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An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge

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Many of us were put off history by the dry and dreary way it was taught at school. Back then 'The Origins of the Industrial Revolution' somehow seemed less compelling than the chance to test the bold claim on Timothy Johnson's 'Shatterproof' ruler. But here at last is a chance to have a good laugh and learn all that stuff you feel you really ought to know by now... In this Many of us were put off history by the dry and dreary way it was taught at school. Back then 'The Origins of the Industrial Revolution' somehow seemed less compelling than the chance to test the bold claim on Timothy Johnson's 'Shatterproof' ruler. But here at last is a chance to have a good laugh and learn all that stuff you feel you really ought to know by now... In this "Horrible History for Grown Ups", you can read how Anglo-Saxon liberals struggled to be positive about immigration; 'Look I think we have to try and respect the religious customs of our new Viking friends - oi, he's nicked my bloody ox!' Discover how England's peculiar class system was established by some snobby French nobles whose posh descendants still have wine cellars and second homes in the Dordogne today. And explore the complex socio-economic reasons why Britain's kings were the first in Europe to be brought to heel; (because the Stuarts were such a useless bunch of untalented, incompetent, arrogant, upper-class thickoes that Parliament didn't have much choice.) A book about then that is also incisive and illuminating about now, "2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge" is a hilarious, informative and cantankerous journey through Britain' fascinating and bizarre history. It is as entertaining as a witch burning, and a lot more laughs.


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Many of us were put off history by the dry and dreary way it was taught at school. Back then 'The Origins of the Industrial Revolution' somehow seemed less compelling than the chance to test the bold claim on Timothy Johnson's 'Shatterproof' ruler. But here at last is a chance to have a good laugh and learn all that stuff you feel you really ought to know by now... In this Many of us were put off history by the dry and dreary way it was taught at school. Back then 'The Origins of the Industrial Revolution' somehow seemed less compelling than the chance to test the bold claim on Timothy Johnson's 'Shatterproof' ruler. But here at last is a chance to have a good laugh and learn all that stuff you feel you really ought to know by now... In this "Horrible History for Grown Ups", you can read how Anglo-Saxon liberals struggled to be positive about immigration; 'Look I think we have to try and respect the religious customs of our new Viking friends - oi, he's nicked my bloody ox!' Discover how England's peculiar class system was established by some snobby French nobles whose posh descendants still have wine cellars and second homes in the Dordogne today. And explore the complex socio-economic reasons why Britain's kings were the first in Europe to be brought to heel; (because the Stuarts were such a useless bunch of untalented, incompetent, arrogant, upper-class thickoes that Parliament didn't have much choice.) A book about then that is also incisive and illuminating about now, "2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge" is a hilarious, informative and cantankerous journey through Britain' fascinating and bizarre history. It is as entertaining as a witch burning, and a lot more laughs.

30 review for An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge

  1. 5 out of 5

    AnHeC the Paperback Obliterator

    Rating: Great fun, especially when you're drunk WARNING: before reading this book you should be fully aware what you're getting yourself into. Otherwise you may wind up disappointed/angry/bored... I've found this gem in my favourite British Studies library and just had to grab it. I've been reading it on and off for 2-3 months. Why this long? Was it that bad? No. But this is a type of book that reads great in chunks. Author doesn't go into too much details. He just gives you a sarcastic run-down of Rating: Great fun, especially when you're drunk WARNING: before reading this book you should be fully aware what you're getting yourself into. Otherwise you may wind up disappointed/angry/bored... I've found this gem in my favourite British Studies library and just had to grab it. I've been reading it on and off for 2-3 months. Why this long? Was it that bad? No. But this is a type of book that reads great in chunks. Author doesn't go into too much details. He just gives you a sarcastic run-down of events (how funny you find it depends on your sense of humour and how well you know history of the British Isles). Warnings: - If you don't know the history you may not understand what he's talking about. - the book contains a lot of information, too much to take in in one go. And I mean A LOT. A flood of names, dates, and places. - when you read too much it stops being funny (humour becomes repetitive, then tiring, then outright annoying) That said, I've thoroughly enjoyed this book. Red in small chunks it's a great fun. I firmly believe that reading it in one go would ruin the fun (and must admit that I enjoyed those short bursts of history fun. Made my days a bit better) Disclaimer: It's not very informative, a rather superficial take (but hey, what do you expect in a book that deals with 2000 years of history?) This is not a book to be taken seriously! Also, the author presents a simplified view of the events (To say the least. Sometimes he's just... wrong. There's no other way to put it.) So I wouldn't advise you to take every word as a fact worth being craved in stone.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gerald Sinstadt

