Last weekend, I found an iBook that contained all eight volumes of History of the English People – written by 19th Century historian John Richard Green.
One thing I love about iBooks is, in addition to being able to buy bestsellers, it also offers quite a number of great works you can download for free. I’ve downloaded Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I could’ve gotten each separate volume of History of the English People at no charge as well. But instead I decided to cough up the buck ninety-nine to get all eight volumes in one complete book.
If you enjoy history or have always wanted to learn more about the history of England, Green’s History of the English People is extremely helpful … and interesting.
Then again, it could just be me. I’ve studied English history in my free time and already learned quite a bit about it. So reading History of the English People has been helpful in filling in the gaps in my knowledge.
The benefit of reading a history written over 140 years ago is it is devoid of modern day editorializing based on current Western political correctness. History of the English People recounts what happened without telling you how you should feel about what happened.
Green begins by introducing the Germanic Engles, Saxons and Juts that lived along the western shore of the Baltic Sea. When the Germanic hordes invaded the Roman Empire in the fifth century, these three tribes set out for the island of Britain.
So far, I’ve read about the Saxon invasion in the fifth century, King Ælfred the Great, the Danish (or Viking) invasion and the establishment of the separate kingdom of Danelaw, the unification of England combining both Dane and Saxon, the Norman Conquest, and the rise of the Plantagenets. Yesterday, I reached the reign of the seventh Plantagenet King, Edward III (1327-1377).
One of the things I discovered when I was in college was I learn best by hearing things. It’s always been that way. In college, I never took notes. I’d just sit and listen to the lecture and everything I heard stuck with me. So when I read something like History of the English People, I have to read it aloud to myself. Just quietly reading the words on the page won’t be enough for me to retain it, whereas hearing the words cements it into my memory.
Before my cat Willow died, this method of learning came with a built-in irritation. Whenever I spoke – whether talking on the phone or reading aloud – Willow would stand in front of me and scream her ever-loving head off. Cats, man. They’re strange animals.
It’s been a bit unusual reading History of the English People without the added soundtrack of a screaming cat. Though I haven’t had to interrupt my reading to shout, “Willow SHUT UP!!”
I’m only a quarter way through at this point since for the most part I only do my reading on the weekends. But when I finish this, I will move on to the six-volume The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon — which I downloaded from iBooks, also for a buck ninety-nine.
It’s a little embarrassing that I’m turning 58 in a week and a half and I’ve never read Gibbon’s famous work. But better late than never I suppose.
Once I’ve tackled both History of the English People and Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I’ll read Machiavelli’s The Prince. Then move on to The Art of War.
After all that, I think I might tackle both the Iliad and Odyssey by Homer – mostly because I never read them and that seems remiss.
Despite a wealth of knowledge and scholarship literally at our fingertips, we are probably the least educated society ever. This is the problem with the ingrained belief that “learning” is the exclusive purview of the classroom. There is no reason for this. Not in this age – or any age for that matter.
Public education in many ways has enervated us. I suppose this is inevitable when students are taught what to think rather than how to think. In that kind of environment, any intellectual curiosity, any natural instinct to seek out knowledge on one’s own inevitably atrophies.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is become an autodidact. Never stop learning. You might find, as I have, that learning freed from the structure of “passing a test” or “getting a degree” is much more enjoyable and rewarding.
And if you never stop learning, chances are you will pass that discipline along to your children. Which, when you get right down to it, is a terrific antidote to a public education.
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