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A History of Ancient Britain

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  707 ratings  ·  81 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, Large Print, 396 pages
Published November 29th 2011 by Orion (first published September 15th 2011)
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4.19  · 
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 ·  707 ratings  ·  81 reviews

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Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Tim Vicary
Dec 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Absolutely beautiful. This is exactly what I like in a work of non-fiction: clear, concise, yet beautiful and flowing, the writing takes you to unknown places and times, giving you the microscopic details and the plane window view of ancient Britain. Particularly, I immensely enjoyed the passion that the author managed to express in writing, and how he manages to see magic in old ruins, a blacksmith's fire and a long dead skeleton. Spellbinding and smartly written, the sections are well tied int ...more
Gilda Felt
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. There’s a lot of information, but the book never becomes dry or boring. Oliver’s writing is interesting, even funny at times, but never dull. I hadn’t read much regarding this particular time in Britain’s history, but this book quickly brought me up to speed, being immensely satisfying and informative.

A wide range of ages is covered, starting with the retreating ice 12,000 years ago (with a side trip to the beginnings of man,) to the retreat of the Romans seventeen ce
Jul 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 09, 2012 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
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've never normally been much of a fan of books written to accompany television series, much less history books. They tend to be too shallow for me, not enough detail and focus, and assume such a total lack of any pre-knowledge that means I find myself getting impatient with what is to me obvious information. Probably not a fair response, but you know, it's me and I'm the one reading these books. so...

But I'm happy to say that this book, written to accompany the BBC documentary series of the sa
Feb 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up in the Stonehenge visitor centre shop when visiting this summer, feeling after my wander around the great site that I should improve my knowledge of prehistoric Britain.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed the TV series on which the book is based, but I found the book itself rather disappointing. There are massive gaps in the story presented here. The primary emphasis seems to be on what bones and artefacts tell us, as well as what seems to me to be rather unscientific speculations abou
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this.

Neil Oliver's writing is engaging and fun. Given the broad breadth of topic ... all the way from the pre-historic Ice Ages to the retreat of the Roman Empire from the Isles of Britannia ... Oliver held my interest throughout.

I read this as I'm starting a Masters in Celtic Studies, and I'm glad I did. It has helped me visualise the timeline of our pre-history and place various periods, peoples and events in better context. It also helped identify acedemic arguments and think
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I picked up a copy of this book while visiting Hadrian’s Wall, having been familiar with Mr. Oliver’s work on the History of Scotland which I had picked up the last time I visited the UK. Once again, Neil Oliver’s enthusiasm and passion for his homeland’s history leaps out of the pages. He invites us on a journey from the Neolithic era up to the end of the Roman era, describing the findings both old and recently uncovered as well as explaining new and outdated theories on ancient British history ...more
A very interesting history of Britain starting as far as the Big Bang to the fall of Rome.

Not being accustomed to the period I learned a lot of very interesting things and the book helped me put a lot into context and perspective but...

I found the lyrical style and the long digressions  of the author about his experiences/feelings/sensations  somewhat boring after a while. The same goes for the descriptions of how items were found, not that interesting in my opinion.

I tend to prefer more academ
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as the previous one I read by this author (The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places) perhaps because he is an author better suited to being read in short snippets rather than long form text. Having said that, it is still an eminently readable book for those interested in the subject.

The book covers the whole history of Britain from the retreat of the ice 100,000 years ago to the end of the Roman era in relatively broad sweeps as shown by the chapters h
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a well written narrative of the earliest period in the history of the British and Irish archipelago. Well worth a read.
Matthew Hanson
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a good read. Without any pictures of diagrams, the author brings history to live in vivid detail. In the shambles and international embarrassment that is currently Brexit Britain, this book is a nice sense of perspective. Very well written and very informative. Bravo!
Marit Nathalie
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Andrew Uys
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Will Once
Nov 01, 2015 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
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it

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
Ivan Monckton
Aug 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Although the book is on a subject I am fascinated in, and is well written, I found myself longing to finish it. The problem was, I just couldn’t read more than 10 or so pages at a time. The book accompanies a TV series, and it unfortunately shows. The chapters are too long, and the abrupt changes of scene without so much as a lines gap are, at times confusing and or irritating. There is also far too much nonsense about the special treatment he gets (typical stuff for a TV format).

In short, lots
Oct 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Brian Turner
Dec 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
As a tour of ancient sites it makes for interesting reading, but some of Oliver's commentary is quite bizarre. He also struggles to bring everything together into an actual narrative, offering no explanation of how iron reached Britain, and almost no mention of the Indo-European peoples.

Altogether, somewhat disappointing - as a first taster of ancient archaeology I found it interesting, but there are almost certainly much better books out there.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history, 2017
After getting about 1/3rd through the book I realized it was an adaptation of a BBC documentary series of the same title and containing the exact same information, so I stopped reading and just watched the series.... But honestly I don't feel too guilty about it, because it was actually much more informative in documentary format, because they (obviously) had more visuals of the artifacts and locations and it was more engaging to have a person speaking to you. (loooooooved Neil Oliver's Scottish ...more
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
General Overview
An exceptional delve into the history of the Isles of Britiannia. This is the 2nd of Neil Oliver's book I've read, the 1st being his book on Vikings.

This was a great overview for the casual historian/history enthuiast. It covers a variety of topics from geology, archeology, socialogy, etc. It never gets to overwhelming in detail, and its written in such a way that even I can understand.

The book was linked to the TV series of the same name I believe. I never got t
Ana TM
Jan 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Ancient history so, when I read the title of this book, I immediately bought it. Overall, I found it a very interesting read, with a lot of data and anecdotes to fill the pages. However, the structure was confusing for me. The book is divided in veeeery looooong chapters, each corresponding to an era, without more subheadings, so, once you have read a lot in a row, the facts start to mix in your head and it gets confusing. I think it could benefit from shorter sections, because the facts ...more
Richard Howard
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
This is a truly marvellous book, detailing the history of the people of Britain up until the arrival of the Romans. Filled with information, it is also filled with the author's musings, which makes the material more immediate and interesting. I travel around Britain a lot and have visited many of the sites the author mentions but he has added many more to my check-ins, for which I am very grateful. Pertinent to the present are his observations that this island has been home to wave after wave of ...more
Will Pryer
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Oliver has managed to condense thousands of years of ancient British history into a concise, informative and fascinating work. I feel like I've learnt about an incredible amount of history in a mere 400 pages. I did find the prose a bit cumbersome at times and expressions were often repeated, such as "I challenge anyone to hold (artifact) and not feel (a profound emotion)." Still thoroughly enjoyed it though.
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Another interesting and enjoyable read from Neil Oliver (and No, I'm not just saying that because he's a Scot). Neil has a style that means history can be visualized by the reader and it can draw you in. I do have a love of history, but some historians write in a dry and boring way, but not this one.
Janet Gore
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
found this book interesting and well written. as a person with a keen interest in history, I found that this book kept my interest throughout, the facts and history which he wrote about were well researched and as accurate as he could be.
I personally would reread this book and found points of interests what for me are worth looking more into.
9 out of 10
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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.
“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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