The Story of Britain: From the Romans to the Present: A Narrative History

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Overview

"Rebecca Fraser's dramatic portrayal of the scientists, statesmen, explorers, soldiers, traders, and artists who forged Britain's national institutions is the perfect introduction to British history." Just as much as kings and queens, battles and empire, Britain's great themes have been the liberty of the individual, the rule of law, and the parliamentary democracy invented to protect them. Ever since Caractacus and Boudicca surprised the Romans with the bravery of their resistance, Britain has stood out as the home of freedom. From Thomas More to William Wilberforce, from Gladstone to Churchill, Britain's history is studded with heroic figures who have resisted tyranny in all its guises, whether it be the Stuart kings' belief in divine right, the institution of slavery, or the ambitions of Napoleon and Hitler.
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Editorial Reviews

The Times Record
A work of history that gives a sense of who the six wives of Henry VII were without becoming bogged down in details demands great respect. . . . And only someone of her caliber could tell history so well and make it real to readers in Britain, America, and elsewhere.— Michael Reagan
The Times Record - Michael Reagan
“A work of history that gives a sense of who the six wives of Henry VII were without becoming bogged down in details demands great respect. . . . And only someone of her caliber could tell history so well and make it real to readers in Britain, America, and elsewhere.”
Publishers Weekly
This immense labor of patriotic love has already won widespread critical acclaim across the Atlantic for its fluid storytelling and evenhanded judgments. Its populism has nothing to do with, say, Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. Fraser intends simply to "guide the average person through the confusing shoals of disputed facts," and many an average reader (and student) will warm to her self-consciously old-fashioned narration. Her vision is gently Blairite: she considers the National Health Service to be one of modernity's great achievements and accuses Margaret Thatcher of a failure of sympathetic imagination, but she is resolutely hostile to the Old Left and generous in her appraisal of the monarchy. Daughter of Lady Antonia Fraser and heir to much of her mother's literary talent, she weaves together many of the distant moments that traditionally shaped the collective consciousness of the British, but which have been half-forgotten. Fraser celebrates a free-spirited resistance to tyranny, which she traces from the ancient chieftain Caractacus (who resisted Roman rule) through the bulldog bloody-mindedness of Winston Churchill, and gives broad latitude to myths that have dissipated in the glare of empirical history. Resurrecting King Arthur and retelling the gloriously ironic tale of King Alfred-burning a peasant woman's cakes as he hid from the Danish hordes-Fraser stokes the embers of pride in a past from which the British themselves have become emotionally detached, and in which an American audience will find much that is compelling. B&w illus. Agent, Ed Victor. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The daughter of Antonia Fraser and herself an accomplished biographer (e.g., BrontIs: Charlotte BrontI and Her Family), Fraser here covers an astounding range of important British individuals from Roman times to the present. The narrative ranges chronologically from Boudicca to Blair and includes telling anecdotal accounts from far-flung places like Australia and the Americas. The result is an important work studded with characters from Claudius to Hitler as well as lesser-known mortals; compared with recent larger volumes on British history (for instance, Simon Schama's popular works, which led to a televised series), Fraser's is easier to digest. If fault can be found it is the attempt to cover such a broad spectrum of British history. Fraser aims to represent her subject "from away" (outside Britain's borders), as she should, though sometimes relevant events in America, Australia, Canada, and Europe are given short shrift. Still, the bibliographies, list of prime ministers, and genealogy charts of the British monarchy will lead readers to additional resources. Ultimately, this book will find a welcome place on the shelf of anyone interested in British history. Recommended for all libraries.-Gail Benjafield, St. Catharines P.L., Ont. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fan's notes on the "ironic, kindly, democratic, humorous, energetic, tolerant, and brave" peoples of Britain. Daughter of popular historian Antonia Fraser, the first-time author declares a well-intended but surely old-fashioned mission: with her three young daughters in mind, she set out to write a controversy-free, anecdotal and colorful survey of England from Roman times to the present, a modern rejoinder to Henrietta Marshall's Our Island Story, published a century ago. Fraser has done this work admirably, giving us an account that's a treat to read, if a little musty at points. Surely she is one of the last writers of our time to refer to Britain (for which read the United Kingdom) as "she," as in, "Britain's ancient democratic institutions mean she cannot view a European superstate without protest." Though the book is in good company with Charles Dickens's Child's History of England, there's plenty of adult-friendly deceit, treachery, adultery, and murder, the currency of royals, nobles, and commoners from the dawn of history. Even there, though, Fraser works hard to put a positive spin on things, so that by her account Henry II really didn't mean to have poor old Thomas a Becket murdered in the cathedral, and Chamberlain gave in to Hitler only because the English are so naturally peace-loving and unmilitaristic. Among the narrative's high points is a very short account of the American Revolution, which the author suggests had ultimately positive effects by sowing doubt back home about the "efficacy of the prevailing political system" and moving along the process of democracy. Few do wrong in these pages, expect perhaps John Major, who stole up on brave, stouthearted MargaretThatcher, "stabbed in the back by a challenge to her leadership." It ends with a rousing cheer for "a curious and contradictory people"-a people made up, of course, of many peoples with widely ranging views on such events. Pleasant and even instructive, but requires sustained suspension of the critical faculty.
Michael Reagan - The Times Record
“A work of history that gives a sense of who the six wives of Henry VII were without becoming bogged down in details demands great respect. . . . And only someone of her caliber could tell history so well and make it real to readers in Britain, America, and elsewhere.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393060102
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/18/2005
  • Pages: 848
  • Sales rank: 719,475
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca Fraser has worked as a researcher, an editor, and a journalist, and has written for many publications, including Tatler, Vogue, The Times, and The Spectator. She is the author of Charlotte Brontë and lives in England.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 2 of 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2008

    Fine to Rocky

    The book started off on a great note. It gave a splendid summary of different kings and their reigns. However, Fraser did not keep to this method while talking about the 20th Century. There was something to be desired in her description of modern times. She did not relate WW2 to British history as a whole, as I expected her too. Nor did she say much about Elizabeth II, or anything about Prince Charles' affair. Yet, you can appreciate it for what it is, not what it could be. Fraser gives a great glimpse of British history. With her work you can easily discover what topics to read more in depth about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2010

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