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IoS paperback review: A Short History of England, By Simon Jenkins


A good old traditional kings-and-queens canter through English history, from the withdrawal of the Romans in 410, to the election of the coalition in 2010.

Certain themes run throughout: the clash between Saxon freedoms and Norman autocracy, the extent to which rulers govern by consent, the tug-of-war between localism and centralism. Mostly though, it's a parade of brief portraits and even briefer judgements: John of Gaunt: devoid of political skill; Henry VIII: great revolutionary; James I: lacking in self-discipline; Harold Wilson: determined moderniser. There are pros and cons to this approach: it's fun to have the whole of English history condensed into a book which fits in your pocket, and it really is a great yarn. But, inevitably, the focus is on Great Men, and the lives of the people don't get much of a look-in.