    Strangely, I find myself able to sympathise with many reviewers of this book, both the lovers and the loathers. I'm not a Guardian reader, so O'Farrell was new to me; nor do I have a left wing chip on my shoulder, so I had to learn where he was coming from and make allowances. And in fairness I should confess that my awareness of history is patchy: school concentrated on the Tudors without igniting any hidden bonfires in me (not enough football and cricket for a start). Late in life I have woken Strangely, I find myself able to sympathise with many reviewers of this book, both the lovers and the loathers. I'm not a Guardian reader, so O'Farrell was new to me; nor do I have a left wing chip on my shoulder, so I had to learn where he was coming from and make allowances. And in fairness I should confess that my awareness of history is patchy: school concentrated on the Tudors without igniting any hidden bonfires in me (not enough football and cricket for a start). Late in life I have woken up to what I was missing and now, prompted often by a favourable review, my reading includes rewarding dips into random periods and people; just how random may be discerned from my contributions to this forum. Interestingly, C J Ransom's fictional Sheldrake quartet has sent me back to the Tudors with fresh appetite. However, overarching history, from Caesar to Churchill, left me with a lot of blanks which O'Farrell's book has helped to rectify. And having lived through a slice of the later chapters, I have had some yardstick to measure by. As history, then, two thousand years in five hundred pages, it is inevitably somewhat superficial but has some smart ideas for identifying threads. Which leaves the vexed question of the humour. Reviewers who have called it repetitive are correct but only up to a point. O'Farrell has a trick of adding to a list of important basics a ludicrous item of utter banality. It should become irritating but I have to admit that I laughed much more often than not. So beware: these are four stars awarded from a very personal standpoint.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I really don't know where to start with this one. A few highlights. The book states that the Scots deposed King John Balliol. No they didn't. Edward I did, after the Scots invaded England. Something which is not mentioned. Funnily, you might think the Scots invading England might be a tad relevant. Richard II '...increasingly tyrannical. One by one he was taking his bloody revenge on the Lords who had defied him...' Gentle reader, when you have a minute, count the lords and gentlemen Richard execut I really don't know where to start with this one. A few highlights. The book states that the Scots deposed King John Balliol. No they didn't. Edward I did, after the Scots invaded England. Something which is not mentioned. Funnily, you might think the Scots invading England might be a tad relevant. Richard II '...increasingly tyrannical. One by one he was taking his bloody revenge on the Lords who had defied him...' Gentle reader, when you have a minute, count the lords and gentlemen Richard executed during his reign. Do the same for his enemies during his reign, and for Henry IV and Henry V. Divide by the years they all had actual power. I think you will find Richard comes well bottom of the league. Tyrant? He sent £1,500 to Bolingbroke just weeks before the latter invaded. Equal to millions today. About as much a tyrant as George Formby. The Government can exile me to France whenever it likes on the basis of sending me a regular payment of £1,500 at 1399 prices uplifted for inflation to 2013. I promise in return not to invade and overthrow them, and murder four men in cold blood before I'm even established in power. Which is what freedom-loving Henry did. Gently passing on to Richard III. Apparently Richard used an army of 20,000 men to force people to accept him as king. Really? 20,000 men? Right. When Richard II invaded Scotland in 1385 - the largest English army to invade Scotland in the later middle ages - he took just over 13,000 men employing practically the whole nobility. So if Richard III could get together 20,000 men he was one hell of a popular guy. Pity they didn't turn up at Bosworth. This would be the same Richard who was writing in panic for help from Yorkshire on 10 June 1483. Whose guys were still in Pontefract on 25 June. Richard's accession took place on 26 June so they must really have hurried. Needless to say in this book there is no doubt whatever that Richard killed those lads. Other options are not explored. On to Oliver Cromwell. Did you know he banned music? Must have been a different Oliver Cromwell who installed an organ at Hampton Court because he loved music. You do understand the distinction between secular and religious music? Evidently not. He also banned Christmas. Except that was Parliament, well before OC became Head of State. It was also Parliament by the way that tried to force the Irish west of the Shannon, not Cromwell personally. There is a distinction. The massacres in Ireland are mentioned,and indeed exaggerated, but not really the reasons behind them. Nor is there any attempt to draw any comparison to the European wars of the same era, which were a good deal more horrible even than what went on in Ireland. (Horrible enough though it was.) I can't find any mention of Monck's massacre of Dundee, or of Prince Rupert's at Bolton, or of King Charles' at Leicester. Apparently these aren't important enough. The object seems to be to prove that OC was the most evil man ever. And totally bigoted. Unlike his opponents, of course, who all believed in total religious liberty for all. (Sorry, this is irony.) Now you may say that I too am biased. Fair comment. The difference is that I don't claim to be 'utterly impartial'.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris Boulton

