Monday, December 23, 2013

The Story of Britain (2003)

The Story of Britain. Rebecca Fraser. 2003. Norton. 828 pages. [Source: Library]

Fraser has a clear purpose for writing The Story of Britain:
some kind of easy framework was still needed to guide the average person through the confusing shoals of disputed facts, to give a broad-brush picture of the past to those not in the van of historical research. The national curriculum today enables many young people to grow up used to handling esoteric historical documents yet without any real chronological sense of the years between, say, the Stuarts and the Victorians. Many children might be forgiven for believing that the Egyptians and the Aztecs once lived on these islands too. The aim of this history is to attempt to return to those old rules of 'who, when, what, how.' (xv)
This chunkster is divided into sections: Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Angevin, Plantagenet, Lancastrian and Yorkist, Tudor, Stuart, Hanoverian, Saxe-Coburg, Windsor. Most of the chapters are titled with the name of the monarch (king or queen) and years of their reign. But that doesn't mean the book is solely focused on royalty to the exclusion of everything else.

Is it readable? Yes and no. I struggled with the beginning and the ending. It just wasn't a thrilling read. There were sections that held my interest very well. There were sections that were more than informative, they were fascinating too. Other sections were packed with information but exceedingly dull. The sections that worked best were peopled with CHARACTERS that were memorable, dramatic, tragic, or vulnerable. The sections that dealt with human nature and dysfunctional families were quite good. But at some point in this history book, Fraser's focus shifts a bit. Starting perhaps with the Hanoverians (or perhaps even earlier with James II, William and Mary, and Anne), the focus is less on royalty and more focused on prime ministers and parliament personalities. As this one goes on, there is barely a glimpse at all of any royal personality. The last two or three hundred pages of this one were horribly boring.

I thought the book was helpful in some ways. I thought she did a great job conveying information from William the Conqueror through Charles II. There were chapters that were definitely accessible and interesting.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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