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In this book, Linda Colley recounts how a new British nation was invented in the wake of the Act of Union between England and Wales and Scotland in 1707. She describes how a succession of major wars with Catholic France, culminating in the conflict with Napoleon, served as both a threat and a tonic, forcing the diverse peoples of this Protestant culture into a closer union and reminding them of what they had in common. She also shows how their world-wide empire gave men and women from different ethnic and social backgrounds a powerful incentive to be British. In the process, she not only demonstrates how an over-arching British identity came to be superimposed onto much older regional and national identities but she also illuminates why it is that these same older identities - be it Scottishness or Welshness or Englishness or regionalism of one kind or another - have reemerged and become far more important in the late 20th century. The aspirations and ambitions of individual Britons form an integral part of Colley's story. She supplies vignettes of well-known heros and politicians such as Horatio Nelson and William Pit the Younger, patriots such as Thomas Coram and John Wilkes and artists and writers who helped forge our image of Britishness - William Hogarth, David Wilkie, J.M.W. Turner, Charlotte Bronte, Benjamin West and Walter Scott. Drawing on paintings, plays, cartoons, diaries, almanacs, sermons and songs she also brings to life an array of men and women who have previously been left out of the historical record, from the British army officers to working men and women. Throughout, she analyzes patriotism rather than assuming its existence and shows it to have been a diverse and often rational phenomenon.
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'It was Colley's clinical analysis of the political and cultural construction of 18th-century Britain which did so much to kick-start our debate about national identity. The clarity of her prose and cohesiveness of her argument remain bewitching.' Tristram Hunt, BBC History Magazine. 'Controversial, entertaining and alarmingly topical... Not only scholarly, but witty, lively and a delight to read. A book that could hardly present complex and challenging argument with greater lucidity and grace.' Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph. 'A very ambitious book.... The general reader cannot fail to enjoy it and the professional historian will be stimulated by it.' J. H. Plumb, Financial Times. 'A book written with such gusto and verve that even a non-academic reader drives through its pages with ease.' Angela Lambert, Independent. 'A remarkable amount of light is shed upon current and coming events by this new study of that elusive thing, the nation... A lavishly researched and illustrated narrative.' J. Enoch Powell, Spectator. 'In this brilliant book... Dr. Colley tells this story with scholarly punctilio, yet also with the brio of an historian who has something serious to say. Time and time again, the arresting connection or the startling detail makes one see familiar ground from a new perspective... It is a rich and stimulating work, which uses illustrations, mainly the cartoons and portraits of the day, with more precise and telling point than any history book I can remember.' Hugo Young, The Guardian. 'A forceful and eloquent analysis of the 'subject, no citizen' mind-set which bound the English, Scots and Welsh together. Impressive prose, and sharp interpretation of visual material, compelled assent.' Christopher Harvie, Times Literary Supplement. 'Challenging, fascinating, enormously well informed.' John Barrell, London Review of Books --BBC History Magazine, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Independent, Spectator, The Guardian, TLS, LRBAbout the Author:
Linda Colley is Shelby M. C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University.
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