Robert Tombs’s new book is not long: 165 pages of argument, unadorned by maps or images. But brevity is good, and we pick it up expecting much insight, because its predecessor was so wonderful. In The English and Their History (2015), Tombs, a scholar of French, not English, history, boldly saw the wood where specialists saw only the trees. Surely, he said, England should have a history of its own. The election had just signalled that England-and-Wales might soon be a separate polity for the first time since 1707.
Tombs delivered a timely and gripping investigation of this land, so filled with marks of continuity, yet prone to occasional, apparently inexplicable, bouts of implosion. England was ‘normally peaceful and well governed; but if things went wrong, they went terribly wrong.