By Andrew Hager, Historian-in-residence
PPM Picks is a weekly feature offering film, book, or music recommendations from our staff. The links provided in the article go to product listings on Amazon. Purchases made using these links support the Presidential Pet Museum. That said, we were not paid to review or promote any of the items mentioned. We just legitimately like them.
When I visited the Tower of London in the summer of 2015, I was greatly intrigued. Not just by the gruesome tales of torture and beheadings, mind you, but by the Beefeaters who served as tour guides. Ours was particularly lively.
“Any Americans here?” he asked at the outset. A few of us raised our hands.
“If you had paid your taxes, all this could be yours!”
He then asked if any of us had studied American History. I raised my hand. At the time, I was a social studies teacher.
“That took you what, two hours? You’re about to find out what history really means.”
All jokes aside, he’s not incorrect. Coming from a land where “old” means two hundred years ago, I found it hard to fathom artifacts and architecture dating back to the twelfth century. English history can be daunting, a seemingly endless parade of depraved monarchs, bloody conquest, and political betrayal that somehow resulted in a modern culture of stiff upper lips, quiet dignity, and tea.
Fortunately, then, we have Lacey Baldwin Smith’s aptly titled English History Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable, which cover nearly two millennia in fewer pages than J. K. Rowling needs to describe a semester at Hogwarts. Those of us with a cursory knowledge of the United Kingdom learn a great deal, quickly and without succumbing to boredom.
Of particular interest to me was the final chapter, which examines the reign of every British monarch in brief, providing lots of historical gossip in the process. Myths are punctured, legends are replaced with the (often more interesting) truth. If your knowledge of English monarchs comes from Shakespeare and Hollywood, this may surprise and delight you.