Reviewing The English World1 in the Times Literary Supplement, the historian Theodore Zeldin wrote that it confirmed his view that “a national perspective cannot be sustained in historical study much longer,” that nations are not, and never were, “distinct entities.” “All our instincts tell us that there is something different between a German and an Italian, but then all our instincts tell us that the earth is flat.” If that analogy were correct, we should all be flat-earthers now. For it is not our instincts alone but history itself that tells us there is indeed “something different” between a German and an Italian—and something different between both of them and an Englishman.

Were it not for the tendency among...


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