    On the 16th July of last year I received a 2:1 in Archaeology and Medieval History from Cardiff University. My lecturers were some of the finest historians and archaeologists known to man, woman or beast. If I had walked into CU with this book under my arm then it's safe to say that they'd have dusted off some of the more interesting medieval tortures to try out on me for gracing their hallowed halls with this book. Luckily, I'm not so worried about making sure my mind is only filled with Malcol On the 16th July of last year I received a 2:1 in Archaeology and Medieval History from Cardiff University. My lecturers were some of the finest historians and archaeologists known to man, woman or beast. If I had walked into CU with this book under my arm then it's safe to say that they'd have dusted off some of the more interesting medieval tortures to try out on me for gracing their hallowed halls with this book. Luckily, I'm not so worried about making sure my mind is only filled with Malcolm Barber, Robert Bartlett or Malcolm Lambert.. this book is funny, informative and written in a style that I wish more "proper historians" would practice. Okay, there were a few bits that made me wince or think "actually, that's not strictly true" but in fairness it was written several years ago and things change, opinions change and interpretations are altered by newly minted historians who think "hang on a sec, if you turn you head to the side and squint.. doesn't that look like you've got that wrong there?". If you have always been interested in history and find stuffy old history books a bit boring or hard to get your head around then this is the book for you.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    For the first half or so of this book, I found it really facetious and annoying. However, it feels like O'Farrell got into the swing of things more as he wrote the book, and his humour does get less tiresome and more mildly-amusing-on-occasions. Towards the end of the book, his humour became more perceptive and less forced, and did make me smile a couple of times. In short, though, he's just not very funny, but thinks he is. He's like Bill Bryson would be if he was younger, more arrogant, and de For the first half or so of this book, I found it really facetious and annoying. However, it feels like O'Farrell got into the swing of things more as he wrote the book, and his humour does get less tiresome and more mildly-amusing-on-occasions. Towards the end of the book, his humour became more perceptive and less forced, and did make me smile a couple of times. In short, though, he's just not very funny, but thinks he is. He's like Bill Bryson would be if he was younger, more arrogant, and devoid of any significant mirth-inducing capacity. A couple of his asides that draw neat parallels with our modern society are entertaining and insightful. The fake "hilarious" dialogue after every single damn fact, especially in the first part of the book, is not. O'Farrell shines when linking historical and modern actions and interpretations, although these are sometimes rather forced. I liked the way he compared contemporary responses to the Irish Potato Famine to those given as excuses for not working to alleviate poverty in Africa today, and described how political parties sometimes introduce laws or policies that go completely against their supposed orientation (with a historical example of the Conservatives and parlimentary reform, or the more modern example of Labour and student loans) simply because their opposition can't introduce those things, because they would be "too typical" for that party. Although the humour gets better towards the end of the book, his coverage of the post-Great War age becomes irritating, particularly when he discusses the Second World War or (most annoyingly) how amazing it is that Labour got elected and transformed everyone's lives by making them free of poverty, disease, blah blah, through creation of the NHS and welfare state. He briefly mentions that efforts to achieve these aims are still ongoing, but never refers to anything that suggests these were not always that great and were sometimes double-edged swords. Looking at the creation of the benefit system, for example - in reality, has this abolished poverty, or increased the number of workless, hopeless households content to rely on state handouts, or malingering on Incapacity Benefit? How many children are born not because they are wanted in themselves, but because they can be a passport to better housing, better income, and a fantastic excuse for not working? How many OAPs without private pensions would agree that poverty in old age has been abolished by the fantastic pension system we have? What about the problems of the NHS, with "postcode lotteries", hospital-acquired infections, lack of beds, and so on - and what about the fact that it is now far from "free at the price of delivery", unless you happen never to need prescriptions, dental, or optical care? (Good luck to you in even finding an NHS dentist) Interesting things I have learnt from this book: 1. In 1275 a rule came into force in England that compelled all Jews over the age of 7 to wear Star of David badges, just as in Nazi Germany. This was later repealed by Oliver Cromwell. 2. Charing Cross is so called because Edward I erected a cross there in 1290 as a memorial to his dead wife, Eleanor of Castile. "Charing" is thought to come from "Chère Reine" (dear queen). However, the Internet informs me that this is not quite as solid a fact as it appears in the book. 3. Henry VIII passed the first law in England forbidding buggery. The first person to be convicted under this law was the headmaster of Eton College. 4. Before fleeing his home during the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys buried a parmesan cheese in his garden. 5. The "Black Hole of Calcutta" was a small dungeon in India (it sounded more exciting than that) 6. The "Iron Duke" was so called not because of any steely might of personality, but in reference to the iron window shutters he put up on his house to protect it against protestors. 7. The word "boycott" comes from a Captain Boycott, ostracised by the Irish Land League. 8. On the night of the 1911 Census, Emily Davison sneaked into the Palace of Westminster and hid in a cupboard there overnight, so she could give her residence as the House of Commons. 9. While a student at Cambridge, Lord Byron became irked that the University forbade keeping pet dogs. In response, he acquired a pet bear.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    This book is a rather irreverent romp through two thousand years of British history, collected under such diverse headings as "How the Romans eastablished our template for 'civilization' by killing anyone who didn't like it" and "How geography, religion and a spot of bad weather turned England into a major European power." Pretty much all of the major events in those two thousand years are at least touched upon in a faintly humourous fashion. So why the low rating? This is for a few different rea This book is a rather irreverent romp through two thousand years of British history, collected under such diverse headings as "How the Romans eastablished our template for 'civilization' by killing anyone who didn't like it" and "How geography, religion and a spot of bad weather turned England into a major European power." Pretty much all of the major events in those two thousand years are at least touched upon in a faintly humourous fashion. So why the low rating? This is for a few different reasons... One of these is because O'Farrell's book doesn't really have an audience. Either you are a person who likes history - in which case, you would have read much more in-depth factual books about the periods that interest you - or you are a person who has little fascination in history and so this half-way house book wouldn't get your vote either. I believe that the only real audience is made up of people who quite enjoy John O'Farrell's newspaper columns and notice his name attached to this novel. This on its own wouldn't be a problem, since it is more an issue of the commissioning of the book rather than the contents. It is just unfortunate that the contents suffer from being a little too glib. Actual facts are presented alongside anecdotal musings in the same fashion, leading someone unfamiliar with history to either believe all of it or none. As someone who has an interest in the reign of Henry VIII I felt that his misrepresentation of being syphilitic was unnecessary - the fact that none of his six wives or his mistresses or his children contracted the disease really gives the lie to something that O'Farrell presents as bald fact. My other complaint is that O'Farrell believes he is funnier than he is. His 'amusing' analogies comparing historical events with modern day popular culture become boring and over-used. This, for instance, is a good example: "Various stand-up comics reminisced at length in 'I Love 1383' - 'God, the late Middle Ages; what was that about? Do you remember how there was always a squealing pig running down a muddy high street?' ...etc" The one redeeming feature of the book is the gravitas and reverence with which O'Farrell deals with the two World Wars. Passages such as: "The Second World War has acquired a unique and hallowed place in British History, not purely because the war itself turned out to be so just, but also because of the extraordinary heroism of the servicemen and civilians caught up in it" make you proud to be British. All in all, when O'Farrell is not trying to be self-consciously witty and clever, the book is an entertaining read packed full of little tidbits you might never have been aware of (such as where the Tory nickname came from). It is just a shame that he rarely reigns himself in.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This is brilliant. O'Farrell goes through British history in 500 pages and the book is not too long. It is inevitably a little simplistic at times. His use of humour makes the book brilliantly readable and deflates the pomposity of many revered figures. We see how the ordinary folk can finally vote and influence their lives and that we should not be complacent about this. He is also unsparing about Britain's role in colonialism and slavery and points out that mass slaughter is easy to justify wh This is brilliant. O'Farrell goes through British history in 500 pages and the book is not too long. It is inevitably a little simplistic at times. His use of humour makes the book brilliantly readable and deflates the pomposity of many revered figures. We see how the ordinary folk can finally vote and influence their lives and that we should not be complacent about this. He is also unsparing about Britain's role in colonialism and slavery and points out that mass slaughter is easy to justify when the 'enemy' are dehumanised. History repeats itself. Brilliant.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Acquafortis

