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Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination
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Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  422 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
With his characteristic enthusiasm and erudition, Peter Ackroyd follows his acclaimed London: A Biography with an inspired look into the heart and the history of the English imagination. To tell the story of its evolution, Ackroyd ranges across literature and painting, philosophy and science, architecture and music, from Anglo-Saxon times to the twentieth-century. Consider ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published November 9th 2004 by Anchor (first published 2002)
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Dec 08, 2012 Aneece rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: criticism-essay
Irresponsible, scattershot cultural criticism. The book is vaguely chronological, and composed of discrete essays on a theme. This suits Ackroyd's discursive, wayward style; even when he wanders off on a tangent, he can only go as far as the end of the essay. The level of criticism varies from illuminating and insightful, to the equivalent of jumping up and down in front of a monument and pointing. Even then, he's usually pointing at something worthy of attention.

Here's an example of him at his
Albion traces ideas, images and patterns across the centuries to consider what it means to be English. Any Anglophile will enjoy the many and varied cultural references linked within Ackroyd's dense but fascinating text. Beginning and ending with Englishmen I admire (historian the Venerable Bede (d. 735) and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (d. 1958)), these two disparate personalities were brought together in one memorable statement:
"The embrace of present and past time, in which English antiqu
Although I was initially unsure of whether I would enjoy reading this book or not, I think it was a very intriguing and thought-provoking read. I can see how some people may not like the text - I myself would not have picked this up if it hadn't been required for my British Studies minor - but I'd recommend this to anyone genuinely interested in English culture, including the literature, architecture, art, language, and history of the country.

What I liked:

Ackroyd identified numerous qualities o
Brian Willis
Jun 20, 2016 Brian Willis rated it it was amazing
Depending upon the subject matter, Ackroyd can be hit or miss with me. He can go off on the windiest of tangents, some of which can be blindingly boring or mildly interesting. Although I mostly enjoyed London and Thames, there were broad sections of the book that I struggled to get through to get to the parts that interested me.

Albion is not such a book since I am an impassioned Anglican culturalist. Although this book focuses heavily on pre-20th century English culture, it makes such fervid and
Aug 28, 2015 Leslie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2015
The sweeping generalizations here are often absurd in their sweepingness, and anyone who considers Tom Jones's journey to London a "pilgrimage" has either misread the book or misused the word. Good tidbits here and there, but it added up to a rather tiresome, overwrought whole, I thought.
Steve Luttrell
Mar 17, 2009 Steve Luttrell rated it it was amazing
1) There's been a continuity of themes running through English imaginative works since Caedmon was in office.
2) English imaginative works are made up of everybody else's.
Mar 15, 2012 Michael rated it it was amazing
I will admit it: there were many references and various other things that I simply "did not get", not having been as studied as Peter Ackroyd in English history.

However, instead of this putting me off of the book, it whetted my appetite, if you will, leaving me to realize how much there is to be known about the cultural history of this great nation.

The author knows what he is talking about; the sources, authors, events, places etc. mentioned as well as the extensive bibliography in the back of
Hashim Alsughayer
Jan 17, 2014 Hashim Alsughayer rated it really liked it
I got to say that after spending four years studying English literature, coming back to this wonderful subject was a refreshing thing to do. I'm a huge fan of Ackroyd's work and got used to his writing style, one that does not necessarily relate to any chronological methods.

This books simply provides only a taste of what scholars consider the English Imagination to be. From the Romantic's point of view to even the Victorians, Ackroyd discusses them all and showcases what different Englishmen (if
Feb 18, 2013 Colin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An overpoweringly vast and windy account of the entirety of English culture.
Emma  Kaufmann
Aug 08, 2008 Emma Kaufmann rated it it was ok
Ackroyd is obviously very knowledgable on his subject but why does he present this tome in such a turgid manner. Reads like an achingly dull PhD thesis.
Feb 07, 2013 Alec rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was going to rate this one three stars for its glaring lack of attention to the twentieth century, but it convinced me to start learning Old English. Begrudging fourth star, hmph.

