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The English and their History

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In The English and their History, the first full-length account to appear in one volume for many decades, Robert Tombs gives us the history of the English people, and of how the stories they have told about themselves have shaped them, from the prehistoric 'dreamtime' through to the present dayIf a nation is a group of people with a sense of kinship, a political identity and representative institutions, then the English have a claim to be the oldest nation in the world. They first came into existence as an idea, before they had a common ruler and before the country they lived in even had a name. They have lasted as a recognizable entity ever since, and their defining national institutions can be traced back to the earliest years of their history.The English have come a long way from those precarious days of invasion and conquest, with many spectacular changes of fortune. Their political, economic and cultural contacts have left traces for good and ill across the world. This book describes their history and its meanings from their beginnings in the monasteries of Northumbria and the wetlands of Wessex to the cosmopolitan energy of today's England. Robert Tombs draws out important threads running through the story, including participatory government, language, law, religion, the land and the sea, and ever-changing relations with other peoples. Not the least of these connections are the ways the English have understood their own history, have argued about it, forgotten it, and yet been shaped by it. These diverse and sometimes conflicting understandings are an inherent part of their identity. Rather to their surprise, as ties within the United Kingdom loosen, the English are suddenly beginning a new period in their long history. Especially at times of change, history can help us to think about the sort of people we are and wish to be. This book, the first single-volume work on this scale for more than half a century, and which incorporates a wealth of recent scholarship, presents a challenging modern account of this immense and continuing story, bringing out the strength and resilience of English government, the deep patterns of division, and yet also the persistent capacity to come together in the face of danger.ROBERT TOMBS is Professor of French History at Cambridge University and a Fellow of St John's College. His book That Sweet Enemy: the French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, co-written with his wife Isabelle, was published in 2006.
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About the Author

Robert Tombs is Professor of History at Cambridge University. His acclaimed book That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present was published in 2006. He is one of the leading scholars of Anglo-French relations.


The English and Their History ... is a work of supreme intelligence. In this vigorous, subtle and penetrating book, Tombs defies the proprieties of our politically motivated national history curriculum to rethink and revise notions of national identity. Tombs has done nothing less than narrate with rare freshness and confidence 2,000 years of English history ... Although he is a historian of the grand sweep, his book is full of arresting details, quirky sidelights, telling quotes and delightful laconic humour ... Robert Tombs's book is a triumph. In a literal sense it is definitive, for there is never a flash of ambiguity in any sentence. It is rare to find a book of such lucidity and authority that does not hector its readers ... No history published this year has been of such resounding importance to contemporary debates. Tombs, who is both fearless and non-partisan, deserves to be rewarded with a life peerage for this book. There can be no steadier, calmer and more informed adviser during the constitutional crises looming in the next two or three years -- Richard Davenport-Hines * Observer * Tombs has succeeded magnificently. Learned, pithy and punchy, with a laudable sense of narrative sweep and a bracing willingness to offer bold judgments, his survey is a tremendous achievement, and deserves to become the standard history for years to come ... All in all, Tombs's book is a superb feat of compression and analysis -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times * [A] compelling and intriguing analysis ... vast in scope and full to the brim with scholarship that has been painstakingly absorbed only to be disgorged with an exhilarating mixture of conviction and lightness of touch ... He demonstrates a seamless mastery of political, economic, social and cultural history, and ... offers robust judgements in hearty and sonorous prose -- Christopher Silvester * Financial Times * The question of national identity is addressed with some elegance and wit in The English and Their History by Robert Tombs ... Conducting a vast yet readable and sharply focused tour through the ages, and contrasting the English with their Celtic and continental neighbours, the thread is the evolution and paradoxical elusiveness of Englishness ... jammed with succulent nuggets -- Sinclair MacKay * Daily Telegraph * Robert Tombs's timely and magisterial The English and their History ... [is] a great achievement: you're in the hands of a learned and considerate guide whose judgments, whether you agree with them or not, you can be sure will be well-founded. A very good read and possibly the most important contribution to the subject since Trevelyan -- Alan Judd * Spectator *

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