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The Celts: A Very Short Introduction

(Very Short Introductions)

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  358 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Savage and bloodthirsty, or civilized and peaceable? The Celts have long been a subject of enormous fascination, speculation, and misunderstanding. From the ancient Romans to the present day, their real nature has been obscured by a tangled web of preconceived ideas and stereotypes.
Barry Cunliffe seeks to reveal this fascinating people for the first time, using an impress
Paperback, 161 pages
Published August 28th 2003 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  358 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Ahmad Sharabiani
The Celts: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #94), Barry W. Cunliffe
The Celts: A Very Short Introduction (2003), Oxford University Press
According to a theory proposed in the 19th century, the first people to adopt cultural characteristics regarded as Celtic were the people of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture in central Europe (c. 800–450 BC), named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria.[7][8] Thus this area is sometimes called the "Celtic homeland".
Savage and bloodthirst
Are the Celts an ethnic group, a geographical term used by Greek and Roman writers, an artistic style, a linguistic group? Cunliffe's answer in this brief, fast moving moving survey is all of these and more. The complexity of the subject is that while everything to which the labels Celt or Celtic has been applied isn't a unified, consistent whole but rather a mess of largely overlapping phenomena, and Cunliffe's artistry is in succeeding in setting that out in an approachable way.

Unlike other vo
Lucy Barnhouse
Jan 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, medieval
Cunliffe wears his impressive expertise very lightly in this engaging introductory survey to a complex web of historical and cultural questions. He treats linguistic, archaeological, and textual evidence very thoughtfully, and very lucidly. I'll be using sections of this with an undergraduate class, and it's clearly designed -- without a hint of condescension -- for the general reader. The educated lay audience has sometimes been referred to as a chimera, but Cunliffe writes for this semi-mythic ...more
May 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
A compact bit of high-level scholarship, taking good advantage of current thoughts about how historical, archaeological, and linguistic evidence work (and don't work) together. He has an interesting angle, too - emphasizing the Atlantic coastline and its watershed as a cultural diffusion zone. I also appreciated his take on the transition from Hallstatt to La Tène material culture; he suggests a plausible set of socioeconomic circumstances that could have been in operation. 4 stars!
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very good and readable introduction to Celtic origins, history and identity. The only criticism I have is that it focused too much on Ireland and Brittany with little on the other four Celtic nations. E.g. the Ulster Cycle had pages and pages dedicated to it yet I don't think the word "Mabinogion" ever featured which grated on me a bit as a Welshie.
May 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical-works
As my professor said, while this may say that it's "A Very Short Introduction", it's really "a deceptively long introduction". It wasn't necessarily the most exciting historical work that I've ever read (it was a bit dry) but it did pack in a lot of useful information.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have enjoyed several books in the Very Short Introduction series and this no less. It did what it set out to do bringing together older scholarship alongside more recent arguments. The gap between the reality of who the Celts were and the modern myth of the Celts is made plain again and again. That said, it seemed to me that is so often the case, the Welsh were given short shrift. The persistence of Welsh even before the language laws of 1967 struck as deserving some discussion relative to Iri ...more
Kelly Burns
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A brief but succinct history covering many theories and a great deal of historiography, archaeology, classical literature, myth and linguistics to give you a holistic overview. If you know nothing about the celts or think you know them (you probably don’t!) then this is a great start.
Apr 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-europe
Broad coverage, but with academic depth in each chapter that covers distinct subtopics. 2 summary chapters towards the end. Some chapters were too dry and detailed, seemingly adapted from academic articles.
Daniel B-G
Feb 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, dnf
Dreary, ponderous, dull. Every time I opened it to read I soon found myself drifting off, rereading, finding nothing was said, making a bit more progress, drifting off, rereading, still finding no information ad infinitum. This should have been a quick read but it was like wading through treacle.
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely splendid book. I'm not sure that I can add to that. Highly recommended to anyone interested in knowing who the Celts really were.
Kirsty McCracken
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely going to be investing in more of these
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A lot of information in a small space, this is a brilliantly concise overview of Celtic culture and origin. His points are all well laid out and rounded and despite the format of the book, it gives a good jump off point for further study with a list of suggested reading.
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
I learned a fair bit despite the academese and the overall shapelessness of the book. It felt like the professor cobbled together a bunch of his lecture notes while hungover. Not an enjoyable read at the prose level, but yes, informative.
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A short but very illuminating book about the "Celts".
The author does an excellent job of presenting the various aspects of evidence that points towards there being a broadly defined Celtic culture, from written sources, archaeological evidence and surviving languages. He present the case for the concept of a "Celtic" people being the construct of outsiders until recently, whether ancient Greeks or Romans in the sixth to first century BC or the revival of the term in the seventeenth century by an
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
This work, published in 2003, is modest in size but surprisingly comprehensive in scope, most readable, and highly illuminating. In it Cunliffe traces the concept of Celtic-ness, recognizing that the concept has changed over millennia. There are several sources for our knowledge of these people: classical literature and allusions, archaeological findings, and philological studies, among others. While there is some overlap and mutual agreement among these sources, there are also differences. Cunl ...more
Ancestral Gael
Oct 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
The term 'Celtic' is evocative; but the images it evokes are highly diverse and confusing. What exactly do we mean by 'Celtic', and who, past and present, can reasonably be called 'Celts'? Part of the problem is that 'Celtic' is a term with many meanings.

