The English and Their History by Robert Tombs - review by Robert Colls

Robert Colls

Our Island Stories

The English and Their History


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 1,024pp £35 order from our bookshop

Have you forgotten Ethelbreth? Do you have difficulty remembering dates? Do you find television historians interesting in any way? Do you feel sluggish? Do you feel postmodernism has lost the plot? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then this book is for you. It’s the perfect pick-me-up. In fact, I could hardly put it down.

This is certainly the right time to write a history of the English, and Tombs proves he is equal to the task in choosing to write it in the way that the English have chosen to remember it – which is, or which was, as a story where all that matters is that they are a free people who go on being free. This makes his job straightforward but not easy, partly because the story is not entirely true and partly because they were not just a people but a powerful state engaged in the world.

Starting off in a blue-tattooed land called Pretannike (the name, he explains, may derive from the Celtic term for ‘tattooed folk’), Tombs gets from 320 BC to the Reformation in a brisk 161 pages. He deals with it and the Civil War in just over a hundred. He then takes

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