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Anatomy of a Nation

On sale

23rd September 2021

Price: £30

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Selected: Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781472131898

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From an obscure, misty archipelago on the fringes of the Roman world to history’s largest empire and originator of the world’s mongrel, magpie language – this is Britain’s past. But, today, Britain is experiencing an acute trauma of identity, pulled simultaneously towards its European, Atlantic and wider heritages. To understand the dislocation and collapse, we must look back: to Britain’s evolution, achievements, complexities and tensions. In a ground-breaking new take on British identity, historian and barrister Dominic Selwood explores over 950,000 years of British history by examining 50 documents that tell the story of what makes Britain unique.

Some of these documents are well-known. Most are not. Each reveal something important about Britain and its people. From Anglo-Saxon poetry, medieval folk music and the first Valentine’s Day letter to the origin of computer code, Hitler’s kill list of prominent Britons, the Sex Pistols’ graphic art and the Brexit referendum ballot paper, Anatomy of a Nation reveals a Britain we have never seen before. People are at the heart of the story: a female charioteer queen from Wetwang, a plague surviving graffiti artist, a drunken Bible translator, outlandish Restoration rakehells, canting criminals, the eccentric fathers of modern typography and the bankers who caused the finance crisis.

Selwood vividly blends human stories with the selected 50 documents to bring out the startling variety and complexity of Britain’s achievements and failures in a fresh and incisive insight into the British psyche. This is history the way it is supposed to be told: a captivating and entertaining account of the people that built Britain.


Law Society Gazette
An absorbing read . . . one of the joys of Selwood's writing is his cogent analysis . . . the exhaustive bibliography of sources attests to the depth of Selwood's research . . . an innovative history eruditely told
White House Chronicle
An extraordinary new book . . . a wonderful gallop through the history of the nation . . . I enjoyed it enormously and I salute you, Dominic
Dan Jones
An original, engaging and deeply researched journey through British history in the words of those who made it
QUAD magazine
A superb holiday pick . . . sparky, original, dip-in-able and full of fresh insights . . . a superb array of documents . . . cleverly chosen . . . combines barrister precision with historian instincts . . . a worthwhile endeavour, each and every word . . . your view of British identity and maybe your own will be different by the end.
Matthew Lewis, Historian and author
Dominic Selwood slices into complex histories with hugely significant documents as his scalpel. We are deftly led through the context that helps make sense of events and can see the carefully selected documents as the vital organs in the body of history dissected before us. Anatomy of a Nation is a delightfully readable account of how history is written and how the written word defines history
Soldier magazine
Stimulating ... ambitious ... wide and varied ... clear and lively ... sections on Northern Ireland and the Falklands War are judicious, balanced and well-argued
Iain Dale
Extraordinary. Brilliantly researched and entertainingly told - history at its best
Professor James WP Campbell
Erudite, surprising, and hugely entertaining, using texts, both familiar and less well known, Dominic Selwood provides us with a new way of viewing British history. A delight to read and full of new insights, in short readable chapters, this is something you will want to return to again and again
Dr Bijan Omrani, Historian and author of Caesar’s Footprints
Dominic Selwood has found an enthralling way to recount the story of Britain: from Anglo-Saxon poems to the Sex Pistols, the Bayeux Tapestry to the last prophecies of Spitting Image, there is not a dull or dry moment in this book, but a wonderful, erudite, wide-ranging, and insightful account of the eclectic roots and development of British history and identity
Claudia Gold, Historian and author of King of the North Wind: The Life of Henry II
A glorious romp through the history of Britain, from the flooding of Doggerland to the Shipping Forecast, via Romans, Arthurian legend, witches and a bomb plot. A stunning achievement
Dr Lynette Nusbacher, Historian and TV presenter
One of the great fallacies of our time is the idea that our identities, including our national and ethnic identities, are somehow innate and unchanging. Dominic Selwood deftly wields sharp tools to smash that idea to smithereens. Anatomy of a Nation uses historical documents, sparkling wit and sharp insight to help us understand where and how the British - the English in particular - learned to be British. With a deft handling of historical fact, the author shows us how the builders of Stonehenge, the friars who kept their library across the road from Newgate prison, the British first president of Israel and the readers of the Shipping Forecast created the globally oriented identity that is Britishness at its best. Reading this book helps us (British or not) understand who we are by teaching us the interaction between history, culture and identity; and doing it in a way that's joyous, decorous, educated and fun. This is my kind of history
Islington Gazette
Britain may be a country that has "lost its way" but history shows that solutions can be found ... The 50 documents are described in an accessible way that provokes an interest for scholars and casual history fans alike
BBC HistoryExtra
Selwood chronicles Britain's past through a diverse - and sometimes unexpected - selection of historical documents
The range and rich diversity of material are the chief strength of this book . . . a readable and enjoyable narrative history
Guy Walters, Historian and novelist
With a great deal of erudition and humour, Selwood manages to distil thousands of years of British history in a fiendishly clever way. A must for anybody trying to understand this most enigmatic of nations, be they a new arrival or someone who has lived in Britain before even the late Queen was on the throne
Family Tree Magazine
[A] very current, thought-provoking reflection on what British history means today
Midwest Book Review
Unique, informative, and compelling ... unreservedly recommended
History News Network
A comprehensive survey of British history drawing on a vivid range of original texts
Britain at War Magazine
Many [chapters] reference British military actions at home and abroad . . . delve[s] into the context, importance and subsequent events that have come to define each conflict . . . shows the importance of the research Dominic Selwood has conducted.
The Times
An incredible insight into the private lives of people
Freemasonry Today
an enthralling account of how the British mindset has evolved ... a vivid picture of the many profound influences that have shaped Britain and its collective psyche... complicated ideas are described and explained with great clarity ... I struggled to put the book down.