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A History of Ancient Britain

4.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  317 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
Who were the first Britons, and what sort of world did they occupy? In A HISTORY OF ANCIENT BRITAIN Neil Oliver turns a spotlight on the very beginnings of the story of Britain; on the first people to occupy these islands and their battle for survival.

There has been human habitation in Britain, regularly interrupted by Ice Ages, for the best part of a million years. The l
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published (first published September 15th 2011)
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Tim Vicary
Dec 19, 2011 Tim Vicary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautiful book. Neil Oliver presented the BBC TV series on this subject, which got me hooked, and he writes wonderfully, with a real enthusiasm and reverence for the subject. There are so many things here I didn't know, about the immense spread of time before written history, the trade and communications throughout this ancient world, their astonishing knowledge of astronomy, mining, and metal work, and much more, all based on archaeological discoveries which becoming more extensive an ...more
Jul 20, 2015 Rob rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Interesting in parts, but some of Oliver's claims about prehistoric culture are dubious, e.g. he explains the rapid spread of farming by assuming that land would have been inherited according to primogeniture in 5000 BC, but asserts no evidence for this. Also it could bear some fact-checking: phases of the moon are not due to the shadow of the earth, as this is only cast on the moon during lunar eclipses, which only happen at full moon.

Francis Pryor's Britain BC is better. More tentative, to be
Jan 06, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is something about Neil Oliver that is completely enthralling. Whether it is watching him weave his magic on the television, or reading his books, his passion for his subject is paramount. His enthusiasm is contagious. His knowledge utterly enviable. He is a fascinating story-teller of tales that are true.

As the written version of the BBC's documentary series of the same name, A History of Ancient Britain is certainly no exception. Although it is quite lengthy and absolutely packed-full of
Will Once
Nov 01, 2015 Will Once rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very well written history of Britain from the earliest humans to the Roman occupation. This is not a dull historical treatise. Neil Oliver is an engaging writer and writes with passion and wit.

I almost dropped a star because he does have a tendency to focus on Scotland too much. Parts of the book almost read like a manifesto for the SNP or a sequel to Braveheart. It felt as if Britain was/is mainly Scotland with irritating neighbours and that the National Anthem was something by the Pr
Mar 29, 2012 Camilla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
A History of Ancient Britain is nothing less than a thoughtful, fascinating and enlivening account of life in ancient Britain, starting way back with the ice ages and leading up to the time of the Romans. Neil Oliver reveals the incredible extent of the layers of human occupation of Britain, referring to 'deep time' as the sense of the massive history that lies beneath us all. All through the book I found myself wanting to mark pages that mentioned places I'd love to go and see, or go and look u ...more
Nov 24, 2011 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Saw this in Waterstone's in Oxford, and didn't buy it then (a mistake, since it's not available yet in bookstores here, nor on Kindle!). I recognized the horse from our visits in and around the country surrounding Stonehenge and Avebury, when we sought out Uffington to get a glimpse of the chalk horse. I have developed an interest in pre-Roman and Roman Britain, which this book covers. Luckily, UChicago library had a copy, and I'm enjoying Mr. Oliver's very readable (if a little fanciful) accoun ...more
Lillian Carl
Apparently it's the tie-in book to a BBC series, which I'd now love to see, even though no TV show could approach the depth Oliver brings to his book.

He does an excellent job of presenting the Ice Age, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age---all the way up to the Roman presence in Britain---even as he points out how artificial is the concept of "ages". He speculates on what ancient man (and woman) may have been thinking, even as he admits no one could possibly know. He writes beautiful passages teeming
Marit Nathalie
Jun 18, 2014 Marit Nathalie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone remotely interested in history
This book is even better than A history of Scotland, in terms of his infectious enthusiasm and vast knowledge of the subject shining through even brighter.
This is world history viewed and analysed from a well placed rock in Scotland.- He manages to not bog the reader down in minute technical detail meant for his fellow archeologists. Instead one is invited to take part in his fascination with everything from stone tools to Roman villas and the mere fact that we're are here at all, and all the t
Feb 17, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2013
Neil Oliver is proving to be a historian of some note. The tie in TV series of the same name was excellent, and the book maintains that.

