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A History of Britain: British Wars,…

A History of Britain: British Wars, 1603-1776 v.2 (Vol 2) (original 2001; edition 2001)

by Simon Schama

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1,046312,239 (3.98)2
Title:A History of Britain: British Wars, 1603-1776 v.2 (Vol 2)
Authors:Simon Schama
Info:BBC Books (2001), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 544 pages
Collections:Your library

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A History of Britain: The Wars of the British 1603-1776 by Simon Schama (2001)


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Showing 3 of 3
A spin-off from a BBC series, but reasonably scholarly and opinionated. Good.
Read June 2007 ( )
  mbmackay | Dec 6, 2015 |
Even more than its predecessor, this is a fine companion to the tv series of the same name. Partly that's because Schama isn't trying to do 4,600 years of history in one volume. And, besides constricting the time covered, Schama largely restricts the book to one theme: the notion of how the civil wars of the British, starting in the Stuart monarchies and ending with the American Revolution, led to a particular notion, an English notion of liberty.

In the Preface to the book, Schama describes himself as a "born-again Whig". He not only seems to mean an agreement with the gist of Victorian historians like Carlyle and Macauley - if not the details of their scholarship -- but what's been called the Whig notion of history, that great men matter.

Throughout the high points of the book, Oliver Cromwell and his reign, and the escalation of tensions before the American Revolution, he emphasizes history as often pivoting on the peculiarities of individual personalities. Cromwell, we see, may have been a theocrat, but he ultimately didn't think anyone, including himself, should have the power to sustain his regime. The loss of the American colonies was not inevitable - though Benjamin Franklin thought their eventual political and economic domination of the Empire was - but the result of stubborn personalities in the British government.

Besides the coverage of Cromwell and the English Civil War, the most interesting part of the book is how British culture and government went from, about circa 1740, explicitly rejecting a Roman style empire of occupation and all its attendant burdens and injustices, to Richard Wellesley's proconsulship in India. (The book really ends in 1800 India, not 1776, and the American Revolution is covered in full.)

Yes, Schama mentions the baser motives, deeds, and evils of this time including, of course, slavery. They have to be mentioned in such a general history, but the amount of time he spends on them is about right and not the obligatory genuflection to the modern Church of Imperial Guilt.

The broad outlines of this history were not new to me, but I learned many details I didn't know including some about the American Revolution. Since I'm not well-read about any of the events or personalities involved, I don't know what errors or questionable descriptions Schama has committed. (Though I do note that it is unlikely "The World Turned Upside Down" was played at Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown.)

As with the first volume, Schama's experience as art historian and essayist serve him well. His chapters are long essays, ending and beginning neatly around a theme. He has a knack for picking vivid anecodotes and writing them up to neatly summarize a period. My favorite, the beginning of an account of the Glencoe Massacre: "In Williamite Britain, showing up late could get you killed." ( )
  RandyStafford | Jan 22, 2012 |
  Olya87 | Oct 8, 2009 |
Showing 3 of 3
''The Wars of the British,'' as Schama calls this volume, is the wonderful, exhilarating tale of the protracted birth of a nation. As with all Schama's books the grand political narrative sweeps along on a sequence of anecdotes, vignettes and brilliant set pieces: the wonderfully racy, darkly humorous account of the death of the lord protector Oliver Cromwell; the sardonic portrait of British life in Madras and Calcutta; the horrors of the killing fields of Glencoe and Culloden. Perhaps the most powerful of them all, however, is the terrifying description of the fire of London in 1666, the greatest conflagration to have struck that or any other European city before the Blitz.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Anthony Pagden (Jul 19, 2011)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786867523, Hardcover)

The beginning of the 17th century promised that England's golden age would long outlast its Elizabethan namesake. Within a few years, that promise would end in civil war, political unrest, and international conflict, a period of strife that would last for two centuries, but produce the modern British nation. In this swiftly moving narrative, the second installment in a three- volume companion to the BBC/History Channel television series, Simon Schama examines key events that would utterly change British life: the collapse of monarchy and republic, the establishment of the beginnings of empire, and the ever-wider division between court and country. The wars that accompanied these turns of fortune were, Schama writes, "eminently unpredictable, improbable, and avoidable." With them came the Glorious Revolution, the bloody suppression of religious dissent, the conquest of neighboring kingdoms, and the wide-scale movement of large populations from one place to another--including the deliberate introduction of nearly 100,000 Scots, Welsh, and English settlers in Ireland, which, Schama writes, "utterly dwarfed the related 'planting' on the Atlantic seaboard of North America." Along the way, Schama considers actors major and minor in this tumultuous play, from the unlucky king Charles I to Oliver Cromwell (who "lacked the one essential characteristic for true dictatorship: a hunger to accumulate power purely for its own sake"), from the writer Daniel Defoe to the pragmatic politician Sir Robert Walpole, from William Pitt to the African slaves who peopled Britain's American colonies.

Though understandably rushed and sometimes unfocused, Schama's narrative ably captures Britain's transformation from island outpost to global power. -- Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:27 -0400)

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A comprehensive history of Britain chronicles battles waged by the British, both at home and abroad, details its role as a global power, and examines key events and personalities that shaped more than two centuries of history.

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