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The English and their History de Robert…
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The English and their History (2014 original; edició 2015)

de Robert Tombs (Autor)

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"The English and Their History presents the momentous story of England "first as an idea, and then as a kingdom, as a country, a people and a culture." Here, in a single volume, is a fresh and comprehensive account of the English and their history. With extraordinary insight, Robert Tombs examines language, literature, law, religion, politics, and more while investigating the sources of England's collective memory and belief. The English and Their History spans 700,000 years, from the island's very first inhabitants to the present day, stopping along the way to recount the tales of conquerors, kings, and queens; a nation's myths and legends, facts and extraordinary truths. No history of England has come close to matching the scale and scope of this historical masterwork--with an eye for detail to rival his ambition, Tombs has managed to cover every significant happening and development over hundreds of thousands of years while accessibly explaining how they connect. But The English and Their History is more a work of narrative nonfiction than one of reference or record, expertly guiding the reader from footprints in the mud of early Homo sapiens through Shakespeare, Reformation, revolution, and industrialization in a narrative stretching all the way to the present"--… (més)
Membre:RamziAdcock
Títol:The English and their History
Autors:Robert Tombs (Autor)
Informació:Penguin (2015), 1024 pages
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The English and Their History de Robert Tombs (2014)

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Es mostren totes 5
"By the standards of humanity as a whole, England over the centuries has been among the richest, safest and best governed places on earth…" (pg. 890)

"… the English, for good and ill, made a permanent impact on the common life of humanity…" (pg. 417)

It probably isn't on to offer a reader a long, exhaustive review before or after reading such a long, exhaustive tome as Robert Tombs' The English and Their History, but even though I'm conscious of keeping my thoughts on this short, it's hard to do so with any real brevity. Any single-volume history of England must be ambitious, encompassing more than a thousand years of detailed, academic history in a thousand pages, but Tombs' is especially so. Not only is that academic detail deeper than most modern histories I've read, but Tombs also accomplishes the scarcely believable feat of making his book keenly readable (it may be exhaustive but it's never exhausting). He also destroys more than a few deep-seated myths and political narratives about our English past.

The latter point was a particular surprise for me. I had expected Tombs' book would be merely an academic achievement, a book lauded for being a comprehensive and sober history rather than for any bold or original approach. But what Tombs proves to do over his one thousand pages is provide a counter-revisionist masterclass. His arguments – meticulously sourced – refute both the contemporary orthodoxy of 'declinism' (namely, the idea that Britain was once great but is now an ever-diminishing shell of its former self) and the pervasive 'Whig' idea of history (that is, one of Progress with a capital 'P', of the masses struggling to achieve more rights and education against the deadening hand of aristocracy, superstition and vested interests). In fact, the Whig mode of history writing is so pervasive in our culture that you don't realise it until Tombs soberly deconstructs it and provides a counter-view. Consequently, his weighty history tome becomes a liberating lungful of fresh air.

It's not only the grand Whig and declinist narratives of our complacent historical orthodoxy that are diminished by Tombs' arguments and research, but innumerable other events of our history. Tombs provides provocative takes on, for example, the English Civil War ("the proportion of noble colonels on the parliamentary side was twice that on the king's" (pg. 223)), civil liberties (the 1832 Reform Act actually removed the rights of some women to vote (pg. 438)), the slave trade and the real foundations of the British Empire's strength. He points out things we should know but too easily overlook (the World War One battles of the Somme and Passchendaele were each a bloodbath greater than Stalingrad (pg. 622), whilst Oliver Cromwell did not turn down the kingship out of principle, but because a king's powers were well defined and limited, whilst a Lord Protector "existed in a dangerous legal vacuum" (pp247-8)).

