Stick a Flag in It by Arran Lomas – a bizarre and vivid history of Britain and beyond

Stick a Flag in It by Arran Lomas

A history book with all the amazing, bizarre and downright strange bits left in, this book is an immensely readable collection of many of the memorable tales- and some not so memorable- of (mainly) British history. For those wary of dates, there are some, but certainly not so many as to cause grief. There are no footnotes either, so some of the extraordinary assertions here are not substantiated by chapter and verse, but I suspect that serious historians into a particular element of the history will seek elsewhere for their detailed fix of information. There is, however, a lengthy index at the end of the book should you wish to look up such burning topics as “Lovelace, Ada” or “humours, theory of” . Though not a feminist interpretation of history (though there are details of women’s lowly status in such times as the Victorian era), this is an attractive, if sometimes shocking, scurry through history which permits frequent diversions to indulge what I imagine to be the author’s own interests. There are a few innuendos and details which would mean that this book is not for those easily taken aback by comments, but this is an ideal book for those wishing to travel through “1,000 Years of bizarre history from Britain and beyond”.  I was intrigued and interested to have the opportunity to read and review this substantial book.

Beginning with that lynchpin of British history, 1066 and the battle of Hastings, Lomas tells of how Harold put up quite the fight, and how even after the battle was won, William had to assert his authority in many ways. Throughout this book it is possible to see how Lomas revels in an interesting death, and the fate of a corpse in pre refrigerated times. Not that this is a book solely concerned with kings and rulers; Lomas demonstrates that he can handle the factors behind Britain’s victories over France in medieval battles in the form of every level of the populace being highly trained in the use of the longbow which thus became the first weapon of mass destruction. He does not hold back in condemning kings as bad or criminally awful at being king, such as John or Henry VI, and gives cogent reasons why they were (to quote another popular history book) “a bad thing”. He explains why Margaret Beaufort was the ultimate single mother, and various battle disasters which led to huge loss of life on various battlefields. While this is mainly a straightforward run through British history, there are also diversions into chapters such as “A Man Carries a Pineapple Around Town” and “Some Yorkshiremen Crash the Economy from a Pub”. There are comparisons between the cost and complications of divorce compared with the possible benefits of selling a wife with examples. 

This is in some ways a very personal view of history, covering the progress of Byron’s exploits and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Idiosyncratic in every way, there were times when the assertions in this book did give me pause, and one or two allusions to twenty first century life were a little strained. Nevertheless this is an easy to read and enjoy book which certainly presents a lively and vivid introduction to many aspects of history which may well inspire further investigation. There are certainly adventures here recorded with real energy and aplomb. It offers a traditional view of the growth of the British Empire, but also points out how it extended to an undreamed of size and impact, and its contribution if not introduction to the concept of liberty. This is a successful book in that it argues for a simple but effective view of British history and some of its impact on the world, leading up to the early twentieth century. From William the Conqueror to Shackleton, with a “Select Bibliography” and due acknowledgement to popular historians of the twenty first century, this is a worthwhile and useful book of history via unexpected routes.     

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