Synopses & Reviews
Inside these pages lies the bloody epic of liberty, the British Iliad
The second volume of Simon Schama's A History of Britain brings the histories of Britain's civil wars full of blighted idealism, shocking carnage, and unexpected outcomes startlingly to life. These conflicts were fought unsparingly between the nations of the islands Ireland, England, and Scotland and between parliament and the crown. Shattering the illusion of a "united kingdom," they cost hundreds of thousands of lives: a greater proportion of the population than died in the First World War.
When religious passion gave way to the equally consuming passion for profits, it became possible for the pieces of Britain to come together as the spectacularly successful business enterprise of "Britannia Incorporated." And in a few generations that business state expanded in a dizzying process that transformed what had been an obscure, off-shore footnote to Europe's great powers into the main event the most powerful empire in the world.
Yet somehow, it was the "wrong empire." The British considered it a bastion of liberty, yet it was based on military force and the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Africans. In America, the emptiness of British claims to protect "freedom" was thrown back into the teeth of colonial governors and redcoat soldiers, while the likes of Sam Adams and George Washington inherited the mantle of Cromwell.
Simon Schama grippingly evokes the horror of the battle, famine, and plague; the flames of burning cities; the pathos of broken families, with fathers and sons forced to choose opposing sides. But he also captures the intimacies of palace and parliament and the seductions of profit and pleasure. Geniuses like John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, and Benjamin Franklin stalk vividly through his pages, but so do Scottish clansmen, women pamphleteers, and literate, eloquent African slaves like Olaudah Equiano.
"This second in a series of three volumes, following the excellent A History of England: At the Edge of the World 3500 B.C.-1603 A.D., is an elegantly written, consistently engaging account of a seminal period in British history, penned by one of today's finest historians....Columbia University historian Schama is to be congratulated for this magisterial, delightfully accessible, and important book." Publishers Weekly
"The Wars of the British is the wonderful, exhilarating tale of the protracted birth of a nation. As with all Schama books, the grand political narrative sweeps along...immensely readable." New York Times Book Review
"Schama's fresh interpretations are not for the casual American reader with little prior knowledge of British history....With original thought and a deft writing style...Schama reincarnates both famous personalities and not-so-famous figures in his wide and deep reconstruction of British life in these inherently dramatic years." Booklist
"Though published as a big-ticket trade item by a resolutely hip press, Schama's is an old-fashioned history, learned and literate, uninfluenced by prevailing notions of political correctness or historiographic theory; this is all about great men who dared to make a name for themselves and their nation, not about social tendencies or voiceless oppressed classes....This is familiar ground all the way, and Schama brings little new scholarship to it. Still, he is a lucid and trustworthy guide to the British past, and readers new to the subject will find this an attractive introduction and overview." Kirkus Reviews
The second installment of Schama's epic three-part history of Britain is a complete chronicle of the eventful years from 1603 to 1776. 150 color photos. 10 color maps.
About the Author
Simon Schama was born in London in 1945 and since 1966 has taught history and art history at Cambridge and Oxford and art history at Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard. He is now university professor at Columbia University in New York. His prizewinning books include Patriots and Liberators; The Embarrassment of Riches; Dead Certainties; Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; and A History of Britain, Volume I. He was art critic for The New Yorker for which he won a National Magazine Award. He is the writer/presenter of documentaries for BBC Television, and the next installments of his award-winning, fifteen-part documentary series, A History of Britain, will air on the History Channel in the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2002.