A History of Britain 1: 3000BC-AD1603 - Simon Schama

It's somewhat nice that Schama immediately addresses his subjectivity, with 'A', rather than 'The' in the title. The book really is a personalised trawl through history, but on the other hand it doesn't feel too twisting.

I'm really no history expert, though. Indeed, this is pretty much why I read the book - I've neglected the subject and felt I should at least catch up a little. As the truism goes, those who don't know history are bound to repeat it, and reading a little history seems a better incremental use of my time than reading more maths or computer science. Oh, and it's a little easier to read on the DLR in the morning.

The book is based on his TV series, and in a couple of places it shows, as the explanation is sometimes rather narrative, and the descriptions rather visual, but mostly it steers clear of TV stereotypes. In fact, I think the colour plates are the weakest feature of the book, being detached from the text and remarkably uninspiring.

So, while I can't comment on the quality of his historical interpretation, I can say it's a good, fun read that can help you understand the wider sweep of history in this country. Covering several thousand years in a few hundred pages, he can hardly do more than skim, but by a careful choice of people and big events Schama provides a good core narrative and dispel the occasional myth. It leaves me wanting to know more, and the bibliography is comprehensive, but somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps I'll just read volume two.

Posted 2009-09-17.