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The Birth of Britain (A History of the English Speaking Peoples Volume 1) (edition 2005)

by Winston Spencer Churchill (Author), Michael Frassetto (Introduction)

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771711,991 (4.03)6
Member:Tullius22
Title:The Birth of Britain (A History of the English Speaking Peoples Volume 1)
Authors:Winston Spencer Churchill (Author)
Other authors:Michael Frassetto (Introduction)
Info:Barnes&Noble (2005), Softcover, 6th printing
Collections:Put in port {Finished reading}, History: Political {Thrones en Courts}, Retired (Read but unowned}
Rating:***
Tags:history (HYS), world history (HYS-LAND), landhist West Europe (HYS LAND-WEST)

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The Birth of Britain by Winston S. Churchill

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It has a good rhetorical flow, and can be easily read aloud. But the cutting edge of Roman British, Saxon England or the Middle Ages history it is not. A better specialist work in any of the periods outlined before, can easily be found. I believe it is the vision WCS had of his country's past, and deserves such respect as that. if you are looking for a first book in English history, it's better than some. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Nov 22, 2013 |
I heart Winston Churchill, let's just get that out of the way. He was a total bad-ass when the world was in need of a total bad-ass. But he could also string together a coherent thought, unlike more modern bad-asses. I know some people won't agree with me when I say he was an uber-genius, but those people would be wrong. He began his History before the war began and finished it long after, so it was a labor of love.

To begin with, this really needs to be retitled "A History of How Splendiforous the English Speaking Peoples Are, and How the Glory of England Shines on in a Heathen World, Now Who Wants A Sherry, Amen." There's a reason these volumes are not textbooks. Objective, they are not. Winston is VERY JUDGY of the people whose tales he wants to tell. He is all "this man was a military idiot, and was known to be an effeminate weakling and to top it off he was SHORT" and then he's all "but THIS man was a pious officer of the faith, and a great unifying King, and to him we still owe allegiance let's raise a toast." Churchill is quick to call most native people heathens, and you can FEEL his glee when he discusses their demise. But he will give props to heathens with military know-how. The man respects the fight-fight.

So on top of the non-objectivity, there is another issue I know most historical types will take with Churchill: the Great Man Theory. Senor Winston tells the tale of early England by telling the tale of early English kings and the Irish/Saxon/Norman/French dukes/kings/warlords they defeated. He glosses over the lives of everyday people, and leaves you with the impression that the world is formed by Great Men (and sometimes a lady-but-not-often-lets-move-on). Now, coming from Sir Winston Churchill....right. Of course he thinks that. Himself being a Great Man Who Does Things, he is probably only interested in other Great Men Who Did Things.

Honestly, this was refreshing. Most of the history you read now scorns the idea that men (or ladies) can be individually great or affect history themselves- most history nowadays is about "the (insert your under-appreciated group of interest) perspective." It was nice to read a history of a nation written by someone who believed in things like destiny, and individual greatness, and valor and all those odd words we never hear anymore.

Anywoot, Churchill's history of England has glaring academic weaknesses- if you ask glaring academics. If you ask me, it's kick ass and I'm going to read the rest of the other three volumes. I think it's more interesting to read history written by someone who made it then it is to read history written by someone who sits at a desk all day being critical. That being said, take it with a grain of salt...there were slaves, and women, and peasants. But Winston would rather talk about knights and kings and People With Axes. And I LIKE IT.

Four stars out of your mom. ( )
2 vote deadwhiteguys | Apr 3, 2013 |
As much as I like him, I have to say it: this is *not* Churchill at his best. He lacks any personal connection with the material, and he comes off as little more than a school-teacher. (Or a school-boy.) Elsewhere I find him to be almost the model of a literary historian, but here I must with sadness say that Sir Winston's "Classical" education did not always serve him well at every turn.

He really did a much better job writing about men less remote in time from himself: like his own ancestor, John Churchill (Marlborough). Here, there is little to distinguish him from anyone else writing in all the biases of the old, the ossified, and the Classical: an unkind word about the Saxons here, a bit of pedantic Greek-ness there...and the rest...

