A graceful and effortless perusal of 1500 years of English history, social habits, law and politics by the former editor of the New Statesman. Now that the sun has set forever on that far-flung Empire many Britons are looking inward and back toward the indigenous traditions and cultural styles which evolved through centuries of insular development. Johnson too is something of a splendid isolationist and taking the long view he sees the Empire as a brief efflorescence of power and vanity which actually cramped and retarded various aspects of English domestic life -- notably industry and education which the Empire-builders of the 19th century neglected at great cost. The English, says Johnson, have always resisted innovation, largely immune to the violent upheavals and excesses of the Continent -- no race on earth has such a passionate regard for public order -- and from the days of the Saxon invasion and the Norman Conquest they have been proud of their customary backward posture, moving into the future with their eyes firmly fixed on an imaginary past. The preference for stability over change has been their strength, but also their fatal flaw; today both Labour and the Conservatives are guilty of hesitant obscurantist, incompetent, anti-progressive policies. A more startling allegation is Johnson's charge of xenophobia; foreigners, especially the French, have characteristically been treated with suspicion -- from the middle of the twelfth century until the middle of the nineteenth, the external history of England is very largely the history of Anglo-French enmity. And Ireland alone refutes any theory that the English have a natural capacity for governing other races. But despite this firm back-of-the-hand to national stereotypes, Johnson has a great affection for the slow moving, genial islanders and their unique capacity to muddle through.