Tombs points out that, contrary to what contemporary learning and pop-culture tells us, Britain was not a junior partner (to either the USA or the USSR) in World War Two; his impressive chapter on the war shows Britain to be an equal power to both of those later superpowers, which mobilised its Empire excellently (Britain did not 'go it alone' in 1940-41) and was both the greatest contributor on D-Day (in both command and in manpower) and throughout the northern European campaign of 1944-45. In fact, the British war of 1939-45 saw the country mobilise against three major world powers – two of them extremely formidable martial countries – in multiple theatres around the world – something "more than it had ever tried to do in the past, and more than any other state in history has ever tried to do" (pg. 753). For six years. And it won. We already know this, of course, but it being framed in a wider history really brings the point home. Similarly, Tombs shows that the early Saxon kingdom in England was far from a European backwater, but instead was one of the richest and most industrious countries in the world (pp35, 41), something that has consistently been the case throughout our unbroken millennia of history. This forms a key point in Tombs' argument against 'declinism'. I could go on and on and on, but you get the point: each event in England's past comes under Tombs' withering historical gaze, and the reader gets a robust account that suffers neither from complacency nor cant.

Further to that last point, Tombs has come under some criticism for allegedly showing his political 'colours' in this account: namely, that he is a conservative, a Tory, a reactionary or some other such thing. Certainly, he doesn't apologise for Empire, he admires the personal role of Churchill in World War Two and he is sceptical of Progress with a capital 'P'. This apparently marks him out as a Tory snake in our culture; it seems not to matter to such critics that his book focuses as much on (if not more on) welfare and political freedoms and the lower classes as it does kings and battles. In truth, Tombs' book is not a nostalgic paean to English nationalism, nor a duplicitous hagiography of our 'long island story'. He's not even that political: I can easily imagine, for example, that Tombs would be just as withering on Tony Blair if Blair had been an eighteenth-century Whig; it is, alas, our misfortune that he's a much more recent malignancy. There has been plenty that's happened since Tombs published his book in 2014: Brexit, Grenfell, terror attacks, the collapse of the 'Red Wall' in the 2019 general election, and, of course, the Covid pandemic – but, crucially, these events don't date the book but instead seem an extension of it, suggesting Tombs' analysis is fundamentally sound. When you read Tombs' analysis of Britain's relationship with Europe, you get the sense that Brexit, when it came (or, at least, was voted for) two years later, was not a surprise to him. Whatever his political views might be, he doesn't let them form his narrative; it is great professional history writing on offer here, and a healthy tonic to the shoehorned, agenda-driven histories of race or class or gender which are so fashionable nowadays.

I all but promised a short review, and I've failed at that, but suffice to say that Tombs' book unlocks a great many thoughts in the reader. It is long and slow but it never feels like hard work; in fact, the book energises the reader by showing that what we thought was well-trodden ground is in fact grass that is fresh and rich. Tombs' narrative and his historical judgments are bold and lucid; and he occasionally introduces a flourish to his writing (on the relative lack of political violence in Stuart Britain, he says "there were more dead bodies at the end of a performance of Hamlet than after any political disturbance" (pp215-16), whilst on the 2008 recession he writes that "never in financial history was so much owed by so many due to the recklessness of so few" (pg. 860)). His mythbusting, if I may call it that, is rational and provocative whilst never becoming combative or divisive. Nor, perhaps most commendably, does he make it his Unique Selling Point or his raison d'être. When the orthodoxy is correct, he is more than happy to acknowledge it.

Tombs is, above all, concerned with creating a cracking academic history accessible to all, and he has done it. His success is nothing short of remarkable: he embraces more than a thousand years of English history (which ends up spanning the entire world) in a readable account, and in a way that gets his points and personality across in force whilst still treating class, race, gender and cultural and generational divides with an even hand. His success in all this, whilst also exposing the myth of English 'decline', also shows us the lamentable failure of history teaching and culture in the post-war period; a failure which Tombs' formidable efforts have gone a long way to correct.

