An Utterly Impartial History of Britain : (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge), Paperback

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain : (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge) Paperback

4 out of 5 (8 ratings)


Many of us were put off history by the dry and dreary way it was taught at school.

Back then 'The Origins of the Industrial Revolution' somehow seemed less compelling than the chance to test the bold claim on Timothy Johnson's 'Shatterproof' ruler.

But here at last is a chance to have a good laugh and learn all that stuff you feel you really ought to know by now...In this "Horrible History for Grown Ups" you can read how Anglo-Saxon liberals struggled to be positive about immigration; 'Look I think we have to try and respect the religious customs of our new Viking friends - oi, he's nicked my bloody ox!' Discover how England's peculiar class system was established by some snobby French nobles whose posh descendents still have wine cellars and second homes in the Dordogne today.And explore the complex socio-economic reasons why Britain's kings were the first in Europe to be brought to heel; (because the Stuarts were such a useless bunch of untalented, incompetent, arrogant, upper-class thickoes that Parliament didn't have much choice.)A book about then that is also incisive and illuminating about now, "2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge", is a hilarious, informative and cantankerous journey through Britain' fascinating and bizarre history.

As entertaining as a witch burning, and a lot more laughs.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780552773966



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Showing 1 - 5 of 8 reviews.

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Review by

A fun read, made me laugh several times, and not too many inaccuracies.

Review by

"This is just one of the many historical inaccuracies in Walt Disney's 1973 film 'Robin Hood'." This quote sets the tone for John O'Farrell's summation of 2000 years of history and its associated witty commentary.Most importantly, this is not a history book. Although its subject is British history or more accurately, English (a weakness the author acknowledges in his introduction), it worries little about the formalities. It barrels along at breakneck speed, pausing to expose myths, make amusing comments and occasionally dwelling on some of history's tragedies, but it does not give a damn about seriousness or detached observation ("Anne was a big fat thicko who was as dull as ditchwater," is the summation of Queen Anne). This does not make it a bad history book, it is a neat summation of key events which it takes time to consider the more arcane questions (how did policing work before the, er, police force came along?) alongside the view of the man on the ground.However, the book is filed firmly under humour. I found it entertaining. The quips and side-comments were funny and associated facts very interesting and it either reminded me of facts I'd forgotten or taught me new things. True, the tone becomes a little wearying after 400 pages, some of the puns were a little obvious and there will always be split opinions about where the emphasis should lie; but these are minor complaints against an entertaining, educational book.

Review by

An amusing but informative walk through the history of Britain. Speaking as someone who hated History at school, O'Farrell's book was never dull and is presented in a light-hearted yet content-rich form, and I recommend it highly.Its failings (to someone who knows little history) is that, in common with the history as I was taught at school, seems to be that history is divided into 4 equally important eras:1. The Big Bang up to the Fall of the Roman Empire;2. The Middle Ages (also featuring everything up to...)3. The Industrial Revolution, the British Empire and the Victorians;4. The World Wars...which I can't help feeling is a somewhat uneven spread, although possibly just refecting the amount of source material available.

Review by

Fabulous book with a very cynical view of Britain's history. Don't expect 100% accuracy on all the historic events, but you get plenty of laughs. Poignant towards the end when he covers WWII with some astute comments on all involved.

Review by

This book is a rather irreverent romp through two thousand years of British history, collected under such diverse headings as "How the Romans eastablished our template for 'civilization' by killing anyone who didn't like it" and "How geography, religion and a spot of bad weather turned England into a major European power." Pretty much all of the major events in those two thousand years are at least touched upon in a faintly humourous fashion.So why the low rating? This is for a few different reasons...One of these is because O'Farrell's book doesn't really have an audience. Either you are a person who likes history - in which case, you would have read much more in-depth factual books about the periods that interest you - or you are a person who has little fascination in history and so this half-way house book wouldn't get your vote either. I believe that the only real audience is made up of people who quite enjoy John O'Farrell's newspaper columns and notice his name attached to this novel.This on its own wouldn't be a problem, since it is more an issue of the commissioning of the book rather than the contents. It is just unfortunate that the contents suffer from being a little too glib. Actual facts are presented alongside anecdotal musings in the same fashion, leading someone unfamiliar with history to either believe all of it or none. As someone who has an interest in the reign of Henry VIII I felt that his misrepresentation of being syphilitic was unnecessary - the fact that none of his six wives or his mistresses or his children contracted the disease really gives the lie to something that O'Farrell presents as bald fact.My other complaint is that O'Farrell believes he is funnier than he is. His 'amusing' analogies comparing historical events with modern day popular culture become boring and over-used. This, for instance, is a good example: "Various stand-up comics reminisced at length in 'I Love 1383' - 'God, the late Middle Ages; what was that about? Do you remember how there was always a squealing pig running down a muddy high street?' ...etc"The one redeeming feature of the book is the gravitas and reverence with which O'Farrell deals with the two World Wars. Passages such as: "The Second World War has acquired a unique and hallowed place in British History, not purely because the war itself turned out to be so just, but also because of the extraordinary heroism of the servicemen and civilians caught up in it" make you proud to be British.All in all, when O'Farrell is not trying to be self-consciously witty and clever, the book is an entertaining read packed full of little tidbits you might never have been aware of (such as where the Tory nickname came from). It is just a shame that he rarely reigns himself in.

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