    I had given this book to my mother for Christmas last year and she loved it so much that she decided that I should read it. Well I might not always agree with my mother but this time it is an exception. It is really a great book to read. Well it would seem quite daunting to read 2000 years of British History but O'Farrell does it brilliantly. 552 pages and I never for a moment felt those school time episodes when you would like to disappear rather to stick out another single word from that teach I had given this book to my mother for Christmas last year and she loved it so much that she decided that I should read it. Well I might not always agree with my mother but this time it is an exception. It is really a great book to read. Well it would seem quite daunting to read 2000 years of British History but O'Farrell does it brilliantly. 552 pages and I never for a moment felt those school time episodes when you would like to disappear rather to stick out another single word from that teacher. History is told in a comical exhilarating way. Full of facts without every being boring or overwhelming. On the contrary it made me search on internet for more facts. I was fascinated by his now and again explanations of certain expressions or words that we use today but have come a long way through history. I would recommended it as a school text book because it will finally take away the dullness that most of us had to endure while studying history and instil in those who read it the eagerness to know more (which is what teaching should actually be about especially history). One episode really made me laugh and think. At the end of the book O'Farrell describes the British way of disagreeing with something. So you would like to start with writing to a local newspaper, then a petition and if you really feel strongly about it “there's always the poster in the front window”. Well you see when I have something to say to my fellow condominium Italian neighbours I always stick an A4 paper on my front door (in the absence of front windows), deeming it as the most civilised way of communicating without pinpointing or accusing anyone. Probably here O'Farrell would have something funny to say as how we ex-British colonies have acquired the bizarre customs of the British Empire and eventually export it to wherever we go,obliviously of how silly or alien those methods can seem to others.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    I recently finished reading London by Edward Rutherfurd and this book, although not intended as such by me, made a good companion read. Humorous asides and some scathing wit accompanies the serious prose of this book on the history of Britain. With chapter titles such as "Queen Elizabeth I: Protestant Spice declares 'Girl Power!'","The Industrial Revolution: the end of the world starts here", and "The Late Victorians: the last years of strange facial hair" you can be assured this is not a dull b I recently finished reading London by Edward Rutherfurd and this book, although not intended as such by me, made a good companion read. Humorous asides and some scathing wit accompanies the serious prose of this book on the history of Britain. With chapter titles such as "Queen Elizabeth I: Protestant Spice declares 'Girl Power!'","The Industrial Revolution: the end of the world starts here", and "The Late Victorians: the last years of strange facial hair" you can be assured this is not a dull book of dates and names. Speaking of names, the author points out in one chapter how much easier it would be to keep all the monarchs straight if there had been more variety in their names, something I just one day before that had expressed to my hubby. I truly enjoyed this book and will probably remember much more of the history therein due to the jovial comments.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    How can you dislike a book that asks, "How did Neville Chamberlain not know Hitler was a baddie when he was clearly wearing a Nazi armband?" This book made it a lot of fun to take a whirlwind tour through British history. Being American, I missed a lot of the jokes and I can't comment on the left or right political spin of the book. That being said, I learned a lot about British history from this book and was entertained all the way through. I think some of it is of dubious historicity, just fro How can you dislike a book that asks, "How did Neville Chamberlain not know Hitler was a baddie when he was clearly wearing a Nazi armband?" This book made it a lot of fun to take a whirlwind tour through British history. Being American, I missed a lot of the jokes and I can't comment on the left or right political spin of the book. That being said, I learned a lot about British history from this book and was entertained all the way through. I think some of it is of dubious historicity, just from what I have read in "real" history books - but it kept me turning pages and I learned a lot from it, even though I know to take some of it with a grain of salt.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This is how I like my history, sarcastic and cynical, lacking jingoism. There's a lot of information to take in, dates, names and events which come thick and fast. The injection of humour breaks the onslaught of detail. There's jokes included that made me laugh out loud and others that caused me to roll my eyes. If like me you remember far more about what was outside the window than what was actually occurring inside the classroom your history lessons were in this is the book for you. I've certa This is how I like my history, sarcastic and cynical, lacking jingoism. There's a lot of information to take in, dates, names and events which come thick and fast. The injection of humour breaks the onslaught of detail. There's jokes included that made me laugh out loud and others that caused me to roll my eyes. If like me you remember far more about what was outside the window than what was actually occurring inside the classroom your history lessons were in this is the book for you. I've certainly learnt from it (admittedly I've forgotten more that I've remembered!). If you're a history buff it might annoy you unless you approach it as satire and not to further educate yourself.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is fun book; great for anyone who wants a quick high-level easy-to-read overview of English history (more so than British) over the last 2000 years. Not quite the last 2000 years. John O’Farrell stops at the end of World War II, deciding, quite rightly, that John Major’s cones hotline would feel like a bit of an anti-climax after the Battle of Britain. O’Farrell is a comedy writer, and it shows. His style is very informal and engaging, but his comedy is sometimes intrusive. He inserts actual This is fun book; great for anyone who wants a quick high-level easy-to-read overview of English history (more so than British) over the last 2000 years. Not quite the last 2000 years. John O’Farrell stops at the end of World War II, deciding, quite rightly, that John Major’s cones hotline would feel like a bit of an anti-climax after the Battle of Britain. O’Farrell is a comedy writer, and it shows. His style is very informal and engaging, but his comedy is sometimes intrusive. He inserts actual sketch dialogue into the text, and whilst this is often funny, it can get in the way. The main comedy tool is to apply modern-day language and context to historical situations which is a bit obvious and can become predictable. Also, he sometimes states as fact something which is really just a joke. This can be confusing. The line between absurd and history is often invisibly thin, and sometimes you’re left wondering if something really did happen. The idea of condensing massive amounts of history into a single volume has it pros and cons. Obviously it’s going to be pretty high-level, and in this you’re going to lose a lot of detail, but at the same time it’s easier to hold the context together. You can better understand how the entirely unnecessary World War I started because you only just read a few paragraphs explaining how the previous chunk of history led to alliances and arms races that made Europe like a tinderbox of tension I’m not sure that simile makes sense, but the point does: what you lose in detail you make up for in big picture. That’s a better way of saying it. These gripes aside, I did enjoy the book. It is fun and informative and very easy to read. Too light and high-level for me, the comedy slightly in the way and sometimes confusing, but I’d happily recommend it, and I will read another John O’Farrell book one day.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kate Lomax

