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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Four Nations: A History of the United Kingdom

Just finished this book by Frank Welsh on the political history of what became Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England over the past 2,000 years. He begins with a quick synopsis of the paleolithic period and moves right into the Roman period with Julius Caesar's first expedition to the British Isles in 53 B.C. He adds increasing detail as the book moves along and spends a considerable part of it on the period from around 1800 to 2001. The emphasis on the monarchies also decreases in accordance with their decrease of political power.

Overall the book is the story of how the four independant regions (Ireland being more independant than the rest) conflicted, coalesced in the British Empire, and have are now continuing to diverge once again. Not suprisingly the role of religon takes center stage with the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants throughout the islands. Even though I am a firm supporter of the Reformation, the needless persecution and loss of life over subtle (in the big picture anyway) differences in theology, makes me feel ill at ease to say the least and perhaps explains why much of the UK seemed happy to move into a post-Christian period. It also gives me more appreciation for the intellectual climate in which G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis were struggling.

I wouldn't recommend this book for someone who is not already well acquainted with British history. I was only nominally familiar with the outline of the history and so much of the discussion (and I'm sure some of the author's sarcasm) was lost on me. I picked up the book in preparation for our upcoming trip to England in early May where my wife, 8 year-old daughter, and I will be touring London, the Yorkshire Dales, and Oxford before I attend a Microsoft Architect Advisory Board meeting in Surrey.

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