In This Review

Island Stories: An Unconventional History of Britain
Island Stories: An Unconventional History of Britain
By David Reynolds
Basic Books, 2020, 304 pp.

One of the more amusing aspects of Brexit has been the tendency of Conservative Party leaders in the United Kingdom to analogize leaving the EU to heroic past triumphs, comparing Brexit to the waging of World War II, for instance, or to the famous British victories at Agincourt in 1415 and Waterloo in 1815. Many non-Britons (and many Britons, as well) find such comparisons risible. Reynolds, a historian, seeks to explain why some of his compatriots view the United Kingdom in this grandiose way. Although he has written a number of weighty books on twentieth-century history, this volume—lively, slender, and timely—is more reminiscent of his historical documentaries for BBC television. His pithy summaries of British experiences of and beliefs about empire and decline demonstrate why the fanciful Brexit analogies are misguided. The reader is left to wonder, however, why these narratives remain persuasive to Britons in a way that has no parallel in the rest of Europe.