    How I love this book. It is always within arms reach of my favourite reading couch. My only reading couch in fact, but that is beside the point, I can just about reach it with a huff and a puff to instantly reference historical fact. The wonderful fact packed historical walkthrough lost one star for me on the irrelevant tag line of the title which whiffs of political rib jabbing. It didn't need it, the work is a great stand alone impartial history which is what it says on the packet, I found mys How I love this book. It is always within arms reach of my favourite reading couch. My only reading couch in fact, but that is beside the point, I can just about reach it with a huff and a puff to instantly reference historical fact. The wonderful fact packed historical walkthrough lost one star for me on the irrelevant tag line of the title which whiffs of political rib jabbing. It didn't need it, the work is a great stand alone impartial history which is what it says on the packet, I found myself asking why anyone would want to spoil a great title with a contradictory tag line which actually is not reflected within the well researched and well written book. John O'Farrell delivers the facts with a wry smile and pen in cheek, never forgetting however, that he is delivering fact. How delightful. I wish I had owned this book when I entered secondary school. History would have been a breeze. Having discovered it in mid life, I would not hesitate to recommend it for a young student who finds historical fact soul distressingly boring. O'Farrell cleverly delivers the facts by creating a little mini epic around them sprinkled liberally with his take on things. Genius. Most Educational Psychologists and Memory Experts do agree that creating a memorable memory around fact helps the brain to create an almost indelible file. This book would be a useful addition to a family bookshelf and would be quite suitable for family reads and study periods.. Equally, a must have for the dedicated trivia seeker.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dbook

    I loved this - some parts made me laugh out loud. Farrell has a great sense of humour and an ability to put explain history from a modern perspective. I am not sure if real historians would like this but if you are interested in a history and want to catch up on a lot in a fairly light hearted way this is a great book. It is very British and I admit that some of the jokes passed me by as the references to modern British political figures and incidents were not always easily understood by a non-B I loved this - some parts made me laugh out loud. Farrell has a great sense of humour and an ability to put explain history from a modern perspective. I am not sure if real historians would like this but if you are interested in a history and want to catch up on a lot in a fairly light hearted way this is a great book. It is very British and I admit that some of the jokes passed me by as the references to modern British political figures and incidents were not always easily understood by a non-Brit but that didn't take away from the general enjoyment. It is fairly long but can easily be picked up and and dipped into at any time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    severyn

