Saturday, 31 January 2015

'A Short History of England' by Simon Jenkins (2011)

Simon Jenkins is the chairman of the National Trust, a journalist, and an author. This particular book of his does exactly what it says on the tin. It summaries 1500 years of English history in just over 300 pages. The focus of the book is almost entirely on English history with Jenkins only occasionally referring to the history of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Empire. Jenkins starts his book off with the Romans pulling out of Britain in 410 AD and goes right up to 2011. All of the major historical events in English history are mentioned in this book: Alfred the Great's victory over the Vikings, the Norman conquest of 1066, the Magna Carta, Agincourt, the War of the Roses, the Reformation, the English Civil War, the Restoration, Trafalgar, Waterloo, World Wars I and II, the creation of the Welfare State, etc. The early chapters in this book are focused on monarchs and their reigns but as Parliament becomes more powerful and monarchs less so the focus shifts to prime ministers and important politicians. At the end of the book there's a list of 100 key dates in English history, a timeline of prime ministers, and a timeline of all of the English monarchs from William the Conqueror onwards.

This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years. Soon after I bought it I read it and got about halfway through but for some reason I never finished it. All in all this book was a solid and engaging read but 1500 years of English history in 300 pages is a lot to take in. When the book covered eras that I didn't already know very much about (the Norman kings, the late Stuarts) I found it difficult to follow. Although I appreciate the enormous effort that must have gone into making such a concise summary I think I would have enjoyed the book far more had it been about 100-200 pages longer. The extra length would have allowed for a slower pace and Jenkins would have been able to write far more about the cultural changes in England. I also wish that the book had started off at an earlier point because I would have loved to have learned more about life in Britain under Roman rule. This book is great for what it is and I definitely learned some interesting facts but I would have preferred it if the book had had more depth.

Rating: 3/5

P.S. I've just learned from Wikipedia that Simon Jenkins' ex-wife is Gayle Hunnicutt who played Irene Adler in the ITV Granada Sherlock Holmes series. If you're a Holmesian like me then that might be of some interest to you.


Mònica said...

this sounds really interesting! I like learning about history, but I find a lot of history books really hard to get through. This one sounds a little more engaging. :D
I learned a bit about British life under the Romans in Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples. You've probably already read it, but I figured there'd be no harm in recommending it.

Hamlette said...

I feel like this is a book I ought to want to read, as I always feel like I don't understand British history well enough, but... kind of guessing I won't read it :-o

Also, I've nominated you for the Blogger Recognition Award -- details are here :-)

Hannah said...

Monica - No I haven't read that one before and now I'm interested in it! :) Thank you!

Hamlette - Aw, thank you for the blogger award :) I'll probably get round to it in the next week.