"We like to think that liberty is fought for. Judging by occasional comments in the media and by politicians, a widespread belief is that liberty was won during the [English] Civil War. The reality is different: the war almost destroyed liberty. Only when the country rejected fighting, and zealots had to abandon their visions of a compulsory New Jerusalem, was liberty possible… Combining these seemingly conflicting principles produced characteristics of English political culture: suspicion of Utopias and zealots; trust in common sense and experience; respect for tradition; preference for gradual change; and the view that 'compromise' is victory, not betrayal. These things stem from the failure both of royal absolutism and of godly republicanism: costly failures, and fruitful ones." (pp260-1) ( )
1 vota Mike_F | Dec 18, 2020 |
As good as the blurbs say - but not a quick read ( )
  mnicol | Sep 2, 2017 |
the continuing greatness of England (positive)

The following article is located at: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2016/sepoct/out-whigging-whigs.html

Out-Whigging the Whigs
A robustly counter-revisionist history of England.
Alister Chapman | posted 8/18/2016

But Tombs still maintains that England's longstanding commitment to the rule of law and to parliamentary government has been good for the country and the world it helped shape.

As late as the 18th century, Tom Paine understood the island's history as an ongoing fight by the English people to rid themselves of the "Norman yoke."

In the end, Tombs outdoes the Whig historians: his story is not so much one of progress but one of an ancient system of rights, justice, and political participation that endured (despite many follies, domestic and foreign, along the way) and that has been a great gift to the world.
__________________________________________________​
How do you write the history of your country? According to Thomas Hobbes, "A writer of history ought, in his writings, to be a foreigner, without a country, living under his own law only." That advice has proved hard to follow. Many date the emergence of the modern discipline of history to Leopold von Ranke, who taught at the University of Berlin in the 19th century. Scholars remember him as a champion of primary source analysis, but as Royal Historiographer to the Prussian Court his contemporary fame rested in large part on the patriotic nature of his work. The first major historian of the United States, George Bancroft, studied with Ranke in Germany, and his work furthered ideas of American exceptionalism. In Victorian England, Whig historians such as Thomas Babington Macaulay stroked English self-approval.

By contrast, historians in the 20th century were more likely to cut their countries down to size. Charles Beard of Columbia University made the Founding Fathers look grimy. The leading advocate of German responsibility for World War I was a German historian, Fritz Fischer. British historians excoriated imperialism.

Tombs maintains that England's longstanding commitment to the rule of law and to parliamentary government has been good for the country and the world it helped shape.
There have always been exceptions. If you wish to reach a wider audience, you probably need to be one of them. David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Stephen Ambrose have sold hundreds of thousands of copies of books that are more Bancroft than Beard. Britain's Niall Ferguson has made money applauding empire. Academia's doyens usually frown—whether out of envy, politics, or concern for the integrity of the guild is hard to say.

Those who believe that God made humanity in his image and that this image is now defaced will expect to find good and bad in any country they study. The best histories make us want to cheer and weep. On this measure, Robert Tombs' new history of England is a success.

Given that Tombs is professor of history at Cambridge, what is surprising is that his book is as positive about England as it is. English academic historians have long been wary of the idea of English exceptionalism. That Tombs would write a book that calls on his compatriots to take more pride in their country thus requires explanation.

One reason may be that Tombs has made his living as a historian of France. This helps him to see aspects of his country's story that scholars who focus primarily on England often miss. For example, he remarks that the English state has not suffered a major collapse for a thousand years. There have been no major improvements brought about through violence for more than eight hundred. Tombs has written two books on the Paris Commune of 1871, and he is relieved to find no parallels at home.

The bullishness of Tombs' account can also be explained by when he wrote it. It's a good time to celebrate England. For longer than anyone can remember, the English have often referred to Britain simply as England, much to the annoyance of the Scottish and Welsh. In response, historians have tried harder to tell the history of Britain as a whole. Against that background, Tombs' decision to write the story of England reflects a particular moment in the island's history. As Westminster has devolved power to national assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff, Britain now has the anomalies of parliaments for everyone except the English while representatives from Scotland and Wales continue to vote on legislation for England. English lips have begun to tremble in mild indignation. The assertion that the English have their own history and that it is a good one is therefore appealing.

The most important reason why Tombs decided to write an apologia for England, however, is that for decades many English people have been convinced that their country is in decline. They still like their country, but it seems a shadow of its former self. Tombs sets out to address this concern by organizing his narrative around the ways in which the English have told their history over the past thousand years. He chooses four themes in particular: the aftermath of the Norman Conquest; the Whig history of progress; the history of empire; and the widespread belief since 1945 that England is a nation in decline. To understand his book, it helps to take these in reverse order.

