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Notes from a Small Island
Bill Bryson
After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson took the decision to move back to the States for a while, to let his kids experience life in another country, to give his wife the chance to shop until 10 p.m. seven nights a wek, and, most of all, because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, and it was thus clear to him that his people needed him. But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Up North
Charles Jennings
Up North was called 'Blissfully funny' by the Sunday Telegraph; 'Very funny indeed' by the Sunday Times; a 'Tour de force' by The Independent; 'Sharply funny, well-researched' by The Times? And that Keith Waterhouse praised it as 'The funniest, wickedest dissection of the North I have ever come across'? Even the Huddersfield Daily Examiner called it an 'Hilarious, can't-put-down voyage of discovery.' It's just had its sixth reprint in paperback, with tens of thousands of satisfied buyers behind it. If you're from north of the Watford Gap, it may be a little too frank for comfort - but, honestly, it's worth a second look.

Great Paliamentary Scandals
Matthew Parris & Kevin Maguire
Scandalously it's been business at usual in parliament despite Tony Blair's promise of a new dawn over Britain in 1997. Conmen, secret home loans, walks on the wild side, liars, ridiculously expensive wallpaper and a jailed peer-cum-celebrated author have joined the prostitutes, gropers, shady share dealers, rent boys and Soviet spies that have been such a colourful feature of politics for five centuries. In this comprehensively updated edition of the bestselling 'Great Parliamentary Scandals', Matthew Parris and Kevin Maguire shine an entertaining and highly revealing light into the murky underworld of British parliamentary life, exposing the low side of high office.

The Kingdom by the Sea
Paul Theroux
After eleven years as an American in London, Paul Theroux set out to travel clockwise round the coast and find out what Britain and the British are really like. It was 1982, the summer of the Falklands War and the royal baby, and the ideal time, he found, to suprise the British into talking about themselves. The result is vivid and absolutely riveting reading.

Danziger's Britain
Nick Danziger
Danziger began his journey in June 1994, as newspapers and magazines throughout the land commemorated the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings and recalled the Allies' war aims (to "afford assurance that all men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want"). For the best part of a year, he lived among the homeless and unemployed in many of the ruined manufacturing and so-called "no-go" areas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With courage and sensitivity, he won the trust of the street children and shared the lives and heard the stories of hundreds of society's outsiders. A powerful and disturbing documentary (with 48 pages of his own photographs) of life in Britain for a forgotten section of society in the mid-1990s, and a tribute to the resilience of individuals faced with overwhelming odds.

My Love Affair with England
Susan Allen Toth
Though Americans often view England as an extension of the States, Susan Allen Toth knows differently. Where else could badgermania - and Royal mischief - still be taken so seriously? Ms. Toth brings this special England vividly to life as she recalls exploring the countryside, traveling both second-class and in luxury, theatre-hopping, ghost-hunting, and honeymooning. By turns humorous, bittersweet, and wonderfully eccentric, My Love Affair with England will be relished by every Anglophile and by those of us who dream of knowing another country as if it were our own.

A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain
Daniel Defoe
To the tradition of travel writing Daniel Defoe brings a lifetime's experience as businessman, soldier, economic journalist and spy, and his Tour (1724-6) is an invaluable source of social and economic history. But this book is far more than a beautifully writtne guide to Britain just before the industrial revolution, for Defoe possessed a wild, inventive streak that endows his work with astonishing energy and tension, and the Tour is his deeply imaninative response to a brave new economic world.

The Isles
Norman Davies
When did British history begin, and where will it all end? These controversial issues are tackled head-on in Norman Davies' polemical and persuasive survey of the four countries that in modern times have become known as the British Isles. Covering 10 millennia in just over a thousand pages, from "Cheddar Man" to New Labour, Davies shows how relatively recent was the formation of the English state--no earlier than Tudor times--and shows too how a sense of Britishness only emerged with the coming of empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. A historian of Poland and the author of an acclaimed history of Europe, Davies is especially sensitive to the complex mixing and merging of tribes and races, languages and traditions, conquerors and colonised which has gone on throughout British history and which in many ways makes "our island story" much more like that of the rest of Europe than we usually think. Many myths of the English are dispelled in this book and many historians are taken to task for their blinkered Anglo-centrism. But the book ends on an upbeat note, with Davies welcoming Britain's return to the heart of Europe at the dawn of the new millennium.