Ackroyd's goal is to trace the continuity of various key elements of "the English imagination". While the book presents plenty of fascinating ideas and opinions, and both its depth and its breadth satisfied me, I feel like Ackroyd pulled his punch, big time. The changes of the twentieth century offered plenty of chall
Candy Wood
The publisher labels this book "History" on the back cover, with a blurb on the front calling it cultural anthropology. While it's certainly not a chronological history of the English imagination, it draws primarily on literary history, making all sorts of intriguing (even if forced) connections. As the subtitle, "The Origins of the English Imagination," suggests, there's more about the Anglo-Saxons and the medieval period than later times--like many history professors, Ackroyd barely gets to th ...more
Apr 17, 2010 A rated it it was ok
A lot of research clearly went into this book, which aims to trace various subjects and motifs throughout 1000 years of British art, literature, and music. This intriguing premise, however, outstrips its end result, which is superficial and verges on circular logic. A fair summary of the book might be something like "Britons are influenced by the sea, and appreciate alliteration, and experience the other-wordly, and enjoy contrasts, and oh gardens are great too! Since always! Because it's Englan ...more
Sep 19, 2007 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2007
This book has a format similar to another book I read more recently: "The New Spaniards" by John Hooper - a collection of short chapters, each devoted to a specific aspect of "the English Imagination"/"Spanish life", respectively. The success of Hooper's book, in which each chapter was fascinating in its own right, only serves to emphasize the relative weakness of the execution of the concept in Ackroyd's case. A prolific author, he never manages to make this book come alive, in my opinion. A di ...more
Claudia Gray
Mar 26, 2013 Claudia Gray rated it liked it
Reading this book is like sitting next to the smartest person you've ever met while that person is blazingly, roaringly drunk. There are countless fascinating facts, inspired connections, and brilliant reflections mixed in with a whole lot of rambling and some statements that are downright bizarre. I thought it was well worth reading, but I think Ackroyd's stronger ideas and considerable erudition would have benefited from a more cohesive structure. The wandering, almost stream-of-consciousness ...more
Marjorie Hakala
I finished it! After a good six or seven weeks of reading. Fascinating book that raises at least as many questions as it answers. Sometimes Ackroyd's assertions are a little hard to buy into, and I would have appreciated a little more contrast--when he talked about English preoccupation with the sea, I had to wonder how it was any different from, say, Melville's American preoccupation with the sea. Still, he brings up a lot of topics that are really interesting to think about and feed into futur ...more
Apr 02, 2007 Brian rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anglophiles, lexicographers
Ackroyd is bold with his assertions about English cultural identity, continuity, and historical development, but he's mighty convincing, and even if he's not, he's entertaining. From Alfred to Chaucer to Johnson to Shakespeare, the author gives much attention to the tension between the pagan and the pious, the lewd and the shameful, the campy and the stoic. He also strays from his thesis of continuity to explore how influences from Europe (France, Italy, the Classical World) affected English lit ...more
Jan 02, 2012 Amanda rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Fascinating and detailed analysis of the cultural continuum of Britain, from Beowulf to TS Eliot and medieval motets to Vaughan Williams. It covered a greater scope than I expected (art, architecture, humour, forgery(!), you name it), and I bought in to the hypotheses to a degree which surprised me. Packed full of supporting examples fro original sources, which is great if you want to do further research; I found, again surprisingly, that I was familiar with the majority of them already (when th ...more
Apr 03, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I've read a half dozen or so books by Peter
Ackroyd and never tire of his lively style and
command of historical fact. Specifically I have
read his books about London and about the Thames River, so I was reading this as a sort of English Trilogy. While the author wanders
off more into conjecture here, it is still based on
biographical and historical data and his theories of Englishness do seem - like all
generalizations - to have some truth!
David R.
Jun 03, 2015 David R. rated it liked it
Shelves: art, unclassified, england
Ackroyd sets out on an ambitious programme (a little English lingo there) to survey the whole of English cultural history since the time of the Angles and Saxons. The work springs about and has a tad of novelistic flair, but it's almost too helter-skelter and abandons theme after theme in only a few pages. It's more of a sampler buffet than a true multi-course meal. Take your time digesting this!
Jen Meegan
Jan 17, 2008 Jen Meegan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anglophiles, philosophers, creatives
A lush, dizzingly informative, poetic tribute to and history of the English imagination. Sometimes hard to follow but always fascinating, this book had me hooked from start to finish. Albion will renew your appreciation for the sheer amount of creative energy that continues to flow out of this relatively small island kingdom.
Jul 16, 2015 Marie rated it liked it
Extremely dense, but immensely rewarding. I enjoyed some chapters more than others, and by a third of the way in I realized it's better to treat this as a collection of essays rather than looking for a throughline or chronology. As a cultural and literary study it makes connections between works and creators that I'd never considered before.
Liz Jacobson
Mar 04, 2008 Liz Jacobson is currently reading it
Exhaustively researched and very compelling, though he may be guilty of over-reaching a bit. Ackroyd has also written several novels, and I am curious to see what such a meticulous historian does with non-fiction.
Richard Thomas
Sep 29, 2014 Richard Thomas rated it it was amazing
It's a very Peter Ackroyd book with an eclectic array of his interests and passions - primarily London but also the imagination and vision of poets. Not a book to read at a sitting but one to go in and out of as one's interest dictates.
Jul 11, 2007 Pat rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The venerable Bede and more.

England's people and history. I love this book.
Mar 11, 2014 Richard rated it really liked it
Aug 21, 2015 Tlaura rated it liked it
Really pretentious but almost always interesting and occasionally fascinating.
May 30, 2010 elithea marked it as to-read
Shelves: nook, bookshelf
finally found an epub version of this at kobo for my new nook! whew!
Oct 15, 2014 Jacque rated it it was ok
Kinda dry but great points and connections!
Shonna Froebel
Very badly edited.
Prolixity of author somewhat much.
Found it a bit tough going in spots.
Definitely not what I expected.
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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age
More about Peter Ackroyd...

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“The embrace of present and past time, in which English antiquarianism becomes a form of alchemy, engenders a strange timelessness. It is as if the little bird which flew through the Anglo-Saxon banqueting hall, in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, gained the outer air and became the lark ascending in Vaughan Williams's orchestral setting. The unbroken chain is that of English music itself.” 3 likes
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