Most English people know that their country, along with their neighbors in the United Kingdom, used to rule the waves and no longer does. European competitors experienced faster economic growth after World War II and caught up with England. The empire disappeared. Commentators lamented the change and assigned blame. Some suggested that Britain was becoming a shabby, third-rate country.

Tombs has no time for this hand-wringing. Little England was always going to suffer relative decline once larger countries industrialized, but economically the country stands where one would expect in the ranks of its European neighbors. He scarcely laments the decline of manufacturing, buying the idea that England's move to a service economy is a healthy sign (although he notes that when in 1945 Germany offered England the design for the Volkswagen Beetle as war reparations, industrialists turned it down as inferior to the English-built Morris Minor). Life expectancy has increased along with income. Those who have lived in England since 1945 "have been among the luckiest people in the existence of Homo sapiens, rich, peaceful and healthy." Tombs wants his compatriots to cheer up.

This desire explains why he is less critical of empire than most historians. He recognizes evils, such as the violent suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s, but he also cites counter-examples. Many leading politicians were unenthusiastic about imperial ventures. The government turned down requests from people in Ethiopia, Uruguay, Sarawak, and Morocco to join the empire. There was a domestic humanitarian lobby (which included many evangelicals) that campaigned for England to use its power for good in the world—as when, in 1850, the Royal Navy forcibly entered Brazilian ports to destroy slave ships. For all the crimes (Tombs' word), English hegemony also fostered global communication, trade, travel, parliamentary government, and the rule of law.

Moving on to the third of Tombs' themes: even if you haven't heard of the Whig interpretation of history, you probably know it. It is the story of progress and of freedom, and of how the English-speaking peoples have led the world toward political liberty and happiness. Initially, it told the tale of English defense of its representative government against threats from absolutist France and from those Tory kings, Charles I and II. In its English version, it celebrated the powers of the English parliament and provided justification for England's growing global influence in the 19th century. Transported to the United States, it made its way into textbooks that featured America as the 20th-century standard bearer for liberty and hope in the world. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was a good story but too simple, and the resulting histories and self-perceptions were warped. But Tombs still maintains that England's longstanding commitment to the rule of law and to parliamentary government has been good for the country and the world it helped shape.

For Tombs, these two principles lie at the heart of English identity. He traces them back to the centuries before the Norman victory of 1066—the most traumatic event in English history. Four thousand English nobles died in the Battle of Hastings or shortly after. Norman soldiers pulled down Anglo-Saxon buildings and built forts. English, which at the time had more copyists than Italian did during the Renaissance, was suppressed. As late as the 18th century, Tom Paine understood the island's history as an ongoing fight by the English people to rid themselves of the "Norman yoke."

For all the changes, however, England and English survived. They did so because they had a long, distinct identity that dated back to the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731 and beyond. Magna Carta was not new in 1215: it was a restatement of what the English had long believed and practiced, namely that people should participate in politics through courts, tithes, juries, and parliaments. Continuity transcended rupture after 1066. And inasmuch as most would agree that what continued was good, that, for Tombs, is cause for thanksgiving, if not pride.

Tombs provides not only narrative and reflection on how the English have understood their story but also delightful detail. Hippos once swam in what we now call the Thames. The Duke of Norfolk at the time of the Reformation declared that "he had never read the Scriptures, nor ever would, and it was merry in England before this New Learning came up." Queen Anne frustrated her bishops by losing the paperwork they needed to prosecute heretics. London sociability in the 18th century included a club for the ugly. Taxation in England in the 1770s was twenty-six times higher than in its colonies in North America. During the French Revolution, one English radical was hauled to the local pub and forced to buy 329 gallons of beer. During the Blitz, respondents to a Gallup poll said the weather depressed them more than the bombing. And, because he brings his history right up to the very recent past: after the financial crisis of September 2008, 734 second-hand Ferraris went on sale in the City of London in a week.

