What was England like before there was even an English language? The sweeping narrative of Britain Begins (Oxford Univ., $45) takes us from the earliest moments of unsettled, rolling hills up to the point where the Norman conquest gave birth to the language of Chaucer. As an archeologist and Oxford professor Emeritus, Barry Cunliffe is well prepared to delve as far back as DNA evidence, oral history, and a clear mind can reach. Most fascinating in his telling are the scientific and cultural roots of the myths we associate with inherent Britishness, such as King Arthur. Cunliffe also illustrates how hunter-gatherers, Celts, Vikings, and Romans influenced and were themselves changed by the magnificent green islands.
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