A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? - 3000 BC - AD 1603 Vol 1
Simon Schama
What do you get when you combine the resources and ethos of the BBC with the literary panache of one of the world's best narrative historians? The answer is Simon Schama's History of Britain, the first volume of which accompanies the BBC television series of the same name. In a beautifully written and thoughtfully crafted book, studded with striking portraits, pictures and maps, Schama, the bestselling author of books on European cultural history such as The Embarrassment of Riches and Citizens, as well as 1999's Rembrandt's Eyes, has managed to be both conventional and provocative. He tells the official version of Britain's island story--from Roman Britain, through the Norman conquest, the struggles of the Henrys and Richards with their bolshie barons and cautious clerics, Edward I and the subjugation of Wales, King Death (the plague), and on to the Henrician reformation, before closing with the remarkable reign of the virgin queen, Elizabeth I. While sticking to a script familiar to anyone who sat up and listened in history lessons at school, Schama brings it all alive, with memorable prose--Simon de Montfort's rebel parliament is described as inaugurating the "union between patriotism and insubordination"; with Henry VIII, Schama says, "you could practically smell the testosterone". And with fine sensitivity too, particularly on the symbolism of buildings, memorials, language and ceremonies, and on the complex relations between England and her Celtic and Catholic neighbours. If history must have gloss, then let it be written and presented like this. -Miles Taylor

A History of Britain: British Wars, 1603-1776 Vol 2
The second volume of Simon Schama's BBC History of Britain: The British Wars, 1603-1776 is a more serious affair than the first. A History of Britain Vol I was free-range history: a fresh and at times iconoclastic survey of more than 1,500 years of the nation's story. Now Schama is more penned in, covering just a century and a half in 500 pages, and mixing it with the cockiest and wisest historians in the farmyard. The ingredients that made the first volume such a spectacular success are still there: highly visual prose, fine informative illustrations, insightful thumbnail sketches of all the leading players and above all a clever interplay between what happened and, often of more significance, what people thought had happened. But this time around Schama also has to weave his way through the complex narrative of the civil war and Protectorate, restoration, "glorious" revolution and establishment of empire. He does so with clarity and wit, but also with admirable sympathy for all the conflicting protagonists--the austere Stuarts, the reluctant hero Cromwell, the cunning Walpole, the gouty Pitt and the thousands of Scots, Irish and American, and the millions of Africans and Indians whose destinies shaped and were shaped by the forging of the British state in these years. Predictably, some history gets left out. Apart from a colourful depiction of Hogarthian London, social and economic history get short shrift, leading Schama, for instance, to imply that the British push to empire was largely the result of a popular addiction to narcotics: tea, coffee and opium. However, Schama's larger story--how a nation that was created out of a titanic struggle for liberty then went on to impose dubious dominion on much of the rest of the world--is told in a masterly and compelling manner. -Miles Taylor

A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire 1776-200 Vol 3
The Fate of Empire brings Simon Schama's stylish and absorbing History of Britain to a stirring close. Of the volumes in the trilogy, The Fate of Empire is the most subjective, as Schama offers his own account of how the British shaped much of the modern world, and in turn were reshaped as a nation and a people by the experience of revolution, empire and war. Unlike the previous volumes, Schama only pays lip-service to the familiar narrative of British history. The great, the good and the unsung are all there--the Lake poets, Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, Mary Seacole, Winston Churchill and George Orwell--but Schama uses them as voices through which a different history of Britain can be heard. Ireland, India, the urban poor, suffragettes and striking miners are all restored to the national story. The emphasis on empire (along with India and Ireland the largest subject-entry in the index) is particularly welcome, although the finest hour of empire--the First World War--is dealt with all too briefly. Along the way Schama reveals himself once more as one of the world's finest cultural historians, with brilliant vignettes on Rousseau in England, the 1851 exhibition, Orwell's complex patriotism and much else, together with original insights on photography, the effect of empire on English vocabulary, and the post-war "colouring" of Britain. For beginners this is an excellent 21st century perspective on modern British history. For connoisseurs it is a refreshing reminder of how little British history the English really know. -Miles Taylor