    I am unable to read this rubbish and have given up after the first few pages. I give it 0 stars. What ought to be an interesting history of Britain is destroyed by every third sentence being a damp joke. For example: 'The drinking of fermented honey would probably have been a great religious ceremony with formal sipping being executed with great reverence as they paid homage to their gods. And then half an hour later it was all, 'Oi, you spilt my beaker!' 'Oh yeah, do you want some?' 'Right, outsid I am unable to read this rubbish and have given up after the first few pages. I give it 0 stars. What ought to be an interesting history of Britain is destroyed by every third sentence being a damp joke. For example: 'The drinking of fermented honey would probably have been a great religious ceremony with formal sipping being executed with great reverence as they paid homage to their gods. And then half an hour later it was all, 'Oi, you spilt my beaker!' 'Oh yeah, do you want some?' 'Right, outside you beardy bastard!'' Perhaps I'll try again one day, when I am dribbling and senile.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laura Macdonald

    This was a bloody irritating book. The history side of it was great and John O Farrell does have a lightness of touch that will appeal to many. But his constant quips and asides, were starting to wear thin after the first 100 pages and by the end, I found I was skipping them and yearning for a more serious book, with just the odd aside. Read it, if you really need your history to be intercepted with weak puns and jokes, on every third line.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John Donoghue

    My favourite things .. humour & history! What a great book ... reminds me of another superb book - a ranking of the 100 most influential people in history by Michael Hart. I could re-read O'Farrells book again and again ... what an achievement! My favourite things .. humour & history! What a great book ... reminds me of another superb book - a ranking of the 100 most influential people in history by Michael Hart. I could re-read O'Farrells book again and again ... what an achievement!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    I picked this up during a trip to England this spring, drawn in (like many, I suspect) by the title. I'm a historian by training, but of the U.S. and my main interests are in the 19th and 20th centuries. So while I know a bit about those corresponding time periods in England, my knowledge of the rest of the country's past is a bit spotty. I thought this book looked like a fun way to get the basic trajectory under my belt. And you know what? It was exactly that. It's written for a British audienc I picked this up during a trip to England this spring, drawn in (like many, I suspect) by the title. I'm a historian by training, but of the U.S. and my main interests are in the 19th and 20th centuries. So while I know a bit about those corresponding time periods in England, my knowledge of the rest of the country's past is a bit spotty. I thought this book looked like a fun way to get the basic trajectory under my belt. And you know what? It was exactly that. It's written for a British audience--more than one reference or joke was lost on me, and that would be the case for any non-Briton, but it's not so crowded with these types of references as to lose the humor or sense of the story. O'Farrell's wit is quite sly--I could see some readers having a hard time distinguishing fact from droll little asides; however, I found it very entertaining, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. O'Farrell is not a trained historian, and this occasionally shows. While discussing the Victorians and their "moral panic," O'Farrell states "At the beginning of the Victorian era it is estimated that around half of all pregnancies were conceived outside marriage. Single mothers who had once been acceptable became social pariahs, which led to a huge increase in infanticide during the century. In 1895, 231 babies were found dead on the streets in London." This is simply bad reasoning--assuming that the "half of all pregnancies" stat was true (which it may or may not be... I know in the U.S.--granted, a very different country--I've seen numbers which point to a very large number of brides pregnant on their wedding day, which is a different thing than "of all pregnancies." It may have been very different in England, or maybe not. Assuming it was, however, and half of all pregnancies (a huge number of pregnancies!) were conceived outside of marriage, it doesn't necessarily follow that the resultant children were raised by unwed mothers--marriage still likely followed in a large number of such cases, even if premarital sex was less censured by the generations preceding the Victorians. It's also a leap to simply assume that a mother who bore a child out of wedlock and raised him alone (without the death of the partner, which was also a rather likely event) was "acceptable" and "not a pariah." Well, maybe that was the case... but not necessarily. And, I'd argue, not likely. Finally, the 231 dead babies found in 1895 may support his point--or it may not. Without any comparative data, it's hard to tell how exceptional or not such a number is. But O'Farrell concludes that not only is it exceptional, but it was directly caused by a larger social rejection of single mothers, instead of other possible and believable causes (poverty and hunger creating desperate decisions for mothers, babies dead through poverty, hunger, and disease and disposed of in a way a desperate family might be able to afford at a point in time.) So anyway, O'Farrell is not historian. Luckily, he doesn't claim to be, or really try to be. That's not the book he wrote, so it's unfair to take him to task too harshly for casual conclusions and sweeping statements. He's trying to cover 2000 years with humor, after all, and that's no easy task! I only say this because a few reviews seem upset that he's not a historian, and I want to be clear that I'm not faulting him for that. I point it out because to me it's a good illustration of how this book should be read--for enjoyment and a very broad outline of what has happened in British history, and not as a source of "Hey did you know?" about British history. Anyway, I liked it. Reading a concise chronology like this helped me organize what I do know about British history, and reading a humorous take helped me not fall asleep during the Medieval era. It's a good read!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    "What is the point of studying history anyway? Well, it matters for a number or reasons. Firstly, history is an infinite flow chart and at every junction only one of a number of possible routes was taken. The exact point at which Britain and Europe and the world have ended up today is nly one of a billion, billion possibilities, the incredibly unlikely result of every decision, struggle and accident to have involved all the people who were born before we were. We can only speculate on what would "What is the point of studying history anyway? Well, it matters for a number or reasons. Firstly, history is an infinite flow chart and at every junction only one of a number of possible routes was taken. The exact point at which Britain and Europe and the world have ended up today is nly one of a billion, billion possibilities, the incredibly unlikely result of every decision, struggle and accident to have involved all the people who were born before we were. We can only speculate on what would have happened if Henry VI had been a competent enough king to keep England and France united under one crown, or if Edward IV and his successors had banned the printing press or the Tudor dramatists had never been able to fie up the ay job. Indeed there is a whole branch of publishing given over to alternative histories (3/4 of which involve Hitler winning) but you cannot fully understand where we are today unless you are informed about how and why we actually got here. Secondly, in all these ancient but real-life versions of Dallas and Dynasty we get to see hundreds of different moral, political, economic, and social dilemmas and learn how people have reacted or behaved when they were under pressure. The situations may seem archaic with swords and horses and syphilis, but there is one factor that remains constant throughout. For the only subject matter that doesn't trly date is human nature. And if today you find yourself in a situation similar to something that has happened centuries before, you can look back and see where people went wrong the last time. Why did they find it necessary to execute Saddam Hussein? Because Edward IV had tried ruling with his predecessor alive in prison and it caused nothing but trouble." from page 134 That's told us then, now I feel educated...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ian Wood

