Originally posted by Code of the Wes on 06/26/07
If anything can be said about the book English History Made Brief, Irreverent and Pleasurable by Lacey Baldwin Smith it’s that it does indeed live up to its title. Although it does seem to lag a bit in the irreverence aspect from time to time. Since the author’s anglophilia shines through every once in a while. Not that, that’s a bad thing it’s just that his affection for his subject comes through there for blunting his irreverence in places. But considering that Smith is a history professor that specialyzes in Tudor England you could hardly expect otherwise.
The author divides English history into four basic periods starting with “History Worth Remembering” which covers pre-historic England to 1485 CE. One disappointment I had was that only 3 pages cover the period from Pre-historic England up to 1066 CE. I know that the idea of the book is to be brief and that you’re basically going into archeology when going into anything before the Roman occupation of Britain. I just find myself wishing a little more was offered besides the “only two memorable dates in English history: Julius Ceasar’s invasion of the island in 55 BC and William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066.” That being said I think it’s an excellent overview of the period, with a few tasty morsels thrown in for good measure.
Now on to “More Memorable History” which covers 1485 to 1964. Actually this was my favorite chapter of the book with the exception of “The Royal Soap Opera” the books final chapter. This is were we get into a lot of to the meat concerning the development of the modern parlimentary system of the British Commonwealth. From the Tudors and Henry the VIII’s founding of the Anglican Church to the rise and fall of the British Empire the writer does a fine job of keeping the reader informed and entertained at the same time. Although I’ll have to admit there are a couple of places where events that were not already covered elsewhere come up with the expectation that the reader is already familiar with the event. While it’s a minor complaint if one is already somewhat familiar with English history. I think it could possibly turn off a reader that is using this book as a starting point for a study of England.
The book ends with “Less and Less Memorable History” and “The Royal Soap Opera”. As you might expect the former chapter concerns recent history from 1964 to 2007. While it only takes up 10 pages it covers some interesting events. With some interesting insights into the Thatcher era it rounds off the book fairly well. Especially when followed by “the Royal Soap Opera” which is basically a collection of short biographies about the kings and queens of England. Starting with William I and ending Elizabeth II this is possibly the most entertaining chapter in the book. Especially when it reveals the eccentricities of the rulers of Great Britain. Such as Edward II affection for the very unkingly occupations of bricklaying and thatching.
All in all I would have to say that Lacey Baldwin Smith does an admirable job. And that as a starting place for laymen to learn about English history they could do much worse than to read this book. Also I’m pretty sure that actual historians could possibly find this an interesting and informative read.