(He has this thing against the Dread Saxons, pre-Alfred-the-Great, after that, he gets all stuffy every time he has half-a-chance to mention The Great Place Called Wessex...And he of course sings of the praises of the Common Law as compared to what he calls "Roman" law, fine, but when he was doing Roman Britain, he went on and on and on about how the Romans had this, that, and the other thing, all of which made them better than the primitive heathens, but he never mentions, 'but their laws were crap'...)

I mean, there really are alot of wierd generalizations--wide, yawning gapes in reasonable speech which open like some dread, mile-wide precipice, or something equally hyperventilating--Savage Saxons! Remarkable Romans! Prosperous Christians! Barbaric Heathens!--not to mention, that the prose sometimes lapses into tedious, and the whole "let's prove....by quoting...." thing that Churchill just isn't suited for. (Occasionally he even insists on quoting what fourteenth-century Johnny said in raw, untranslated, and unintelligible Middle English.)

But it's only mediocre-average, if you learn to ignore the bad bits....

...And yet, disappointing. Even in approval, Sir Winston comes off as being patronizing not-too-infrequently, and, God, considering how poorly some of it is written, it would have been nice if he could have cut away some of the deadwood, and gotten through it all a bit faster. Writing for a general audience, sometimes it just does not do to linger too long in the dim mists of distant centuries....the Vikings fought no battles upon the Boyne, after all...

In short: not totally terrible, and it has its moments--he does a relatively good job with Alfred the Great, for example {although I suppose he doesn't bother with Brian Boru}-- but it's also rather disappointing, on the whole.

And, just to add, it seems like long streches of the book are supposed to teach you about the origins of the English system of common law, or something, but Churchill isn't really the guy for that. He doesn't really do long-term trend lectures very well, and he wastes too much time trying: he could have just focused on the personalities and their stories, since that's his natural talent...but sometimes he even mucks that up, since he's not exactly the sort to have his finger on the pulse of medieval intrigue, if you follow. (And, then again, all attempts at characterization are perforce thwarted when the narrative consists of an endless string of names.)

It drags on so long, the flaws get kinda dragged out, until you start to see it as more half-baked, than merely second-rate.

And the part about the Third Crusade just makes you feel like you've walked in on some boyish school-project. (Sorry, Sir Winston.) I mean, the histrionics about the heroics of Richard "Coeur De Lion", absentee landlord extraordinaire--who sold half the kingdom so he could go off on an inspiring voyage to find faith and fight infidels, who left the country in the charge of corrupt relatives and clownish regents while he was gone, who was so skilled in battle that he got captured and needed a ransom that bankrupted whatever bits of England he hadn't already mortgaged to bankroll his wars, and who was so grateful for all that, for all that service his country had rendered unto him, that he immediately left for his Norman provinces and built himself a nice little castle in France, which he called the "Château Gaillard", as a little present to himself, I guess, for being so perfect. (It got captured a few years later because the English presence in Normany was strategically untenable, no matter how much money they wasted building castles there.) So "Coeur De Lion" had the reverse Midas touch, but no matter how much he wrecked, he got away with everything because he was the hero and the "Crusader". *This* is the guy Sir Winston wants so much to be King Arthur, that he literally invites him to sit at some mythic Eternal Round Table, you know, in a chummy sort of way. But maybe it was meant as "humour"--some of it actually was kinda funny.

You know, like when he called Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, "a master-builder of British life".

And you know what else? There are too many campaigns narrated which, unlike the exploits of Marlborough, seem to me to lack both strategic relevance and narrative cohesion--and in the case of Crécy we are snowed over in a sea of detail which is merely tactical in nature, and this in a book which has the rather large object of narrating a thousand years or so of history. (And compare with Brunanburh, which is dismissed with vague hyperbole.)

And yes, the story of how the Genoese crossbowmen got fucked over by their French employers (at Crécy) is kinda cute...but that's really just *another* problem: Sir Winston has this annoying habit of making these rather barbaric medieval gorings sound a wee bit more cute than they really were...

