• A History of Britain: Volume 3

  • By: Simon Schama
  • Narrated by: Stephen Thorne
  • Length: 20 hrs and 38 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (354 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Timothy West reads the third and concluding volume of award-winning historian Simon Schama's compelling chronicle of the British Isles.

Here he illuminates the period from 1776 to 2000 through a variety of historical themes, including Victorian advances in technology and industry, women's increasing role in society, and the burgeoning British Empire which promised civilisation and material betterment for all. This volume also looks at key characters from the period, including Wordsworth, Burke, Queen Victoria, Churchill, and Orwell, whilst examining some lesser-known lives, such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman doctor, and Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse in the Crimea. Finally, Schama reflects on the overwhelming presence of the past in the 20th century, and the struggle of our leaders to find a way of making a different national future.

©2012 Simon Schama (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about A History of Britain: Volume 3

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  • Overall
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    4 out of 5 stars

An interesting and entertaining final volume

The final volume in the history is as good as the first two. By the time the listener is on the 3rd volume Thorne's voice is like that of an old friend. Actually, when I read the blurb about the 3rd volume it mentioned that the narrator was different and I was taken aback because at that point it would have been weird to switch voices. However, the blurb was thankfully inaccurate. The histories of Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill are two of the highlights of the final volume. The history of British rule in India is also fascinating. I was a bit disappointed with the last bit of the book because post-WWII Britain is basically just skimmed over. The author had forewarned us that this would be the case but I had held out hope that he was exaggerating. Alas, Schama was telling the truth. I would have liked to hear more about how Britain dealt with Ireland becoming independent and how it handled the breakup of its empire. I also wanted to hear a more detailed account of Thatcher's history. My biggest disappointment concerned the history of the crown. I was looking forward to learning what it was that changed the crown from being of chief importance to being a ceremonial relic. I wanted to know how things changed so much in so little time but it was never explained or really even touched on. Queen Victoria's reign ended in the early 1900's and by all accounts she was the supreme ruler of Britain and extremely important (the period is named after her after all). In my lifetime Queen Elizabeth II has been irrelevant to all besides tabloid magazine editors. How did that happen? I never learned this. I don't recall King Edward VIII giving up the crown in order to marry a divorced woman being mentioned at all, and if it was it wasn't discussed at any length. I would have liked to hear more about the 2nd half of the 20th century.

9 people found this helpful

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closer in time means more opinion less history

very odd selections of events -- and a very one sided portrait of Edmund Burke -- just one example. Not that he was a perfect paragon but he called the French revolution what it was. Minutia overwhelms the flow. Earlier volumes SO MUCH BETTER than this last volume about more modern times.

6 people found this helpful

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The story of a lost Empire

As always from Simon Schama and Stephen Thorne an immaculate narrative so well performed.However I would have preferred more detailed history on British involvement with its Colonial aspirations and subsequent set backs such as the First Great War and the aftermath on the Second.

3 people found this helpful

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Wonderfully detailed!

It is a long book but what would you expect? Britain is old. What I have enjoyed about this series of books is it’s focus, not just in wars but on the people and social forces at work in society. This is a must read for serious history buffs.

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Broken history told through scattered mini-bios

Broken history told through scattered mini-biographies.

The third and final volume of Schama's "A History of Britain" limps to the end with a disjointed 150 year history that isn't really a history at all -- rather it's a series of mini-biographies of personalities that are from the relevant time period but only loosely connected to the events themselves.

The Napoleonic Wars are barely touched on except insofar as we get a little mini-biography of Rousseau. We get an EXTENDED biography of Mary Wolstoncraft (like, way way too long) in what is, I suppose, an attempt to equate her with the travails of women and the gradual rise of proto-feminist/suffrage thought in Britain during the Victorian era -- but it's way too specific to Wolstoncraft herself to be of real utility. We also get short little biographies of John Stuart Mill, and Jeremy Bentham, and (more appropriately) Lloyd George and Churchill. Other figures like Gandhi pass through the narrative, but only a select few get the deep dive biographical treatment from Schama.

The Churchill biography dominates the latter half of the book which is mostly appropriate but it's also frustrating. While Schama warns the reader not to expect a traditional narrative history, his approach of tacking together semi-random biographies that never connect themselves to the actual historical facts/narrative reeks of a somewhat slapdash effort.

Overall, this final volume is the least coherently structured, the least well-argued, and the least satisfying. Much like the Empire it is designed to chronicle, it goes out with a whimper, rather than a bang.

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The modern world

This closes out the set of “A History of Britain” and it is as good as the other two, but again, I must remind you that this is not a typical history book. If you’re expecting a detailed, relatively chronological narrative of history with dates, events, and people you can memorize, look elsewhere. 

Instead, Schama, who wrote this as the narrative for a TV series, is out for understanding, and in that, he does fairly well. Intimate detail is lacking and some events are missing, but in reading this, you’ll end with a better understanding of how it developed. This book begins with the French Revolution and the question, at the time, of whether it would happen also in Britain. Schama shows how Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy  of trying to get back to nature and its impression on British writers and elites. Indeed, there was a demand for radical change to Britain and its class-based rule by people such as Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. And, there was great change, but in incremental stages. Schama spends a great part of the book on the changing role of women through the lives of women reformers in the Victorian error who demanded a greater voice but also social reform to help the poor. 