    I read John O’Farrell’s political memoir ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ on the strength of the work he contributed to ‘Spitting Image’ and ‘Have I Got News for You’ and found it a hilarious read. Following O’Farrell through his subsequent novels I was continuously surprised at the level of skill he exhibited as a novelist whist also enjoying the satirical political commentary he contributed as a columnist for ‘The Guardian’. Any yet I expected this book to be tired and predictable. I don’t know if I read John O’Farrell’s political memoir ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ on the strength of the work he contributed to ‘Spitting Image’ and ‘Have I Got News for You’ and found it a hilarious read. Following O’Farrell through his subsequent novels I was continuously surprised at the level of skill he exhibited as a novelist whist also enjoying the satirical political commentary he contributed as a columnist for ‘The Guardian’. Any yet I expected this book to be tired and predictable. I don’t know if was due to the Christmas market publication date or the poor sub title ‘2,000 years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge’ but I had very low expectations of this book. I had anticipated lots of jokes about wax moustaches’ whilst Europe burned. Anyway it arrived, gift wrapped for Christmas for me to keep putting off reading it. Eventually trapped at home after minor surgery I had no option but to face my fate. I cannot begin to tell you just how wrong I could be about a book. There are admittedly lots of jokes about wax moustaches’ but greater jokes putting history in a current perspective without deconstructing it so that it still makes sense. I’ve not spent much time with British history after leaving school and even then I had allot of resistance to absorbing it on a point of principle that I’ve long since forgotten and a problem with authority that I’ve never really grown out of. That said I’d managed to pick up the basics but this book gave me a fantastic refresher course with O’Farrell’s wit and panache of satire making it a joy to rush through the history of these islands. The best way to enjoy British history aside from over the shoulder of Blackadder.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karan

    History condensed, serialised and sent up in contemporary puns and pop-culture references. Probably the only way I could have trudged through the sequence of monarchs till the late middle ages. Despite all the sending up for (frequently laboured) laughs, O Farrell manages to be beautifully temperate in the middle section as he patiently bookmarks the set-up of institutions, and the handover from the idiotic monarchy to first the landed gentry's parliament and with painful moves, the representati History condensed, serialised and sent up in contemporary puns and pop-culture references. Probably the only way I could have trudged through the sequence of monarchs till the late middle ages. Despite all the sending up for (frequently laboured) laughs, O Farrell manages to be beautifully temperate in the middle section as he patiently bookmarks the set-up of institutions, and the handover from the idiotic monarchy to first the landed gentry's parliament and with painful moves, the representation of workers post Industrial Revolution. His recounting of the Industrial Revolution, French and American Revolutions, the Crimean and Boer Wars carried the relevance and brevity that I was not expecting after a groan-some amount of nudge nudge wink wink. And then suddenly, in the last chapter, his recounting of the two World Wars felt offensively inadequate (and at times just plain offensive). Maybe this exposed the conservative history reader in me rather than any fault of O Farrell, but the last century felt too recent to be mocked up to heavens, especially with the carnage and the layers of politics. I would be dashing off to Marr's Modern Britain duology for a witty but measured dissection of this period. All in all, a fabulous diversion that packs more punch and gravitas than on first sight, but the format and the humour worked for me till Queen Vic's death. I won't be investing time/money on the sequel as I have had enough of the quips, but credit to O Farrell, he has primed me with the Beginnings and the Middle of Britannia sufficiently for a more detailed dissection of politics, policy, personalities and society of the modern and evolving Britain.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Finooola

