Michael BraddickNov 10, 2021
A Useful History of Britain
The Politics of Getting Things Done
Oxford University Press 2021
What have the Romans ever done for us? That’s the question put to his pals by Reg, in a much quoted scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The debate is notionally about imperial oppression of Judea, but the assembled radicals ultimately agree that, in fact, the Romans were the bringers of sanitation, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health. In other words, they got things done. In his new book, A Useful History of Britain: The Politics of Getting Things Done (Oxford UP, 2021), Michael Braddick explores the Romans and the peoples who succeeded them on Britain from the vantage point of the politics of getting things done. It is a concise but wide ranging book, which localises global history by focussing on agency – the power to do things. In a historical field dominated by attention to power, rulers and parliaments, this book insists on a shift in perspective and makes a convincing case for history as a resource for meeting the future, rather than a source of comfort and national group think.