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A Short History of England

G. K. Chesterton

Book Overview: 

“But it is especially in the matter of the Middle Ages that the popular histories trample upon the popular traditions. In this respect there is an almost comic contrast between the general information provided about England in the last two or three centuries, in which its present industrial system was being built up, and the general information given about the preceding centuries, which we call broadly mediaeval. “

As this quotation taken from the Introduction clearly shows, he is no mere pedant reciting dry dates and locations, but a profound thinker flooding new light onto those modern “myths” that have filled our histories. He is a master of paradox, and the technique of reducing his opponents arguments to the logical absurdity they have inherent in them. He often turns them upside down. All of which makes his work both a sound subject for reflection and highly entertaining all the while it remains permanently timely.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .He was loyal to the kingdom he had not yet made. Thus the Norman Bruce becomes a Scot; thus the descendant of the Norman Strongbow becomes an Irishman. No men less than Normans can be conceived as remaining as a superior caste until the present time. But this alien and adventurous loyalty in the Norman, which appears in these other national histories, appears most strongly of all in the history we have here to follow. The Duke of Normandy does become a real King of England; his claim through the Confessor, his election by the Council, even his symbolic handfuls of the soil of Sussex, these are not altogether empty forms. And though both phrases would be inaccurate, it is very much nearer the truth to call William the first of the English than to call Harold the last of them.

An indeterminate debate touching the dim races that mixed without record in that dim epoch, has made much of the fact that the Norman edges of France, like the East Anglian edges of England, . . . Read More

Community Reviews

As much as I love the works of G K Chesterton, I am forced to admit that A Short History Of England is not one of his best works. Chesterton just does not do well on more lengthy, sustained polemics. It is only when he can break his work down into individual essays, such as in Orthodoxy and Heret...more

Having panned a recent "short history". I sought a good "short history." I stumbled across G. K. Chesterton's A Short History of England, which I tried because of previous experience with his writings.

I was disappointed. The book is incorrectly titled. It should have been "A Short Commentary on...more

I have some friends and acquaintances that really think a lot of G.K. Chesterton. So I thought that I would read a few of his books. This was my second book by him (after The Man Who Was Thursday). I am told that he was the C.S. Lewis of his generation and that he had written many profound things...more

As others have aptly pointed out, this is far less a history than it is a commentary. Chesterton's idiosyncratic political worldview and incredible wit are on charming display, but this book essentially assumes that the reader is already familiar with the people, places, and events which it descr...more

A short re-telling of England's history that you aren't going to find in any textbook. Chesterton's unique perspective as a Catholic and as a collectivist are all reflected in his interpretation of everything from the dissolution of the monasteries to the poor laws of the 19th and 20th centuries....more

Chesterton assumes you have an intimate knowledge of English history from the Roman world to WWI and proceeds to write in rather sweeping generalizations about the spirit of each age and transitions between. Even though I didn't catch every historical reference, I still enjoyed reading this simpl...more

Not a history, it is more an essay or commentary on the history of England. He is looking from post WW 1 and pre WW 2. He is pro-Roman Catholic. He wonders at the idea that Britain is Teutonic. He looks for a true democracy which he does not find. He does see how government is beginning to functi...more

I really wish I had time to do this book justice. There was definitely a lot I had to look up and a lot that I didn't take the time to and so didn't know the references. It is such a slender volume to cover such a length of time for such a famous country. (imagine just trying to read short histor...more

Read it for Chesterton's prose, which makes any subject interesting, or for his forays into medieval historiography. You won't learn much in the way of history from the book.

Chesterton’s brief history is a secondary source, at best, or more likely even tertiary. Either way, it is farthest away from being a primary source narrative as you can get. It relies less on historical dates than it does upon historical theory. Which is simultaneously its greatest strength and...more

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