As the United Kingdom uncertainly faces integration with Europe abroad and devolution at home, historian Davies (History
Emeritus/London Univ.; Europe: A History, not reviewed) delivers a narrative that is as opportune as it is ambitious and
In contrast to conventional anglocentric histories, Davies emphasizes the contributions of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to
British history. He discusses the successive stages of history in the Isles involving the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings,
and he describes the steps that royal houses such as the Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, and Hanoverians took toward the political
consolidation of the two islands. He also traces the waxing and waning fortunes of various institutions associated with British
nationalism (such as the Royal Navy, the aristocracy, the Protestant Supremacy, and the English language). Davies’s structure
is idiosyncratic: A detailed treatment of a single episode symbolizing a particular period is typically followed by a broader
summary of the period, then by an analysis of changing historiography about the times. Likewise, some events are emphasized
at the expense of others (e.g., Scotland’s ill-starred Darien colony in the late 17th century is discussed at length, while the 1922
treaty finally granting self-government to Ireland is mentioned in perfunctory fashion). Yet his delight in overturning nationalist
icons is wickedly infectious: Although Queen Elizabeth I is usually viewed as a model of toleration in contrast to "Bloody Mary,"
Davies holds that she merely chose different victims (namely, Catholics and Puritans) than her sister. More importantly, he opens
a wider vista on events usually confined to English-only perspectives—noting, for instance, that the English Civil War was
strongly affected by developments in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
An exuberantly iconoclastic overturning of Albion’s sacred cows that simultaneously enlarges our understanding of the past.
(8 color and 25 b&w pp. of illustrations, 12 maps—not seen) (First printing of 50,000)