Tuesday, October 26, 2010

England, The Autobiography

This is a book that my wife picked up for me several years ago during her first visit to England. I was still active duty Air Force and stationed in Germany and was unable to get away for that trip although was fortunate enough to be able to go the next year.

This book, England, The Autobiography, edited by John Lewis-Stemple, is a collection of first-hand accounts of English history written by English men and women from all walks of life, some famous and some not. As such, most of the accounts are quite interesting, while others are less so. They are presented chronologically, beginning at 55 BC with an account written by Julius Caesar of his invasion and traversing history all the way to its publication date in 2005 with an account of "England Wins Ashes, the Oval, London." In between there are a hundred or so sketches summarizing 2000 years of English history, from those that were there.

I found most of these sketches to be very interesting, whether it's from the point of view of a Saxon warrior at the Battle of Maldon in 991, or about the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, or a piece by Winston Churchill during WWII, or The Beatles in Performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1961 by none other than Brian Epstein. Taken all together, these sketches provide a nice overview of English history for somebody who is already at least partially familiar with that history. If this is the first book ever picked up on the subject I don't think it would go very far in educating somebody about it...it's just too little detail about too many events, and each event is only addressed once, often by somebody who has a strong bias one way or the other. But as a companion book to a library of history, this is a fascinating read and makes me want to search out other such books for other countries/cultures.

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