Book Review: Remember, Remember (The Fifth Of November)

Remember, Remember (The Fifth Of November):  The History Of Britain In Bite-Sized Chunks, by Judy Parkinson

This book is an ambitious and largely successful effort at putting interesting British history into bite-sized chunks of between 250 and 500 words covering the period from the Roman invasion of Brittania to the establishment of the United Nations after World War II.  What makes this book particularly worthwhile is the sense of fit as well as the directness of the writing.  This is the sort of book that would likely be read by fellow Anglophiles [1] or those who are studying English history for one reason or another.  I’m not sure whether it is common for people to need to cram for exams on English history, but given the large number of books I tend to find on the subject, it seems likely that at least someone finds it worthwhile to publish books on the subject, short books designed to give the reader some insight into English history.  It is my understanding, at least, that such books would not be released without the expectation of there being a market for such works, especially since this work was apparently written with a short deadline, for which the editors thanked the author in the acknowledgements section.

In terms of its contents, this volume is a bit less than 200 pages of writing in bite-sized chunks without the boring parts in it.  The writing is certainly crisp and efficient.  and some topics worthy of being mentioned are given multiple essays to avoid the stringent word limit.  So, for example, there is an essay on Henry II and the establishment of the Angevin Empire on the one hand and also one on the murder of Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  There are a surprising number of essays on Roman Britain and the Dark Ages (or the Early Middle Ages) including ones on Bede, Offa of Mercia, and Alfred the Great and his unfortunate descendant Aethelred of “unready” fame.  Sections on the Late Middle Ages, Tudor and Stuart Britain, Georgian and Victorian Britain, and Edwardian Brain, the First World War years, the Interwar years, and the Second World War years follow the book until its conclusion with essays about everything from St. Alban the martyr to the truth about the Luddites.  Although a great deal of attention is paid to rulers and elites, there is certainly a lot about fairly ordinary people here as well, admirably enough.

One of the more striking elements of this particular collection of essays is the way that the author manages to include a great deal of social history, including a discussion about the complicated politics of the early 20th century and the rise of Labour.  To be sure, I am not nearly so sanguine about the rise of labor unions and leftist politics, but the author manages to find an approach that focuses on religion in unusual ways, including a pointed criticism of the dissolution of the monasteries of England by Henry VIII for seeking to put the money into his own pockets rather than perform the functions served by the Catholic Church in favor of poor relief.  The author’s focus on Catholic emancipation as well indicates that the author has a strong degree of sympathy if not identification with more leftist Catholic approaches.  Again, while this is not my own point of view it certainly gives a sense of coherence to a book that could have easily been a scattered bit of trivia discussion.  As it is, this book has an interesting and quirky perspective that provides an overall theme of looking at British history through a perspective that many books seem to miss, and that is worth something.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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