The English and Their History

March 8, 2020 - Comment

In The English and Their History, the first full-length account to appear in one volume for many decades, Robert Tombs gives us the history of the English people and of how the stories they have told about themselves have shaped them, from the prehistoric ‘dreamtime’ through to the present day. If a nation is a

In The English and Their History, the first full-length account to appear in one volume for many decades, Robert Tombs gives us the history of the English people and of how the stories they have told about themselves have shaped them, from the prehistoric ‘dreamtime’ through to the present day.

If a nation is a group of people with a sense of kinship, a political identity and representative institutions, then the English have a claim to be the oldest nation in the world. They first came into existence as an idea, before they had a common ruler and before the country they lived in even had a name. They have lasted as a recognisable entity ever since, and their defining national institutions can be traced back to the earliest years of their history. The English have come a long way from those precarious days of invasion and conquest, with many spectacular changes of fortune.

Their political, economic and cultural contacts have left traces for good and ill across the world. This book describes their history and its meanings from their beginnings in the monasteries of Northumbria and the wetlands of Wessex to the cosmopolitan energy of today’s England.

Robert Tombs draws out important threads running through the story, including participatory government, language, law, religion, the land and the sea, and the ever-changing relations with other peoples. Not the least of these connections are the ways the English have understood their own history, have argued about it, forgotten it, and yet been shaped by it. These diverse and sometimes conflicting understandings are an inherent part of their identity.

Rather to their surprise, as ties within the United Kingdom loosen, the English are suddenly beginning a new period in their long history. Especially at times of change, history can help us to think about the sort of people we are and wish to be.

This audiobook, the first single-volume work on this scale for more than half a century, and which incorporates a wealth of recent scholarship, presents a challenging modern account of this immense and continuing story, bringing out the strength and resilience of English government, the deep patterns of division, yet also the persistent capacity to come together in the face of danger.

Comments

Anonymous says:

The best History of the English ever! At last! What a huge debt we owe to Professor Robert Tombs who has written the most balanced and at last ‘sympathetic’ story of the English warts and all, instead of the constant diet of our failings which seems to have been the fashionable take on our history for most of the last century and this. I have been so ground down with the ‘sackcloth and ashes’ interpretation of ourselves in the mainstream that it has come as a ray of sunshine to find out that there is much to be proud of in our…

Anonymous says:

An Excellent Book on English History This book stands out from the crowd for the following reasons:1) The author uses evidence from economic and social history sources to give an idea of what life was like for ordinary people, eschewing the usual approach of over-focusing on royalty.2) He discusses the development of English national identity, language and literature, and incidentally destroys the arguments that national identity began in the late 18th century.3) The book draws widely from a…

Anonymous says:

This is a wonderful book. I bought it when it came out … This is a wonderful book. I bought it when it came out but read it only after Brexit! What I like most is the clarity of its prose, the sureness of its judgement and the constant discovery of fascinating details about the English. I specially like the way he weaves economics, politics, high culture and low quite seamlessly together. Towards the end one senses author fatigue as he gallops through the final years of his survey, but do not let that influence you; 99% is just superb.

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