The Celts by Simon Jenkins – Review

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By Sandra Callard

The Celts are something of a historical enigma. They came to Britain in the first or second centuries BC, moved across England to the west and seemed to settle roughly in Wales, where it would seem that the still spoken Welsh Language is the nearest we can get to the Celtic tongue – and yet there remains little actual evidence of their long stay on British soil.

Simon Jenkins is a very knowledgeable writer of history and the things he has turned up regarding these mysterious people is indeed fascinating, but his words about them do not fill the book. About a quarter of the way through the book his investigation into the Celts gradually turns into a full tilt story of the whole of the political history of the United Kingdom. He tells how it got there and the people who were involved throughout, not just in England, but those in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and other interesting and fascinating pieces of English history, but very little more about the mysterious Celts.

This was unexpected, but as I love English history I happily read on about every King and Queen, their lives and deaths, and just about every important bit of history from the Romans to the present day. This was an interesting and very lengthy and informative piece of work, but I did keep wondering where the Celts had gone. Perhaps they were as mysterious as they appeared and had no more to tell, and I was quite sad as I had felt the parts about them quite fascinating.

the celts simon jenkins book review cover“Enormous scope”

However, the author’s knowledge about British history is startlingly good, and quite as good as what is known about the Celts, so I kept on reading.

It seemed that not one single point had been missed about the reigns of every monarch from William the Conqueror to the present day, and that not including those from the days of the Vikings and subsequent kings, battles, births and deaths up to 1066. It is beautifully written with a firm hand on his facts, and I felt almost breathless as I finished the book at the enormous scope that had been covered.

But yet the Celts lingered in my mind on completion of the book. They had disappeared from Jenkins’ book as easily as they had disappeared from history, leaving only sparse but fascinating clues behind. So here is a book on English history overflowing with facts and suppositions by the author, and personal information about England’s monarchs. But it is like reading a tiny book on the Celts and then a long one on English history.

Despite it all, I enjoyed it immensely – but just wished that the Celts could have left a bit more behind to flesh out their story further rather than remaining the enigma they still are.

‘The Celts’ by Simon Jenkins is published by Profile Books, £16.99


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