I guess my good streak of wonderful reads had to end. I did not love reading Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, although I don’t know whose fault that is: Churchill’s or the abridger’s. I do know I’m glad I didn’t attempt the 2000+ page version; 470 pages of Churchill’s assessment of military strategies and medieval politics from 1939’s perspective was enough.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I read it. However, I wouldn’t call Churchill’s tome a scholarly history. Even after finishing, I’m still not all that comfortable with English history.
Although I tend to avoid abridgements, I picked up this book after I read a selection of Churchill’s speeches back in October 2008. I wanted to read more Churchill. After all that time sitting on my shelf, I’m glad I got to it.
First some negatives: It reminded me of Charles Dickens’ History of England which I read last year. In places it simply felt like stories and traditions from the history, told in an interesting way and with plenty of opinion. There were few footnotes. Churchill’s writing is more detailed, informative, and overarching than Dickens’s was (Churchill made connections between kings, patterns, and eras). But I felt academic heft was missing. Despite that, I still got rather bogged down in the explanation of military strategies: I don’t care to know the details of each battle, but rather the outcomes and the effects of the battles.
And then the positive: I did really enjoy the first half, which was about the settlement of England and the kings of England. I feel so very ignorant! I am looking forward to reading Shakeapeare’s histories of England. Although those are fictionalized, Churchill mentioned some of them in passing.
I was really looking forward to the section on Victorian England, since I’ve been enjoying Victorian reads in the past month. Unfortunately, Churchill was a bit over the top with the politics and not so much about life, but it tells me where my interests lie for my next read! I have a number of Victorian English history books on my TBR list.
As for the abridgement, I can’t really compare it to the original (which I obviously haven’t read) but this abridgement, which was stated to be geared toward American audiences, had too much about America in it. Obviously, Churchill wanted to capture more than the history of Great Britain: he called it History of English-Speaking Peoples, after all. And since Churchill’s mother was American, he was just as interested in the U.S. history as the British. But I really wished Churchill would talk a little bit more about the other settlements. Surprisingly, Australia and New Zealand, in particular, had only about five pages total in this entire abridged volume. In contrast, the U.S. Civil War had a long section of about 80 pages. In a book that is less than 500 pages, that seemed a bit skewed.
In the end, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this. Churchill certainly has an interesting political perspective. But this wasn’t the best for a first look at English history.
Can anyone recommend a good nonfiction book about the history of Great Britain and its territories? I’d love to keep learning, and while I have some on my TBR, I’d always love more.
Which should be my first Shakespeare history play?