Some people criticize the amount of space Churchill devotes to the American Civil War in 'The Great Democracies', but I do not share that complaint. I find his account of that war to be rather well-ordered, complete, and, not least, relatively restrained, given the lakes of ink and the reams of paper some have sacrificed recalling that particular bloody fiasco. But here, amid the dim and dusty roads of France and Flanders, not too far, he takes care to tell, from the Somme and all that, he races along with his longbow-toting hordes of conquering Englishmen, and seems to lose his balance: he forgets to keep his foot on the brake.

But to be fair, he does do a good job with Henry V, (with a little help from Shakespeare, which admirably recalls his use of a line of Byron's in 'The Age of Revolution'), and so he has a good chapter on Henry the Fifth to go with his good chapter on Alfred the Great, and these two stand as islands in the storm, so to speak, because the rest does not live up to the competence reached here, and there. Indeed, Churchill does himself credit by being able to draw a picture of Henry's sins (his suppression of the Lollards) as well as his crowning triumph (Agincourt).

But the rest, as I say, does not measure up, and it is, indeed, cruelest irony that Sir Winston should take note of the failings of one of England's greatest kings, Henry the Fifth, and yet blind himself to the many failings of one of her worst kings, the so-called "Coeur de Lion".

Look, all I'm saying is, it could have been a three-volume series, beginning in 1485. No, really: Volume I-- The New World, Volume II-- The Age Of Revolution, and Volume III-- The Great Democracies. There is no fourth volume; it's apocryphal.

(6/10) ( )
1 vote Tullius22 | Dec 17, 2011 |
Remarkable achievement regardless but especially in light of what else the man had to deal with while writing it. I'm amused by the introduction, where a Ph.D. in history asserts that Churchill was no professional historian. The arrogance of Ph.D.s never ceases to amaze me--just waiting for a Ph.D. in Political Science to say Churchill was no professional politician. ( )
  jrgoetziii | May 16, 2011 |
After reading Churchill's series on World War Two--laden as it is with personal correspondence and burdensome details--his "The Birth of Britain" is a refreshing change.

I found all 500 pages to be riveting. Churchill covers English History from pre-Roman days to the beginning of the Tudor dynasty with imagination-capturing prose.

Of special interest to me was his treatment of religious themes. For example, he comments on the Palagian controversy that early came to Britains shores:

"This doctrine consisted in assigning an undue importance to free will, and cast a consequential slur upon the doctrine of original sin. It thus threatened to deprive mankind, from its very birth, of an essential part of our inheritance."

In fact, in reading this book one truth becomes evident: The Christianity that developed in England was always of a different breed than that which developed in the rest of Europe--even though for much of British history it was bound in theory to the same Roman system. This has profound impact on later ecclesiastical history.

This is not lost on Churchill, who is at once very forthcoming in his praise of Christianity as a civilizing factor for society, and very critical of the Roman Catholic system and it's effect on medieval England.

The author also spends quite some time detailing in very complimentary terms the life and work of Wycliff.

On a personal note, I was very pleased to see the paragraphs dedicated to my ancestors, the Comyn clan of Scotland. Theirs is a noble and tragic tale, proving that right does not necessarily make might.

The Birth of Britain is an outstanding read, both from a historical and theological perspective. ( )
1 vote brazilnut72 | Jan 6, 2007 |
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Winston S. Churchillprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rodska, ChristianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the summer of the Roman year 699, now described as the year 55 before the birth of Christ, the Proconsul of Gaul, Gaius Julius Caesar, turned his gaze upon Britain.
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A magnificent recreation of the early years of England. Here are Julius Ceasar and the Roman legions who civilized it, the Nordic barbarians who overran its shores, the Norman conquerors who united it with the continent. Here are the bloody feuds and civil wars, Richard the Lion-Hearted and the crusades, the Magna Cara which planted the first seeds of freedom, the Black Death and the War of the Roses, and finally England's emergence from Feudalism with the discovery of the New World.
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The English-speaking peoples comprise perhaps the greatest number of human beings sharing a common language in the world today. These people also share a common heritage. This volume begins in 55 B.C. and ends with the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

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