In this densely packed little book, Barry Cunliffe explores evidence for the myriad of tribes and cultures that have been associated with term 'Celt' from the time the term was applied by the Greeks to their neighbours, through the nationalist
Daniel Wright
'Celtic', much like 'Gothic', is a word able to evoke a wide range of cultural and other experiences and emotions more-or-less completely unrelated to its literal historical denotation. This fact is heresy to some and a cause of belligerent ire to others. In The Celts: A Very Short Introduction, Barry Cunliffe sails a very careful line between this Scylla and that Charybdis, discussing various topics in a disinterested and scholarly, but not impenetrable, fashion. He touches on the history and e ...more
Billy Gunn
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
A tiny book yes, but packed with plenty of information on a subject I find fascinating. As the title says "A Very Short Introduction..." it is exactly that. The history of the Celts is complex, from folk movements to language and social structure, life style and survival. It is all here contained within the covers of a pocket sized book(let).

I read this on recommendation from a friend who knows Celtic myth, life and their history as an introduction to the subject. For that purpose this edition i
Oct 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Cunliffe gives a (to me) totally unexpectedly interesting account of what, exactly, the Celts were/may have been/turned into. Like any good introduction, The Celts leaves many questions intriguingly unresolved at the same time as it sets up a framework for future knowledge. I found that the mix of registers worked quite well - Cunliffe is usually adept at managing his writing so that things are never too heavy for too long, neither do many passages seem too superficial. Of course the book is une ...more
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: celtic-studies
Cunliffe's books are standard works of references for years to come.
"The Celts: A very short introduction" is no exception ! The book is a good starting point when it comes to Celtic studies. The author is able to present both archaeological and literary sources on Ancient Celtic societies, covering different issues such as the interactions between Greeks, Romans and Celts, Celtic society, life, religion, social structure and organisation, and many others in a very attractive way.
I specially rec
Maria Fernanda  Gonzalez
Jan 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
I bought this book thinking it would be a brief introduction about the history of Celts, a book written to the general public who didn't have any previous knowledge about the Celts. It wasn't. "The Celts" presents the Celtic history in a very academic way, which was not only confusing, but also really boring. The only good think I have to say about it is that the author is quite serious, and the arguments he presents are very embased in academic research.
Jun 15, 2016 rated it liked it
When I picked up this book, certainly didn't suspect that it's gonna be this scholarly in style, but after first surprise and slight adjustment of attitude / expectations everything settled for a decent read. The second half rather got me thinking about nationality, claims of nationality, some identity stuff and so on. There were times I thought that book is repeating itself, but other than that I quite enjoyed it. Went very well together with my other "currently-reading" books.
Lee Broderick
Nov 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, archaeology
Barry Cunliffe has an almost peerless reputation in both Iron Age archaeology and in Celtic Studies scholarship. As such, he was a natural choice to write a book like this and he pulls it off with great elan; describing the problems of the term as well as the various areas of study which have contributed to our current understanding of what most people think of as Celts.
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Having been born and raised in Wales, I was eager to learn more about the history of the Celtic race. This short introduction does a good job of giving an overview of this area, making it a great starting point for learning about the Celts. The origins and subsequent development of the Celts turn out to be a lot less clear cut than the general popular perception.
Leila Mota
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a great little book. It's exactly what it promises in the cover: "essential reading for anyone interested in European culture and politics, past and present". It is written for non-experts and clears a lot of wrong notions about a fascinating people (even though the author explains that "celts" are not exactly what we have been reading. He keeps it short and to the point.
This is an interesting, scholarly and rather superficial introduction to the Celts. The author focuses more on trying to identify what "Celtic" was in the past and what it means today, than in describing Celtic culture, history or language. The book was ok and provided "a very short introduction" to the subject matter, which is about all you can expect from this book.
Mark Fallon
Nov 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
An excellent primer on the Celts - a people and culture that many people claim as their heritage, but very few understand. Inspired me to add similar books and a historical atlas to my "to read" list.
Sandra Visser
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very interesing and clearly argued. After reading this book you have a very clear sense of who and what the Celts were, which is surely the purpose of the book. A hundred times better than these old, dry archeological surveys. Makes history fresh and relevant.
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting history of the celts, deconstructing some of the myths created over the years about the people and their history. His one dimensional attack on the Welsh language smacks of bias and ignorance, and undermines what is otherwise a good book.
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Sir Barrington Windsor Cunliffe taught archaeology in the Universities of Bristol and Southampton and was Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford from 1972 to 2008, thereafter becoming Emeritus Professor. He has excavated widely in Britain (Fishbourne, Bath, Danebury, Hengistbury Head, Brading) and in the Channel Islands, Brittany, and Spain, and has been President of the Cou ...more

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