The Isles

  • by Norman Davies
  • Narrated by Andrew Sachs
  • 9 hrs and 10 mins
  • Abridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Here is the best-selling and controversial history of the British Isles, including Ireland, from the author of Europe: A History. Emphasizing long-standing European connections and positing a possible break-up of the United Kingdom, this agenda-setting work is destined to become a classic.


What the Critics Say

"A historiographical milestone." (Sunday Times)
"If ever a history book were a tract for the times, it is The Isles: A History...a masterwork." (The Times)
"A book which really will change the way we think about our past...marvellously rich and stimulating." (Evening Standard)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Good if you know what you're getting

"The Isles" may annoy some readers because as a history of the British Isles it can feel incomplete, and it can be perceived as sneery toward the British. Unfortunately this abridged audiobook misses out Davies's introduction, in which he explains his aims. The point of the book is to be a history of the ideas of Britishness, Englishness, Irishness, Scottishness, etc. It explores where these ideas originated, and how they have developed and changed over time. For this reason, it deliberately avoids the traditional way of writing about British history (which often describes the political union of the islands as natural and inevitable), and also avoids the sentimental Celtic reading of history (in which the division between the English and the Celtic nations is seen as timeless and unchanging).

The result is a history of the Isles that deliberately complicates supposedly simple concepts like 'British'. The best example is the way Davies insists on referring to the kings of the Isles by the names they called themselves - so you get Edouard I, Henri II, and Robert le Bruce as a constant reminder that these English and Scottish heroes spoke French. There's also an opening section on prehistory in which he refuses to call the islands 'British' until the word British has been invented, making up names (like 'The Great Isle' and 'The Green Isle' for Great Britain and Ireland).

All of this works well in an audiobook, and the always reliable Andrew Sachs is a perfect narrator. The story does seem rushed at times (especially in the 19th and 20th centuries), but there were no glaring gaps in the abridgement, except for the introduction. The history is mainly concerned with kings, prime ministers, power politics and the politics of nationhood - there isn't much social history.

This is a very good, absorbing listen, and will make you rethink your understanding of history at times. You do however need to understand the book's aims, or you might be disappointed.
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- David

Self-satisfied jingoist history

What was most disappointing about Norman Davies’s story?

Davies has done brilliant work in the past, and relishes in debunking complacent opinion. Here, instead, he has written a history for BBC TV. Britain emerges Great, triumphant, only improved by its travails. All the imperial losses - US independence, the millions dead in the partition of India, Soros (alternately "an American" and then "a Hungarian") breaking the Bank of England) are attributed to individuals' errors, none of these catastrophes sprung from social forces, economics, the national arrogance, etc.
Half the book is the standard monarchical history of who begat and supplanted whom, alternating England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to show their equivalence, but there is no sense of why and next to nothing in the way of geographical, geological, economic explanation of developments, nor any other explaining. The royal ties to Europe are cited repeatedly, with little mention of European machinations in Britain beyond the invasion attempts.
Speaking for the new British everyman, now worldly enough to enjoy Indian food, European beaches, and the Irish, Davies even brings Princess Di onstage, to warn the royals that their high-handedness will not be tolerated, in the name of the people.

What about Andrew Sachs’s performance did you like?

foreign words pronounced without ironic pause

Any additional comments?

Read Davies' wonderful history of Europe, instead

Read full review

- alan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-31-2007
  • Publisher: Pan Macmillan Publishers Ltd.