It covers the periods of history from the Mesolithic to the Romans, covered in relatively broad brush strokes whist having enough detail to captivate.

A must read for history fans.
Wallowing Hippo
Dec 20, 2015 Wallowing Hippo is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Andrew Uys
May 26, 2015 Andrew Uys rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic read for any history buffs, Neil Oliver brings such a wit and charm that it gives the book the feel of chatting with one of your mates in the pub.

The book covers quite an extensive period of history, at least for us humans, but Mr. Oliver nicely weaves the drier records & historical records with his adventures visiting these often remote archaeological sites. Maybe not quite Indiana Jones, Neil Oliver is still quite a gifted writer, and this book goes nicely with his next book "V
Mike Lowndes
Jun 09, 2016 Mike Lowndes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Surprised by this book.
Expecting another generic ancient history TV tie-in, but got a compelling narrative, well balanced and deep enough for me (plus Google) - looking at the latest research without getting too contentious. Very well written.
Fades a little as you reach Roman times I guess because Neil seems to relish earlier ages: 'Copper/Bronze Age' especially well covered here, though the whole 'age' thing is of course questioned. I do feel I understand the Ancient British much better now a
Sep 11, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did find some of the pre-history interesting. But what I really enjoy in reading ancient history is what conclusions can be ascertained from artifacts found. It didn't go real strongly into that - just sometimes mentioned alternate theories and picked one. It is the transcript of a televised series, so it may have been more effective with the visuals.
Ed Martin
Sep 17, 2015 Ed Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-factual
A well-written and engaging overview of British history based on archaeological finds up to the end of the Roman period. My only criticism is that Oliver sometimes has a tendency to get caught up in flights of fancy based on speculation rather than evidence, but overall this is a good read.
Oct 10, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved this book. Picked it up out of a desire to know more about prehistory and couldn't put it down. It is a very accessible book for people who know nothing of the subject and is written in a very easy to grasp manner without talking down to the reader.

A perfect starter book.
Mar 26, 2015 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wordy, engaging, entertaining. Oliver writes in a way that is generous to others and their ideas; I really appreciate that approach. He gets away from the incredibly scholarly and writes about the early history of britain, via everything coming up out of the ground.
Sep 09, 2013 Marina marked it as unfinished  ·  review of another edition
When I got this book I was looking forward to read the ancient history of britain, for which I knew few things. Ok, only one thing, Stonehenge. But this book failed to keep my attention.

The author describes everything in a way like he assumes that we know about all the things he talks, just that he gives a more clear interpretation. The style of the book seems more like a documentary script. It is easy to imagine the author walking around the monuments he describes. But still, everytime he star
Pam Shelton-anderson
The writing and research were a very solid 4.5 stars. The author digressed at times, though these tangents were very interesting. His writing style was great, very lyrical and so descriptive that I was easily able to imagine the scenes that he described. He clearly is immersed in his subject and was a very hands-on archaeologist. He went to areas of interest, touched artifacts and because this made these ancient peoples very real to him, he made them very real to me as well. These ancient people ...more
Oct 04, 2015 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and well presented information, and at the same time hugely engaging. The book really captured your imagination regarding our ancient ancestors and their lives.

A really good read for anyone interested in history.
Sep 10, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Archeologists are detectives par excellence. This book reveals so much that they have discovered - and are still discovering - about our earliest times, and Neil Oliver presents these discoveries to us in such a way that we feel part of the process. For me, the culmination of all this history is the clear picture it gives of how the British character has evolved, patted into its present shape by history and geography. Concurrent with that thread is the story of the independence of the Scots - e
Arnout Brokking
Feb 04, 2012 Arnout Brokking rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Verdict: 4 ludwigs

BBC-presenter Neil Oliver, you know the long-haired lout with the thick Scottish accent, takes you along for a fascinating and enthralling ride through the (pre)history of Britain.

Why should you read it?

Not only are the facts and cases presented super-interesting, but Oliver's enthusiasm and passion for the subject shines through every paragraph. A joy to read, it will make you want to visit Britain. Like right now!

Why should you not read it?

