery of a stately home. <BR/><BR/>He calls Britain ¿the nation that had been born from imperial wars and sustained by imperial profits¿, as if the British people had not created Britain in their own land by their own efforts. This explains why he spends so much time on the empire, run by just tens of thousands of expatriates, and so little on the industrial civilisation built by tens of millions that made Britain the workshop of the world.<BR/><BR/>Yet his chapters on the Empire are useful. He quotes Charles Trevelyan of the treasury, who said that the Irish famine of 1845-49 was ¿the judgement of God on an indolent and unself-reliant people, and as God had sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated.¿<BR/><BR/>But the ruling class learnt nothing from this. In 1860 two million Indian people died of famine, in 1866, 800,000, in 1877-8, seven million. ¿the Government decline to import rice ¿ If the market favours, imported rice will find its way into Pooree without government interference which can only do harm.¿ The Lancet wrote that India¿s excess deaths from famine and disease were more than 19 million in the 1890s. Between 1901 and 1905, three million people died of bubonic plague and another three million died of cholera. The British-run Indian government spent just 4% of its revenues on public works like irrigation, and 35% on the army and police.<BR/><BR/>Schama notes that the empire was built on selling drugs. In 1851, 40% of India¿s exports were opium. As late as 1900-10, opium profits yielded a sixth of the Indian government¿s revenues.<BR/><BR/>However, Schama¿s comments on foreign affairs in the last century are obtuse. He writes that Churchill was `prophetic or optimistic¿ on Ireland, the Middle East and the blockade of Germany - it would be nice to know which. He thinks that Churchill¿s `diagnosis of what had happened in Russia in October 1917 was exactly right¿. Schama repeats the old slur that Spain¿s communists were `more interested in hunting down heretics like the anarchists than in taking on General Franco¿s fascists¿. He calls the USA¿s 1953 coup against Iran a `defensive¿ response to Iran¿s nationalisation of its oil industry.<BR/> <BR/>But he makes a few shrewd comments, writing, ¿immigrant labour was exploited to drive down wages.¿ He notes that the Conservative politician Harold Macmillan in 1938 proposed abolishing the Stock Exchange. And he concludes, ¿what post-imperial Britain has going for it is precisely its resistance to the chilly white purism of Euro-nationalism.¿

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