This work offers an account of the heroes and villains, legends and foibles of the four nations that inhabit the British Isles. Raphael Samuel is interested by the face that traditions can disappear no less abruptly than they were invented. How is it, he asks, that the Scots have lost interest in a British narrative of which they were once a central protagonist? Why is the celebration of "Britons" thriving today just as its object has become problematic? The book conveys the mutability of national conceits. Samuels calls as witness numerous authorities - Bede and Gerald of Barri, Macaulay and Stubbs, Shakespeare and Dickens, Lord Reith and Raymond Williams, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn - each of whom sought to renew the sense of national identity by means of an acute sense of the past. A sequel to "Theatres of Memory", the book is a study of the way nations use their past to lend meaning to the present and future.