Lights Out for the Territory
Iain Sinclair
Walking the streets of London, Iain Sinclair traces nine routes across the territory of the capital. Connecting people and places, redrawing boundaries both ancient and modern, reading obscure signs and finding hidden patterns, Sinclair creates a fluid snapshot of the city. In this volume he give us a provocative, enlightening and disturbing picture of modern urban life. And in the process he reveals the dark underbelly of a London many of us did not know existed.

The Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World
Mark Curtis
Curtis reveals a picture of the reality of Britain's role in the world, providing a comprehensive critique of the foreign policies of the Blair government as well as an analysis of British foreign policy since 1945.

Over Here
Raymond Seitz
Over Here does for Great Britain what Alistair Cooke has done for the States. Seitz was US Ambassador to Britain from 1990 to 1994. Unlike the majority of his predecessors he didn't return home, but decided to stay on in the UK. Again, unlike the majority of US Ambassadors, Seitz was not a political appointment, but a career diplomat - and one of the most successful of his generation. Following on from his successful radio 4 series of the same title, Over Here, is about the Transatlantic relationship at every level : Politics, diplomacy, education, language, sports, animals, currency, pomp and circumstance.

The Shorter Pepys
Unequalled for its frankness, high spirits and sharp observations, his diary is both a marvellous slice of seventeeth-century life and an acknwledged literary masterpiece. It is crammed with Pepys's socializing, his amorous entanglements, his theatre-going and music-making, but also includes details of his work at the Navy Board and the official journey to bring Charles II back from The Hague.

Yorkshire Landscapes
Rob Talbot & Robin Whiteman
North Yorkshire has 2000 square miles of remarkabley varied scenery. With the cliffs on the east coast and two national parks, North Yorkshire bosts some the the most stunning scenery in Britain. Talbot and Whiteman provide a unique glimpse of this landscape.

Given the arrival of successive waves of settlers and invaders stretching back over countless millennia, it is not surprising that England has such a rich and eclectic heritage, tradition and culture. Each of the numerous regions within the island is unique and distinguishable: with a spectacular array of scenery from the broads of East Anglia to the fells of the Lake District, from the granite tors in Cornwall to the rolling downs of the south-east. Medieval castles, Roman cities, ruined abbeys and the enormous richness and variety of landscape to be found in England are portrayed as Talbot and Whiteman offer a beautiful and informative insight into the English countryside.

Lakeland Landscapes
The English lake district is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas in Britain. A source of inspiration for both writers and painters, celebrated in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge, the lake district became a popular destination for travellers as early as the 18th century.

Park and Ride: Adventures in Suburbia
Miranda Sawyer
Suburbia has long been a source of fascination for journalists and scholars alike. Award-winning journalist Miranda Sawyer offers her take on the subject in Park and Ride: Adventures in Suburbia. "The car is the key to life in the suburbs", Sawyer announces. "There's not much you can do without it." With that insight in mind, Sawyer takes her readers for a ride from Wilmslow where she grew up ("Wilmslow was a pink jumper, white stilettos kind of a town") to Preston (the most average town in Britain), from York (where she goes in search of Britland) to Romford (Essex's youth and drugs mecca). Sawyer has fun in the suburbs. She explores all kinds of suburban clichˇs--keeping up appearances and kinky sex, DIY and the passion for property. Suburbia is a place Sawyer knows, and the story of her childhood and adolescence there frames this loose commentary on everyday life in Blair's Britain. Sawyer defines suburbia as Middle England. Her travelogue doesn't dwell on the difference between the comforts of semi-detachment and the dreary vision of the suburban council estate. Nor is there much cultural criticism: Park and Ride bears little resemblance to the travels of George Orwell in On the Road to Wigan Pier or to Roger Silverstone's more sober Visions of Suburbia. Nevertheless, this heady mix of suburban confession and eulogy ("the suburbs are stronger than they ever have been," Sawyer concludes) tells its story well. -Vicky Lebeau