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A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900

1 rating: 5.0
A book released February 6, 2007 by Andrew Roberts

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Author: Andrew Roberts
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Published: February 6, 2007
1 review about A History of the English-Speaking Peoples...

Fundamental decency

  • Feb 5, 2011
You may approach Roberts simultaneously vast and dense subject with some trepidation, as I did until I realized that my concern over such a potentially pejorative title reflected my unlettered ignorance, not Roberts' unprincipled linguistic imperialism.  I was quickly shamed to realize that in fact Roberts book is intended to serve as a companion to and continuation of Winston Churchill's four-volume history of the English-speaking peoples up to 1900, and thus stands on firm historical ground.

At the turn of the 20th century, the English-speaking peoples are defined this way in a letter that Roberts quotes (p. 6):

Local freedom around a common center (British crown)
Common interests expressed as a common law
Common language expressed in a common literature
Shaped by common Christianity

While his argument is not primarily financial (these statistics make their appearance on p. 574), Roberts' reports a startling fact that cements his argument about the solidarity, ascendance, and beneficence of English-speaking people's very well:  The gross economic worth of the world's population whose first or second language is English is almost four times that of the next language group (Japanese), and larger than that of the rest of the world combined.  

In fact, Roberts posits two key drivers of the political, military, cultural, and financial ascencance of the 20th-century English-speaking peoples--open capital markets ruled by law, and technical superiority in aviation (beginning in the first half) and computer/information technology (in the second half).  The motivator that projects these superiorities onto history:  individual freedom, applied with moral and ethical moorings, to personal benefit.  

Sure, there have been times when the English-speaking peoples have been stupid, self-seeking, isolationist, war-mongering, terroristic, fascistic, and evil, as Roberts points out along the way.  But he also takes pains to point and and correct mistaken perceptions of anti-English historical, political, and nationalistic motivation:  far more often the English-speaking peoples have been smart and  ethical in their actions, defending peace, prosperity, and respect for peoples and law that benefits every nation and language group on earth.  If you are inclined toward socialism, communism, or anti-British/-American feelings of any political or cultural stripe you should read and study Roberts closely to understand and hopefully agree with some if not most of his arguments, but you will most likely not--and most likely not like much of what you read if you do.  Roberts' arguments may seem profoundly conservative and pro-British or pro-American at times, but they are so well-argued and validated that it is hard to admit other than that he is in the main correct.   His Britishness comes through most clearly as he points with quiet pride to the high-water mark of British world domination (the moment the German fleet was scuttled at the end of The Great War), and a quiet sense of loss at the point of ascendancy of America in the "Special Relationship" (1943 planning for the European invasion).

Another simple but profound observation Roberts makes (which I have observed first hand on business trips into the UK) is a side effect of the disintegration and moving apart of the British Commonwealth nations and the movement of the UK into the European Union: while former European enemies who faced each other on battlefields in two great world wars go through the faster lines with less scrutiny set aside for the European union, allies from Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth nations who fought side-by-side on those same battlefields stand in the slower lines with greater scrutiny reserved for immigration from other countries.  Yes, that may be a small thing, but it is a powerful reminder of lost solidarity and common purpose amongst the English-speaking people to the detriment of all the world's nations and people.

With such broad scope, Roberts narrative is not a day-by-day or even country-by-country history,  and at times seems to resort to headline-scanning and quick-cut editing to move the narrative along to keep its mass down to a book that can be printed in one volume and still be held in the hand!  Roberts constructs his main narrative around the four main threats to the English-speaking peoples:  Prussian militarism in World War I, Fascist aggression in World War II, Soviet Communism in the Cold War, and Islamic Fundamentalism in the war against the West that began in the 1990s and reached its high-water mark with the September 11 attacks.   While the English-speaking peoples lead the battle against all of these threats and defeated them, in this last battle Roberts says that "the English-speaking peoples' fundamental decency was allowed to compromise their safety."   

Roberts thesis, and whether you agree with it, can be neatly summed up in his use of the argument without quotes of irony or sarcasm around it.

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