If you're not interested in human hi
Karen Mcgrail
Nov 27, 2015 Karen Mcgrail rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not usually an ancient history fan, but picked this up at the Stonehenge gift made an exception. It was fascinating and easy to read. Can recommend to those who are novice archeologists.
Gail Amendt
Mar 26, 2013 Gail Amendt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book to provide some background and context to some historical fiction I am planning to read in the near future. Being Canadian, I have little knowledge of ancient and Roman Britain, and felt I needed to do some research before attempting to read about Boudicca and the Romans. This book is full of fascinating information, and the author's passion for the subject matter is obvious. He has managed to make what could be very dry information very readable. Even so, I found it slow going ...more
An excellent, extremely readable book with a real human touch where often there is only data and theory. A lot of emphasis is put on transitions between periods and many key sites are discussed within this framework giving a very pleasing and coherent overview. Others reviewers have noted a Scottish flavour to the work in the archaeology discussed and I agree, but found it interesting and in no way a detraction from the overal work. Wonderful. My only gripe would be the choice of photo plates an ...more
Aug 01, 2014 Dc96 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating insights into where we've come from.
Mark Ashkowski
Stylish but lacking substance.
Stuart Foster
Apr 01, 2014 Stuart Foster rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. Very readable
Mar 22, 2013 M.h. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone interested in history and England
This book was a guess, and it turned out to be so much more than an average good guess.
I had never expected a non-fiction book to be entrancing, or remotely page-turning-like, but this one defenitely was.Did you know that when the Celts started their rituals among the towering trilithons of Stonehenge, the monument was already ancient too them? Neither did I.
If you are interested in the history of Britain before the Anglo-Saxons invaded the country (yelling "hwaet" and hurling axes) this is the
Jan 13, 2013 Misssharice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History fans
Recommended to Misssharice by: A bookstore
A great read. It really made me think about how Britain was shaped. Some elements of it made me a bit panicky - I don't like the subject of death and a book concerned about centuries and centuries of ancestors, burials, bones and killings didn't make for easy bedtime reading for me. That aside, I was fascinated to learn more about ice age Britain, a tsunami that wiped out most of the island's inhabitants, the mystery behind Stonehenge and so much more.
John Mayers
I learned a lot beyond what I expected when I started this book. For the most part the book read well. However, given the topic and the author a well know archeologist, there were sections that were tough slogging. As might be expected, the prehistoric periods were tougher reads than the Roman period and not being British, you need google earth to follow along. But if you are curious about Western Civilization this is a good read.
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Neil Oliver is a Scottish archaeologist, historian, broadcaster and writer who has become widely known as the presenter of BBC television's series A History of Scotland and Coast.

His first fiction novel, Master of Shadows, is published by Orion in September 2015.

He lives in Stirling with his wife and three children.
More about Neil Oliver...

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“Ginger people! D'you know what they are? Our aborigines ... that's what! GINGERIGINES! Look at 'em ... they were 'ere first. All this is theirs!
Al Murray, Pub Landlord”
“Key to their deeper understanding is the coinage. When some numismatists look at the coins circulating in Britain in the middle of the first century BC, they spot a clean break. After the Roman invasion of 54 BC the old Celtic coins disappear and are replaced with new – suggesting one hierarchy had been replaced by another. In his wonderfully readable Britannia: The Creation of a Roman Province, John Creighton identifies three ways in which the new coins differ from the old. Firstly there is an abrupt change in the familiar depictions of a human head on one side and a horse on the other. After Caesar’s time in Britain, the imagery suddenly mimics that of coins minted in Gaul. The second change is in the amount of gold in gold coins: where once the gold content was highly variable, suddenly it became carefully regulated and consistent. Thirdly, says Creighton, hoards featuring both old and new coinages are rare – making it likely that the old coins were withdrawn and replaced wholesale by the new version. ‘The combination of these three changes in the gold coinage, all happening at the same time, suggests a radical restructuring of the political arrangement of south-east Britain at this date, even though otherwise in the archaeology we see little alteration,’ he wrote. ‘A recoinage across all of south-east Britain required the mobilisation of a significant degree of power or authority.’ Creighton infers the ‘radical restructuring of the political arrangement’ went further than just issuing new coins. He believes the Romans also installed two Gallic aristocrats as kings of two new territories, one south of the Thames and one in the east.” 0 likes
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