    This book was fun, but it was more useful as history than humour, which was what I was looking for so why am I complaining... Where was I? Oh yes! Now I know the various royal dynasties of my adopted country, as well as what a whig and a tory is (well, of course I knew what the latter was, mores the pity), and that Wat Tyler and Jethro Tull are not merely bands. This is a very good book for what I was looking for - an introduction to English history for those not in the know. It's not actually f This book was fun, but it was more useful as history than humour, which was what I was looking for so why am I complaining... Where was I? Oh yes! Now I know the various royal dynasties of my adopted country, as well as what a whig and a tory is (well, of course I knew what the latter was, mores the pity), and that Wat Tyler and Jethro Tull are not merely bands. This is a very good book for what I was looking for - an introduction to English history for those not in the know. It's not actually for foreigners such as myself, but for Brits who couldn't be arsed paying attention in history class in school, which he points out a few times, which I thought was sweet. He also appeals to younger readers to remind their history teachers of various rude but historically factual incidents that did happen down through the ages, with gave me a certain immature thrill. I hope some smartarses took him up it. I also had a giggle when he mentioned Our Island Nation (briefly reviewed elsewhere by me!) in not complimentary terms. I gave it the four stars instead of the five since most of the humour in it is of a predictable, small smile but not laugh out loud kind, but there were a few exceptions. There was a bit about the various holy embroideried slogans warriors used to wear on thier tunics that had me literally crying laughing on the tube, which was embarrassing but undeniably fun. I like this guy, he's sound. I might read more of his stuff.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I have read that a lot of people did not find the book hilarious. I, on the other hand, found that for the most part the jokes were spot on. While there were times when they became tedious and interrupted the narrative, on the whole they were plain fun. However, it can sometimes be hard to tell some of the jokes apart from the real history. As we all know unbelievable events happen in real life, and as such it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction. I also know that those who do not have a g I have read that a lot of people did not find the book hilarious. I, on the other hand, found that for the most part the jokes were spot on. While there were times when they became tedious and interrupted the narrative, on the whole they were plain fun. However, it can sometimes be hard to tell some of the jokes apart from the real history. As we all know unbelievable events happen in real life, and as such it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction. I also know that those who do not have a good grasp of the period may be confused about the major players and events. I did not study much British history in school and there were times when I felt that I did not have the entire picture and thus felt slightly confused. However, it does present a fun and interesting way of looking at the history of Great Britain and thus can be a good introduction. At times it can be engaging, lively and even, maybe, make you think. I rather enjoyed it and found myself looking up information on the periods he didn’t cover in as much detail. It’s long, but worth the ride.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Настя Логика

    When I wanted to read something about the British history, the main criteria was to choose an unhacked author. I absolutely loved this book. It is hilarious and sardonic. O'Farell's sense of humour made this book even more compelling. I was a little bit bored in the end, but definitely will read other author's books!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emma Glaisher

    I loved this book. The jokes and light touch helped me digest a lot of information that I simply wouldn't have crawled through without them. Perhaps I would have finished The Origin of Species if Darwin had used a similar approach!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tara Lynn

    This has to be one of the most hysterical books I've read in quite a while. I don't think I've laughed this much over a textbook since reading Jon Stewart's America.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Mundi

    I enjoyed this book. I'm generally not a huge fan of non-fiction but this was entertaining, informative and witty. I may even re-read it one day.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bs

    There's something about the dawn of the industrial revolution that just makes me lose interest in all history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Suman Srivastava

    This is a really brilliant book. Imagine if PG Wodehouse had written a history of Britain. This is what he would have written. Hugely entertaining. And hugely educational. Why can’t all history be taught like this? Do read, even if it is the history of some obscure islands which can’t quite figure out whether or not it is part of Europe.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Periklis

    A leftist account of the history of Britain, outlining the main events over a massive 2000 years of history (from ~50BC to ~1945) - quite a feat for a ~500-page book. However, perhaps in an effort to appeal to more people, it adopts a rather populistic style, especially when it comes to more modern times. It includes several cliches and despite being honest about several shortcomings of the British throughout their history, it does not avoid being as deeply patriotic as you would expect a demago A leftist account of the history of Britain, outlining the main events over a massive 2000 years of history (from ~50BC to ~1945) - quite a feat for a ~500-page book. However, perhaps in an effort to appeal to more people, it adopts a rather populistic style, especially when it comes to more modern times. It includes several cliches and despite being honest about several shortcomings of the British throughout their history, it does not avoid being as deeply patriotic as you would expect a demagogic school-book to be (to the point where it requires a footnote to justify its claim that Drake - rather than Magellan - was the first one to sail around the world!). The book also includes several quotations from films, mentions to football and sarcasms directed towards the French, which I suppose you would expect from a satirical book, however they have rather put me off at places, and encouraged my view as expressed above. As for the history itself, I was surprised to realise that this is a people whose regard for personal freedom has not been particularly high! Having spent all my school years in an educational system which has been quite propagandistic about the struggles of a nation to either maintain or regain its freedom, this realisation has been quite profound. All in all, for someone like me, who has not been taught the history of Britain at school, this has been quite an enjoyable opportunity to go through it without having to go through extensive details, which could become extremely boring to someone who is not so serious about studying history. On the other hand, it is not a book which I am proud for having on my bookshelf!

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