The subtitle of the book is “The Fate of the Empire” and by that, he is not just dealing with the issue of the demise of the empire but with the questions being raised about its nature. Early in the book, he narrates the celebration of its industrial power but also its imperialist power at the Great Exhibition. But, as the movement to change the structure of the nation to do more for the commoners and expand the “democracy” from the nobility to the industrialists and eventually to all, the same "civilizing mission" also spread to the empire, with a desire to eradicate poverty and ignorance in all the areas under British rule. But, the reality was often quite different as he shows in the history of the 1857 Sepoy Revolt in India and the mismanagement and indifference that resulted in and exacerbated the massive famines that kept happening in India and also even closer to home in Ireland. 

In what he calls the “difficult” 20th century, all of this began to come to a head but because of external forces but also because the empire had never really committed itself to achieving the lofty goals that it often tried to picture. He spends  a good deal of time on some of the heroes such as Admiral Nelson, George Orwell, and, of course, Winston Churchill, but brings up many others, some of whom are unknown to all but avid historians. With Nelson, Orwell, and Winston, he gives a brief history of their lives and their contributions to history but ultimately shows how the grand ideals, promises, and the veneer of the righteousness of the empire were, in the end, only illusions, and very costly ones at that. 

When it gets to modern history, there were be a lot of debate since it is recent enough that our emotions can color even our memories, but Schama has done well in taking an objective path while avoiding taking no stand at all. I found this book to be refreshing and helpful in understanding both history and today.

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Volume 3 Is an outstanding conclusion to history.

Sailed right through this concluding volume. The narrator brought this scholarship to life. I truly enjoyed it.

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Great history

I found this series most fascinating, informative and appealing to my interests. I would recommend all three volumes.

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Works of great genius

All three volumes of Professor Schama's 'History of Britain' are works of great genius. I rejoice in having listened to this monumental epic in it's entirety.

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Questionable exclusion

That the author gives more time and credit to Mary Wollstonecraft than William Wilberforce in his discussion of the Abolition of the slave trade casts a huge shadow over the credibility of this account, and for that matter, over the whole work. Clearly the author intentionally seeks to ignore some of the brightest lights of British history.

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  • Roderic
  • 04-23-15

Excellent and thought-provoking perspective

Recounting history on such a large scale is always a matter of selection. I was satisfied by Schama's decision to focus on Churchill and Orwell to demonstrate the politics and dynamics of 20th century British history.

The leaps in time throughout the book were sometimes disorienting and this would probably not be the case in a printed work. However that small inconvenience was minor against the wealth of information and thought provided by the history. Certainly it gives me a context for further reading of the subject.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Kyle Smith
  • 01-18-16

Meandering, narrow, irrelevant

Schama really goes off the deep end in this part of his series. While the narration is of course excellent, the actual content is so narrow and small in scale that you really do wonder if this is the same writer as that of the first two parts. Simon abandons the broad, historical perspective of the nation and it's happenings in favour of telling the stories of small irrelevent people , almost as if he is trying to waste your time. A terrible conclusion to an otherwise great series.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 04-25-19

Excellent

Rather than narrate the events of the last two centuries, Schama covers them through the eyes of famous people who experienced these times. Whilst he talks about Churchill and Victoria he also gives time to others such as Wordsworth and Orwell.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Paul Williams
  • 05-21-13

Great & precise history of Britain

The account of the British history is a little brief from 3000 to the Romans but that is to be expected with the lack of evidence for this period. Schama writes brilliantly extracting the facts and important events and laying them out in a clear precise way. He weaves his way through legend and presents the facts as they are known today. The history has helped me to piece together and understand the lineage of British history to the beginning of the sixteen hundreds in a compelling and entertaining way and I am very grateful. Enjoy a well deserved 5 star audiobook.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Joff
  • 02-06-17

great history, great performance

I struggled a bit with all the details about India but it was more than made up for by all the Churchill and Orwell stuff.

5 people found this helpful

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  • M. Bradshaw
  • 09-28-18

Dry

Dry and inaccessible, I love history but this isn't the format to digest it. You just cannot focus on what is going on. Buy the book instead

4 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen J
  • 08-28-17

Quite a lot left out !

Great narration.... But too little description of too much. I now need to seek out more history books instead of my hope that this book would satisfy my historical curiosity.

4 people found this helpful

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  • King Nothing
  • 03-17-17

Very comprehensive. sometimes hard to follow

Very detailed but sometimes goes off on long tangents, which like the other volumes make it easy to miss bits. Assumes some prior knowledge of the history

2 people found this helpful

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  • G. A. Thart
  • 07-20-19

Another excellent book of Simon Schama

He has picked several moments from the 19th and 20th centuries. I like how he describes the common path of Churchill and Orwell, and India and Ireland!.
The way it is narrated is good too! Never gets annoying

1 person found this helpful

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  • Daniel Marks
  • 05-13-17

Great stuff

Really excellent, if necessarily selective, history. It would have been interesting to hear about the African colonies and more post 1945. But a fascinating perspective nonetheless.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Iain
  • 09-28-15

Excellent history

This is not a "this happened, then that happened, and finally that over there happened" type of history.

Sure, it covers off on events. But it builds a story about how events, some well known, some not so, all contribute to the history of England. Or Great Britain. Or the British Empire. Or all of the above.

I greatly enjoyed it, the themes, the stories, the characters. A wonderful primer from which you can pick and choose events, people or themes to delve into more deeply.

Well narrated, a great story. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • P
  • 08-02-15

Simon Scama is the Master Historian.

Scama once again proved that history does not have to be a deadly dull account accompanied by annoying footnotes.
I lived the events as they unfolded and will listen to it again in the future..
I would definitely recommend it.

1 person found this helpful

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