The beginning of the 17th century promised that Englands golden age would long outlast its Elizabethan namesake. Within a few years, that promise would end in civil war, political unrest, and international conflict, a period of strife that wouldMoreThe beginning of the 17th century promised that Englands golden age would long outlast its Elizabethan namesake.
Within a few years, that promise would end in civil war, political unrest, and international conflict, a period of strife that would last for two centuries, but produce the modern British nation. In this swiftly moving narrative, the second installment in a three- volume companion to the BBC/History Channel television series, Simon Schama examines key events that would utterly change British life: the collapse of monarchy and republic, the establishment of the beginnings of empire, and the ever-wider division between court and country. The wars that accompanied these turns of fortune were, Schama writes, eminently unpredictable, improbable, and avoidable.
With them came the Glorious Revolution, the bloody suppression of religious dissent, the conquest of neighboring kingdoms, and the wide-scale movement of large populations from one place to another--including the deliberate introduction of nearly 100,000 Scots, Welsh, and English settlers in Ireland, which, Schama writes, utterly dwarfed the related planting on the Atlantic seaboard of North America. Along the way, Schama considers actors major and minor in this tumultuous play, from the unlucky king Charles I to Oliver Cromwell (who lacked the one essential characteristic for true dictatorship: a hunger to accumulate power purely for its own sake), from the writer Daniel Defoe to the pragmatic politician Sir Robert Walpole, from William Pitt to the African slaves who peopled Britains American colonies.
Though understandably rushed and sometimes unfocused, Schamas narrative ably captures Britains transformation from island outpost to global power. -- Gregory McNamee