For Tombs, there is little question that England's history and its contribution to history have been positive. He wonders why his compatriots appear reluctant to boast even about the vital part they played in the defeat of Nazism, especially in 1940-41. In the end, Tombs outdoes the Whig historians: his story is not so much one of progress but one of an ancient system of rights, justice, and political participation that endured (despite many follies, domestic and foreign, along the way) and that has been a great gift to the world.

Do the English really need Tombs' encouragement as much as he supposes? Are they as down on their country as he claims? The recent Brexit decision suggests an enduring national pride. Those who campaigned to leave the European Union argued that Britain was a great country that could be even greater if it stood alone, and millions of voters agreed. (Interestingly, the English seem much less enthusiastic about breaking up with Scotland.) Or perhaps the vote to leave fits with Tombs' narrative, reflecting a desire to address a prevalent sense of national malaise. Either way, Tombs' book and this year's elections in both the UK and the US raise the question of how teachers, politicians, and others can nurture just the right amount of national loyalty—enough to foster gratitude and civic-mindedness but not chauvinism and its almost-always offspring, war.

"We owe respect to the past," Tombs concludes, "as we do to other societies today, not for the sake of our predecessors, who are beyond caring, but for our own sake. Treating the past as grotesque and inferior is the attitude of the tourist who can see nothing 'Abroad' but dirt and bad plumbing. Recognizing the qualities of past societies with resources a fraction of ours may at least deflate our own complacency, and remind us that we have little excuse for our present social and political failings." A little preachy, perhaps. But given that historians often use the past to advocate for aspects of contemporary righteousness, a sermon on respect makes for a nice change.

Alister Chapman teaches at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. He is a British/English expat.

Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Books & Culture.
  keithhamblen | Sep 26, 2016 |
5365. The English and Their History, by Robert Tombs (read 13 Apr 2016) This is a 2015 book which covers the whole history of England right up through 2014. The author is a history professor at the University of Cambridge and so he definitely shows a pro-English bias when dealing with events in which the USA and England had differences (e.g., he downplays the events which caused the American Revolution and says the British negotiator of the Treaty of Paris which gave the colonies independence was a pushover for the colonies' negotiators). But I found the account unfailingly absorbing reading even though I have read a lot of English history. This is certainly one of the best books I have read this year and there is scarcely a dull page in its 1002 pages. ( )
3 vota Schmerguls | Apr 13, 2016 |
Professor Tombs writes a very decent prose and the main reason for deducting a half star is his pro British bias. For example, he writes that the Irish famine was nobody's fault, even though the Whigs were elected and totally screwed up the relief effort. He also praises the English or the British empire for ending slavery. In another error, he states that the Indian famine was nobody's fault even though he cites two Brits as being totally at fault.
In terms of WWI, he thinks that all of the poets got things wrong and that we should honor the idiots who served and got shot "because they believed in their cause and they went voluntarily". He does like Winston Churchill, especially for his rallying of the country during WWll. The book is insanely long at almost 900 pages, and it is a heavy read. Overall, though, his take on Thatcher and Blair is good and this is a worthwhile effort. ( )
  annbury | May 2, 2015 |
Es mostren totes 5
Tombs confutes his fellow historians who insist that England should in the 21st century be denied a distinctive history of its own, but instead be subsumed into “British history”.
 
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"The English and Their History presents the momentous story of England "first as an idea, and then as a kingdom, as a country, a people and a culture." Here, in a single volume, is a fresh and comprehensive account of the English and their history. With extraordinary insight, Robert Tombs examines language, literature, law, religion, politics, and more while investigating the sources of England's collective memory and belief. The English and Their History spans 700,000 years, from the island's very first inhabitants to the present day, stopping along the way to recount the tales of conquerors, kings, and queens; a nation's myths and legends, facts and extraordinary truths. No history of England has come close to matching the scale and scope of this historical masterwork--with an eye for detail to rival his ambition, Tombs has managed to cover every significant happening and development over hundreds of thousands of years while accessibly explaining how they connect. But The English and Their History is more a work of narrative nonfiction than one of reference or record, expertly guiding the reader from footprints in the mud of early Homo sapiens through Shakespeare, Reformation, revolution, and industrialization in a narrative stretching all the way to the present"--

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