1066 And all that


It is always risky to say, "This is one of the funniest books ever written" because this immediately raises the risk of raising overly high expectations. The risk is all the greater when the book was first published in 1930. On the other hand, it is one of the funniest books ever written. Its authors describe it as A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates.

Their premise is simple. The tone of the book is set in the Compulsory Preface (This Means You), which begins, Histories have previously been written with the object of exalting their authors. The object of this history is to console the reader. No other history does this. History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember. .All other history defeats itself.

Chapter 1 begins, The first date in English History is 55 B.C., in which year Julius Caesar (the memorable Roman Emperor) landed, like all other successful invaders of these islands, at Thanet. This was in the Olden Days, when the Romans were top nation on account of their classical education, etc. A footnote adds, For the other date see Chapter 11, William the Conqueror.

Thereafter it's a wonderful mixture of stuff you remember, stuff you half remember, and stuff you don't remember at all but which sounds rather like all the worst history books you were forced to read at school, such as how the Romans defeated the Ancient Britons "by unfair means, including battering rams, tortoises, hippocausts, centipedes, axes and bundles". For those whose memories of Latin (or at least, Roman history) are not what they were, a tortoise or testudo was a way of carrying the shields in battle; hypocausts were underfloor heating; centipedes call to mind centurions, commanders of (theoretically) 100 men; and axes and bundles were the fasces, symbol of power.Thereafter the book is a canter through, well, everything you can remember, and a few things you can't. You can download a PDF (taken from a copy in Delhi University Library) but it's worth buying a proper paper edition if you can get it: it's still in print.

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