Christopher Sylvester at the Financial Times:
There have been two massive history books published this year that deserve to be widely read. One is the English translation of The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by the German historian Jürgen Osterhammel. The other is this compelling and intriguing analysis of English history by Robert Tombs, a Cambridge professor who is better known as a specialist in France. Both are vast in scope and full to the brim with scholarship that has been painstakingly absorbed only to be disgorged with an exhilarating mixture of conviction and lightness of touch.
Each of the seven parts of The English and Their History contains narrative chapters followed by a chapter reflecting on how the period in question has been remembered and represented. Tombs embraces transnational comparisons and demonstrates that English history and identity merit examination apart from their British perspective. By drawing on literature and art he seeks “to make memory and its creation an inherent part of the story”. Four “memory themes” predominate: the protracted legacy of the Norman Conquest; the Whig notion of progress arising out of the post-civil war settlement; the sometimes proud, sometimes toxic legacy of empire; and the myth of post-imperial decline. He demonstrates a seamless mastery of political, economic, social and cultural history, and, while even-handed in ideological terms, he offers robust judgments in hearty and often sonorous prose.