What sort of a place is England? And who are the English? As the United Kingdom turns away from its European neighbours, and begins to look increasingly disunited at home, it is becoming necessary to ask what England has that is singular and its own.
It is often assumed that the national identity must be a matter of values and ideas. But in Robert Winder's brilliantly-written account it is a land built on a lucky set of natural ingredients: the island setting that made it maritime; the rain that fed the grass that nourished the sheep that provided the wool, and the wheat fields that provided its cakes and ale. Then came the seams of iron and coal that made it an industrial giant.
In Bloody Foreigners Robert Winder told the rich story of immigration to Britain. Now, in The Last Wolf, he spins an English tale. Travelling the country, he looks for its hidden springs not in royal pageantry or politics, but in landscape and history.
Medieval monks with their flocks of sheep . . . cathedrals built by wool . . . the first shipment of coal to leave Newcastle . . . marital contests on a village green . . . mock-Tudor supermarkets – the story is studded with these and other English things.
And it starts by looking at a very important thing England did not have: wolves.
Robert Winder was literary editor of the Independent for 5 years. He has written two novels.
"Spirited, provocative, wise, hugely entertaining"
– Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
"Winder, who in 2004 wrote a compelling book about immigration called Bloody Foreigners, expertly navigates his subject without mentioning Brexit. Yet it has a pertinent lesson for some of the more excitable Brexiteers-we have never been an island nation"
"A fascinating attempt to find the sources of Englishness [...] Well-crafted, reflective and quite personal, The Last Wolf is also original and deeply researched"
– Robert McCrum, Guardian
"A glorious romp through more than eight centuries, told with humour and charm, with the same themes recurring over the ages. Highly recommended"
– William Hartston, Daily Express
"Winder is at his best when tracing how one thing became another. His excellent description of the rise of Lancashire's enormous cotton industry triggers a discussion of the slave trade and English morality [...] fascinating twists and turns"
– The Times
"A provocative and lively look at what has made the English who they are"
– Sunday Times
"The Last Wolf is an engaging ramble through the wool towns and open ranges of medieval England"
"[Winder] weaves a fabulous tale of wolves and sheep, water and coal, rain and agriculture, industry and architecture, pinpointing qualities that grew out of our landscape"
"An entertainingly discursive anatomy of the English character"
– Jane Shilling, Mail on Sunday
"This is digestible, friendly, whimsical history: Winder is clearly allergic to boring history books and makes it his business not to write one"
– Ysenda Maxtone Graham, author of Terms and Conditions, Times Literary Supplement