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Great Tales from English History, Vol 1

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  931 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
With insight, humor and fascinating detail, Lacey brings brilliantly to life the stories that made England--from Ethelred the Unready to Richard the Lionheart, the Venerable Bede to Piers the Ploughman.
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published June 3rd 2004 by Little, Brown and Company
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Community Reviews

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Some highlights:

* Why do so few post-ice-age ancient human remains survive? Some archaeologists say it’s because relatives ate them.

* The Greek navigator Pytheas “almost certainly sailed around the [British] islands and was the first to describe the shape of Britain as a wonky triangle.”

* Early feminist hero: King Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, who built ten walled communities and captured Derby and Leicester from the Vikings. Maybe celebrities will start naming their girl
Jul 09, 2012 Jackie rated it really liked it
History is always more interesting when it's told as a story, and Lacey approaches his topic from exactly that angle. He presents the history of England in a series of short vignettes, each focusing on an individual. Most of these individuals actually existed, but Lacey isn't afraid to tackle legendary personalities as well, with known facts contrasted against the legends and the impact those legends had.

Having so recently emerged from reading the latest two volumes of George RR Martin's Song of
This was a very accessible volume. The book is divided into short stories, chronologically for the most part, about the characters that make history. Legend is treated firmly, but sympathetically, and everywhere that primary sources can be quoted they certainly are.

I found this book both entertaining and informative. The bibliography in the back was quite extensive, and I was rather happy to see that it included some of the books that I've been using for reference.

I'd recommend this to anyone w
Cynthia Egbert
Apr 14, 2014 Cynthia Egbert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own-and-read
I cannot recommend these three volumes of work highly enough. History really is about the stories, in the end.
Stephanie (
Review @

Last summer, while staying in a friend's apartment, I happened upon this book. Since I didn't finish it while there, I purchased my own copy of this fun and fascinating read. Okay, I can see you already searching for the phone number of the man with the net to come get me. A history book? Is she mad? Didn't we suffer enough in school? Believe me, I know, but before you make that call, hear me out, because this book has everything your 7th-grade history class lacked:
Mar 02, 2011 Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought a copy of Great Tales From English History because having been a resident of this fine land for 4.5 years I felt my historical knowledge was lacking. I've walked past Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square countless times but had no real idea what he actually did apart from "something to do with Napoleon". You can't sneeze in this country without hitting a street, building or tree named after Queen Victoria or Prince Albert but again, what were they? And why do the French hate the English ...more
Alex Dolan
Jun 19, 2015 Alex Dolan rated it it was amazing
This book has taught be fascinating insights into iconic moments in English history. For example:

A female warrior queen, Boadicea, fought against the Romans when they came to England. She is rumored to be buried under platform 10 at King's Cross station, which is why JK Rowling had the Hogwarts Express depart at platform nine and three-quarters.

Readers can learn the interesting truths behind Lady Godiva, Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart, all written in funny and fluid prose. A great example
Jul 16, 2013 Beorn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Basic, entry level fodder that parrots clichéd, often widely disproved false truths and generally adds nothing to the canon.
If you got this book for free and know nothing about history, feel free to read.
If you know the slightest bit about European/British history and aren't a simpleton, don't waste your time.
Feb 05, 2017 Mo marked it as put-aside-for-now
Since it has been 2 years since I have even looked at this book, I am pretty sure that I am done with it! (It must not have been all that interesting!)
Nov 03, 2013 Crstevenson76 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed every moment of this quick little read! The Anglophile in me couldn't put it down. Lots of fascinating historical tidbits in here.
Sep 27, 2010 Serenity rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book. It was light, but entertaining.
May 11, 2017 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this over a couple of months, dipping in every now and then for little nuggets of enjoyment. This is not a serious history book in the sense that the facts of a period of time or historical event is explored in great depth, these are as the title says 'tales', which includes fact and fiction. It's not just the history that makes up the a nation's consciousness, but also the myths and tall tales that are interwoven in with the facts.
Good fun!
May 27, 2017 Peter rated it really liked it
A very enjoyable and informative read. It doesn't go into enormous detail, as the chapters are generally quite short, but it's up to the reader to expand their reading on any areas of particular interest. But as a succinct overview, it works well.
Sep 12, 2015 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been slowly making my way through this history for about 6 months ago, and though I haven't finished it, I think it's safe to say that I've read enough to write a review.

"Great Tales from English History" is a brief history of England from circa 7150 BCE to 1953. Rather than write a traditional history, though, Lacey pulls out notable or interesting stories from England's colorful past. These stories are anywhere from a paragraph to 3-4 pages, allowing Lacy to give an overview of notable pe
John Briggs
Jul 20, 2014 John Briggs rated it really liked it
This book is history by vignette, a compliment that should be understood from the title. Extremely lengthy books have been written about some of the people and topics Mr. Lacey covers here in just a few short pages. These are "tales" of history, slices that give a lightning quick background on its subjects. Oftentimes I found myself wanting to know more about a subject, but I don't hold that against the author -- theses slices of history are meant to provide quick insights into the great figures ...more
Christaaay - Christy Luis Reviews
What a fun read!

About: Lacey lays out short, informative tales from c. 7150 BC all the way up to AD 1381 in this first of three volumes. Every story is packed with detail and carefully presented to be interesting and inspiring for the casual reader (like me :) ). In fact, the book more of an episodic, fun version of early English history than a book of tales, although there were certainly mythological elements discussed in many chapters.

My Favorite Parts: (1) Lacey described each ruler’s perso
Jan 29, 2012 IOSEPHVS BIBLIOTHECARIVS rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, 2007, 2016
When I first saw this book I knew it had potential; to me, presentation has a lot to do with my overall love for a book and this one is beautiful. After checking it out from the West Jordan library when I worked there, I found Mr. Lacey's writing to be exciting, interesting, and informative. In 2007, I set to reading the whole thing and I'm glad I did. The book presents short stories about moments from English history that you may or may not have heard of.

