The Story of Britain
by Roy Strong, Weidenfeld, 608pp, £30
Sir Roy Strong is known for his reigns at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. His flamboyant clothes and outspoken opinions also get a lot of press.
His talent as a writer of clear, unflashy, deeply well-informed prose takes a back seat. This history of Britain, an updated version of his 1996 book, is a perfect example of it. No meretricious opinions; no show-off expressions. Just a considered explanation of British history, from the Celts to the present day. Every history-starved schoolchild in the country should be given a copy.
Strong’s coverage varies according to the strength of the sources. So the Celtic and Roman chapters are necessarily brief – if effective. The meat of the narrative thickens as he moves into the Middle Ages, with their richer stock of primary sources.
At first sight, this is a conventional kings and queens history of our island, told from the top down. Nothing wrong in that. But Strong deepens the story with the apposite anecdote or fact.
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