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A History of Britain:
The key to understanding the nature of Simon Schama's contribution in his original and imaginative A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire, 1776-2000 lies in his use of the indefinite article in the title. This is no standard history. Schama's many fans know him to be an innovator, a groundbreaker in the best sense of the term. He overturned tired historical constructs in his study of the French Revolution; he saw the world of art from a different perspective in Rembrandt's Eyes; and he suggested a completely new historical methodology in Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations). It should come as no surprise to readers that this, his third volume of the history of Britain written for the BBC Television series, is an unconventional account. To be sure, we find Queen Victoria and Sir Winston Churchill, but they share space both with a host of previously little-known figures and with others whose contributions may not at first seem to be intimately connected to the main strands of British history.
Schama's business is with people, and to this end he introduces his readers to the likes of obscure authors and critics such as Anna Barbaud and Elizabeth Gaskell, and to colonials like Robert and Kate Bartrum. Through their stories we learn about historical forces like social reform and imperialism. And while Schama still pays attention to leading lights, he places these figures in broader contexts. Thus George Orwell becomes part of the fabric of British socialism in the middle of the 20th century: "Nothing could be more British--all right, more English--than for George Orwell to insist that to have a future, a free future at any rate, presupposes keeping faith with the past." Schama keeps faith with this past and offers strong opinions about reform, the Victorian age, imperialism, conflict, and the career of Sir Winston Churchill. This unique and personal history is strongly recommended. --William Newbigging [via]