The Young Oxford History Of Britain & Ireland (OUP 1996)- A Real Life Review



I have gaps in my historical knowledge.  It’s likely that most of us educated in England would admit that.  At school I studied certain periods of history (some more than once).  I went on to study History at college but the eras largely overlapped with what I had done at school, leaving gaps of time about which I knew very little.  And I’ll admit that my knowledge of Scottish, Welsh and Irish history is even sparser.  This 500 page book is written for a young audience (although not that young, given the demands it makes on the reader, so probably early/mid-teens).  It seemed to offer an ideal overview of British and Irish history.  The general editor is Professor Kenneth O Morgan and it has been put together by five authors with distinguished historical backgrounds.  It spans from the time when the land mass which became Britain and Ireland was still joined to looking ahead to what the new Millennium might bring.  The text is generously broken up with pictures, photos, maps and diagrams.

On reading it I can confirm that it provided me with a good overview and showed me how our history fits together.  Obviously, given its scope and audience it’s all rather fleeting.  I can’t claim to be that more knowledgeable about the periods I knew less about (Medieval and The Georgians, for example), but what is impressive is the range of subjects covered both within the text and through the illustrations.  Photos, portraits, diagrams and maps are used very effectively and they do enrich the text and can often give little snippets of information not included elsewhere.  At the back there is a list of the English Royal Line Of Succession and Scottish Kings  & Queens (I was largely unfamiliar with this particular list) and UK Prime Ministers up to, because of the publication of the book, John Major.  Obviously, this type of book dates easily but twenty-one years on it does not seem jarring.  Here, the vast scope and range of the book is to its benefit.

The index looks pretty comprehensive and this would most likely provide most readers’ introduction to the text.  I’ve read it from cover to cover, but probably most would dip in and out.  This is going to last me a little while, until once again I start chiding myself about how little I know about the country in which I live and then I’ll no doubt seek out something similar.


The Young Oxford History Of Britain and Ireland was published by the Oxford University Press in  1996.


The Making Of Modern Britain- Andrew Marr (2009) – A Real Life Review


After the great success of Marr’s 2007 publication “A History Of Modern Britain” (my third favourite book when I read it in  2009) and its accompanying TV series, Marr decided to go with a prequel of sorts as this book tells the story of Britain from 1900 with Victoria still on the throne until the end of World War II.  Another TV series was made, but this is, as Marr points out, not the book of the TV series but very much a history in its own right.

It was a great period of change from the “imperial island, with essentially aristocratic values” to the victorious, but almost broken nation of VE Day,  but Marr guides us through, providing a history largely taken from the stories of individuals concerned who provide the starting points for Marr’s retelling of events.  This makes his work very readable.  The interest level is also kept up by his tendency to jump from one subject to another, but for me, this style of writing does have the effect of not having things stick in my mind as much as I hoped they would.

Given the scale of the time-span this can be little more than a general reader and Marr has whetted my appetite to find out more.  I’m nitpicking here but a bibliography would have been very useful, although some of the important references can be gleaned from the notes.  If there is a main character in this piece of non-fiction then that is surely Winston Churchill, whose influence comes and goes until he is elected the wartime Prime Minister and becomes lauded as the man who led the nation to victory.  He comes across here as more fascinating than I was expecting, with a lot of career ups and downs and I’m keen to read more.  The other “characters” who stuck in my head, played just a minor role, and these were the Mitford sisters, whose different obsessions could also be seen as a symbol of the troubled times in the between the war years.  Luckily, I have an unread copy of Mary S Lovell’s biography of the Mitfords on my shelves so have an opportunity to find out more.


Andrew Marr

This is another very good work from Marr.  If I’m not as enthusiastic it might be because I have now got used to his style which seemed so refreshing in the previous book, but he’s certainly given me a lot to ponder on.


The Making Of Modern Britain was published in the UK by Pan in 2009