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Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the…

by Peter Ackroyd

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9662416,098 (3.88)47
One of Britain's most popular and esteemed historians tells the epic story of the birth of England. The first in an extraordinary six-volume history, "Foundation" takes the reader from the primeval forests of England's prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII.

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» See also 47 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
From Foundation, "From the beginning we find evidence of a deep continuity that is the legacy of an unimaginably distant past;there seems always to have been an hierarchical society with a division of labour and responsibility. Yet there is a different kind of continuity, largely unseen and impalpable. The nation itself represents the nexus of custom with custom, the shifting patterns of habitual activity. This may not be a particularly exciting philosophy of history but it is important to avoid the myth of some fated or providential movement forward. Below the surface of events lies a deep, almost geological calm."

This passage, from Peter Ackroyd's concluding chapter nicely sums up both the content and tone of this first of several books on England's history. Throughout the book, Ackroyd merges sweeping historical events with glimpses into what it must have been like for the common people viewing these happenings, or even ignoring them, from the sidelines of everyday life. Replete with nearly parenthetical asides to draw in the everyday, hidden, "non-historical" narratives that really account for the bulk of all history, Ackroyd wryly acknowledges that history, like all other human conceits merely scratches the surface of the deeper, more lively, and more exhaustive narrative that is the "true" history of any age or place or people.

There is something comforting in an historian who can admit that much of his field of endeavor is built on whimsy and chance, much like that of a scientist who can admit that the universe is far too big for any species to even begin to understand its intricacies. And that is what makes this particular history so appealing; it reads not as a lecture of dry fact but as a shared story of lively conjecture and discovery told by one whose passion makes his narratives all the more fascinating.

Based on this auspicious beginning, I will definitively be continuing the series. I recommend "Foundation" heartily. ( )
  TomGale | Apr 18, 2020 |
Interesting, but is so broad in its subject that it is not possible to get into the real "meat" of Britain's history. It's a good book to read, for someone beginning the fascinating journey that is British history. ( )
  a1stitcher | Jun 22, 2019 |
I liked this in the most part, but the author has made at least three factual errors, which might mean he’s made more in the sections of history that I’m less familiar with. Also, some of what the author states as fact is speculation.

Two of the factual errors crop up when the author states that Richard III’s "coffin was later used as a horse trough, and the bones of Richard III scattered." This was published about a year before Richard’s remains were discovered, so nobody knew Richard’s fate for sure. I’ve read a few theories on this, but in each case the respective authors make it clear that these are just that – theories.

The third and most careless error concerns Edward IV. In every other account I’ve read on the Wars of the Roses – along with TV documentaries – Edward is reported to have seen *three* suns in the sky (known to us today as a parhelion); however, in this book, the author refers to Edward having seen *two* suns. If he mentioned it once I might’ve put it down to a careless slip or a typo, but he refers to the “two suns” several times.

What I do like is how the book’s structured. It predominantly focuses on the royal line of succession, but every so often we have a feature on everyday life. It's a good blend.

I also like the way it’s written. It’s not dry facts, but – as we’ve seen – the facts aren’t always facts at all, which undermines the book on the whole. ( )
1 vote PhilSyphe | Apr 10, 2019 |
A very accomplished history of England, from distant antiquity up to the murky emergence of the Tudors at the turn of the 16th century. Being my first reading of English history, I took in an effluence of new facts, very well brought to life in Ackroyd's brisk delivery.

Some top impressions: the island was occupied by humans earlier that I imagined - the first permanent settlers were in place by 15000 bc.; farming was intensively practiced beginning about 4000 bc, when whole forests began to be cleared; throughout much of England's history, "Mastery was assumed by those who owned the most territory", and lordship over others was ingrained in society ('a landless man was either a slave or a pauper'); England has been forever influenced by, peopled by, and threatened by, the European continent. As well, the constant menace of norsemen/Danes, the Welsh, Scots, French, not to mention Roman domination, was more unceasing through the ages than I knew.

This history clings tightly to the life and death of kings, and as the author rightly notes, "there is no other sure or certain touchstone". We can surmise about the timelines for the people and the state, but much is missing from the record. Thus, the fascinating intrigues of royalty rises to the top. What becomes clear within this scope is the incredible capacity for violence and outright slaughter, most of it capriciously employed, with the sharp ax routinely coming back in revenge. The royal grope for riches and power and territory, the many who rotted away in the Tower, it all becomes predictable at some stage.

Enjoyed this very much, and it should be noted that Ackroyd has continued his History of England scholarship, having recently completed no. 5. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Oct 21, 2018 |
Oh my gosh I need this book.
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
I finished this book with very mixed feelings. Admiration for the clear and lively retelling of some of the basic stories of our history; and dismay at the thought of another five volumes like this one, where the narrative is weighed down by its embroidery of speculation, question-begging, sententiousness and sheer whimsy.
added by Nickelini | editthe Telegraph, Noel Malcolm (Feb 17, 2012)

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When the first sarsen stone was raised in the circle of Stonehenge, the land we call England was already very ancient.
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One of Britain's most popular and esteemed historians tells the epic story of the birth of England. The first in an extraordinary six-volume history, "Foundation" takes the reader from the primeval forests of England's prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII.

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