I want to make my review for The English and Their History by Robert Tombs as short and sweet as possible to waste little of my remaining time on it.
This book details the entire known history of the English from the first inhabitants to the conquering Saxons to the Vikings to the Romans to the Normans and so forth. It discusses not only historical events but the causes and consequences, delving into educational systems, class and social systems, politics, and literature.
This is a very thorough history. I have no complaints about that. The thoroughness made it long and dry in places, but I can power through it. Anyway, I find history fascinating.
However, that history has to be accurate. Let me elucidate.
Here I was, reading this heavy tome in good faith that it’s true, or as true as it can be. Then I get to the 18th century—you know, the century that spawned the United States of America—and I sense something wrong. Although this is a history of England, the American Revolutionary War is important to it. After all, a backwater country defeated the biggest military power on Earth. Yet Robert Tombs underrates that war. It is a postscript to the “real” wars of the century. And what he does mention casts the colonists in the worst light possible while painting England as a tortured, beleagured parent faced with a recalcitrant, ungrateful child.
Over the next two centuries, Tombs continues to pick at America or ignore it entirely while whitewashing all of England’s more scandalous behavior. As far as he’s concerned, England is a kind grandfatherly figure who didn’t want an empire; it was forced into it. While England was no fire-breathing demon as an imperalist state, it was certainly no wise, kindly figure. It was somewhere in the middle. I didn’t appreciate the subterfuge.
Even when Tombs gave England less than savory remarks, he always rationalized it by saying essentially: “But it was better than the United States” or Germany or anywhere else.
Don’t even get me started on World War I and World War II. Let’s face it: America saved many butts during those two wars, and Tombs somehow managed to make this country look like the bad guy or some finger-steepling, greedy Mr. Burnsian villain. And it wasn’t just the United States. I noticed Tombs conveniently forgot to mention England’s role in Poland’s dissection in the 1700s or painted the Indians as barbarians during the Mutiny of the 1800s. I’ve read plenty of histories, and not one of them sought to aggrandize one country by insulting all the others.
My problem? I can’t trust anything in this book. Most is probably accurate, but the little things—the nuances—are not entirely true, and that can change a lot when it comes to history. Don’t waste your time on this book. It’s way too much reading to not trust the conclusions. It was too political. In a world of media biased, it was biased as well; I don’t like bias in those who are supposed to be unbiased. The kicker is that I love England and the people. It was a great country that did great things. Robert Tombs didn’t do it any favors.
As annoyed as I was—angry and getting angrer every time I cracked the cover and read those subtly lying words—there was too much good stuff in this book to give it less than three stars.