An Utterly Impartial History of Britain

Written by John O’Farrell
Review by Doug Kemp

This is essentially 1066 and All That for the 21st century. John O’Farrell, who is better known for his Guardian articles and novels of modern life, has written a racy and humorous history of Britain from the pre-Roman Celtic tribes to 1945. This is a great deal of ground to cover in less than 500 pages, and though the content is necessarily somewhat sketchy at times, it is also an entertaining and very funny read, with the style of understated, ironic, Bill Bryson-type humour that is now so popular. Most of the old chestnuts of history are covered and a few nuggets of interesting facts are cast around. The author’s political left wing views emerge regularly, and occasionally there is an annoying righteousness and smug superiority that finds easy targets in instances of what seem to us from the vantage point of today to be historical stupidity, cruelty and obtuseness. This is a good book, though, to get a reluctant teenager reading history.