Put out more flags

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Flagship History Britain 1815-1918. By Derrick Murphy, Richard Staton, Patrick Walsh-Atkins and Neil Whiskerd. Collins Pounds 14.99.

Topic books are popular with students, who like thin books, and with publishers, who like multiple sales. And hard-pressed heads of history with budgets to manage must have been waiting impatiently for years for someone to reinvent the one-volume textbook at a reasonable price. Collins has done it.

After the success of T A Morris's one-volume account of Europe 1848-1945, a team of authors has come up with a similarly impressive volume on 19th-century Britain. If the format is more reminiscent of GCSE books than of the volumes of the Oxford History of England that were doled out when I did A-level, this does not reflect lack of rigour in the text.

The coverage is comprehensive, including all the major political topics and very good treatment of social and economic themes. Each chapter is based on two or three key themes and a set of key questions. There are timelines, handy overviews of the whole topic and short sections with clear sub-headings which can be used for classroom reading. Documentary extracts are grouped in the sort of themed sets that students will encounter in exams.

The style is well suited to an A-level audience: "any would-be historian who tries to leak from the Corn Law crisis to the heady days of Disraeli and Gladstone" is likely to get a "woefully inadequate" understanding of what went on. Not if their teachers buy this excellent book, they won't.

Sean Lang

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