From the introduction: "Brief though ea
Jul 24, 2014 Paula rated it liked it
A collection of fairly short and interesting essays covering the very early history of the British Isles, from c.7150 BC to AD 1351. Lacey takes up the stories and myths revolving around Lady Godiva, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Thomas Beckett among many others and debunks, illuminates, or clarifies these stories. Before reading this book I knew almost nothing about this time in early British history.

What I learned: that England was repeatedly invaded by Danes, and had at least one Danish king,
Mar 13, 2014 Sonya rated it it was amazing
Even though I have read many books on medieval England, I still found this work to be quite informative. It was written to entertain as well as educate, which it did. It covers a huge span of time but it didn't feel like he skipped major events. It included snippets of primary sources as well. While reading, one learns about the origins of King Arthur, how the Bayeux Tapestry changed over the years, who invented our current dating system (using A.D.), and who Robin Hood could have been. The mona ...more
Though this book is nothing more than a short, concise overview of English history from the prehistory until 1381 AD, I still had a blast reading this. Sure, the history isn't really spoken of in an in-depth way, but then I'm sure you shouldn't expect that if you see the magnitude of events that Lacey tries to cover in a relatively thin book!

It's not a dry book. It's funny, full of interesting little details. There's something here for everyone. As an orientation for English history, it is very
Daryn Hardy
Jun 24, 2012 Daryn Hardy rated it liked it
A straight forward telling in short vignettes of characters and events from early history to late medieval times in Britain. The book is probably aimed at an American teen audience, but having said that I did learn a few little nuggets I didn't know about my home country, such as 'Elmer, the Flying Monk', leaping off the top of his abby and gliding 200m before crashing, many more centuries before the Wright Bros. efforts at manned flight. A good book to dip into if you have a few minutes to kill ...more
Tim Ward
Oct 04, 2012 Tim Ward rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Really enjoyed this quick romp. A serious alternative to 1066 and All That. Useful and entertaining if you've read quite a bit of popular English history, but wouldn't mind a quick check to see where you might like to explore next, and has a vast list of further reading in the back. It's a real skate through. Queen Elizabeth the 1st and both World Wars get only an anecdote or two. But the panorama of gradually decreasing cruelty (from an extraordinarily repellent start) and lust for power is abs ...more
Apr 21, 2014 Isabel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a non-fictional account of British history from the beginnings until the decoding of the DNA in 1953. Instead of a linear recapitulation of Britain's history, it's more of a telling of short episodes in its history. Flashlights into the past, so to speak.

I was given this book recently. I love English history up until Edwardian times. So almost all of the book was interesting and fun to read. But then, just on cue, the first story I read which I did not like that much was from 1912... Fo
Jan 31, 2008 Adrienne rated it it was amazing
I read this every year. I will read it to my children. Lacey has everything it takes to be a great historian. Belief in God, but willing to point out flaws in the Catholic church. Love of his country, but able to condemn its tyrants. I think my favorite thing about this book is its theme that individuals can make a great difference in the course of history. Whether its philosophy, religion, government or art, this book chronicles some of the most important figures of early England. He writes sho ...more
Feb 20, 2012 Abigail rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I've already read the other books in Lacey's series, but I'd somehow missed the first one. Finally got to it. This series is great for getting people into English history. The stories are kept pretty short and offer a good entry point. There are references and suggested titles for further reading if you're interested in a specific story. I read a lot of historical fiction and nonfiction set in medieval England, so I knew most of these stories already, but it's also a good refresher course if you ...more
Jul 30, 2016 Colleen rated it it was amazing
What an absolutely fun book! Each chapter is only two or three or four pages long, just little slices of English history. A great deal of the fun came from the etymology notations. I learned something on every page I turned.
Obviously none of this is an in depth history of any particular person or event, just tales from one war, one myth sorted out, one special day or night, or how someone got in or out of big trouble. It turns out there are more of these books! I can't wait to get my hands on th
Jeni Enjaian
This book was exactly what I needed after Gettysburg. I loved the British narrator and the fact that it was narrated by the author.
I also enjoyed the format. It was perfect for how I normally read audiobooks. (I tend to get interrupted.) Listening to this audiobook made me want to book a trip right now. (All books about England usually have the same effect.) I enjoyed this book tremendously and wish that the other audiobooks I had checked out from the library had been in better condition so I c
Feb 13, 2012 Adrienne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to learn more about Engligh history but you don't know where to start, this is the perfect book. It starts at 7000 B.C and ends at 1953, chronicling the most famous English people and their stories. As an English history nut, I really appreciated this book. It was comprehensive yet simple and was a great sampling of other pieces of English history I hadn't yet thought to look for yet aloe found.
Joe Frank
Mar 08, 2015 Joe Frank rated it it was amazing
This is a terrific collection of the stories of England's history, from the pre-Roman days up through the fourteenth century, presented in concise chapters that are easily digestible for an outsider who didn't grow up with English folklore. As with any history, context is crucial, and certain bits must be taken with a grain of salt. However, Lacey does a admirable job of distinguishing fact from myth.

A great introduction to English history for the uninitiated.
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English History list of Novels 1 5 Jun 04, 2015 02:26PM  
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Robert Lacey is a British historian noted for his original research, which gets him close to - and often living alongside - his subjects. He is the author of numerous international bestsellers.

After writing his first works of historical biography, Robert, Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Ralegh, Robert wrote Majesty, his pioneering biography of Queen Elizabeth II. Published in 1977, Majesty remains
More about Robert Lacey...

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