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review 2018-08-29 17:47
Podcast #116 is up!
A Business of State: Commerce, Politics, and the Birth of the East India Company - Rupali Mishra

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Rupali Mishra about her study of the governance of the East India Company and its relationship to the English state. Enjoy!

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review 2018-07-04 14:52
The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714
The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 - Barry Coward

After the act of the Tudors, how would the Stuarts follow up in ruling England?  Barry Coward covers the history of England between 1603 and 1714 in The Stuart Age giving the reading a comprehensive look at the developments across religion, economy, politics, and government while trying to dispel old assumptions and highlight new research.


Coward begins and ends the book with looking a statistical view England, at first looking how England developed through the early Stuarts to 1650 and then through the Interregnum and late Stuarts until the Hanoverian ascension.  The vast majority of the book covers the narrative flow of history of the period from the ascension of James VI of Scotland as James I of England after the death of Elizabeth to the death of his great-granddaughter Anne with all the twists and turns that happened within the domestic political arena that saw numerous failed attempts at Scottish union to disagreements between monarchs and parliament and finally the dispossessions of monarchs from the throne through execution and invited invasion then dictating who can take the throne.  Plus add in the events in Scotland and Ireland that played important roles at critical times that shaped events in England that made the century what it was.


The book is first and foremost an overview of the era with Coward attempting to give the events that took place their proper context in the evolution of government or religion or anything else related to “modern” Britain.  In doing this he set aside many myths about the era especially in the context of their times, he also gave context between “court” and “country” political establishments especially in relation to developments on the continent, i.e. the rise of absolutism and centralized government.  However, one of the drawbacks is that Coward would bring up other historians and juxtapose their theories on events without just simply making his own mark on the interpretation of the events.  Another feature which was lacking was that the military campaigns of especially the English Civil War, but also the continental wars, weren’t highlighted much especially since the Civil War was only covered in one whole chapter yet as an overview book it wasn’t unexpected.  And finally, as this edition of the book—the 2nd published in 1994—is almost 25 years old further research and debate has been missed out on.


The Stuart Age does its job fantastically well by giving an overview of the entire Stuart era that like other parts of English history seemed to be overshadowed by the proceeding Tudors.  Barry Coward’s layout of the period gives the reader perspective of the statistical elements of history that will influence the later narrative of the political and military events that make of the majority of the book then the aftereffects of those events on the same statistics, though slow in the beginning pays off and make this book pop.  If you’re looking for an overview of this period in English history, then you should consider this book.

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review 2018-04-07 06:30
A limited portrait of a monarch and his age
Suleiman the Magnificent - André Clot,Matthew J. Reisz

By nearly every measure, the sixteenth century bore witness to a remarkable number of extraordinary monarchs.  Rulers such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England, Francis I of France, the Habsburg emperors Charles V and Philip II, Ivan IV of Russia, ‘Abbas I of Persia, and the Mughal emperor Akbar reshaped their realms through their ambitious policies and forceful rule.  Yet even in this august group the name of Suleiman stands out.  As sultan of the Ottomans, Suleiman led the empire during what is generally regarded as the pinnacle of its glory and power.  Under his rule the empire flourished and extended its control over three continents.  Yet in spite of this Suleiman has received far less attention form biographers than most of his contemporaries, present more often as an opponent or an ally in many accounts than as a figure worth of attention in his own right.


Given this, Andre Clot’s biography of the sultan is to be welcomed.  A longtime journalist, Clot divides his book into two parts.  The first is a straightforward narrative of Suleiman’s life that addresses on the political and military aspects of his reign.  This section focuses heavily on Suleiman’s interactions with Christian Europe, even to the point of having an entire chapter addressing the sultan’s relations with Francis I.  The second part of the book is an examination of the Ottoman empire during Suleiman’s reign, one that describes the economy, urban life, and culture that existed during his reign.  Though the two sections compliment each other, each part stands alone to the point of being able to be read separate from the other, a lack of integration that ultimately weakens the effort to present a rounded overall picture of Suleiman and his times.


In the end, the focus and structure of the book prevent it from achieving Clot’s stated goal of providing a fuller understanding of Suleiman and his empire.  The Eurocentrism of Clot’s narrative slights the considerable campaigns Suleiman conducted on his eastern borders against the Safavids, to say nothing of his considerable contributions to the empire’s internal development in such areas as the law.  Mixing the two sections might have counterbalanced this, but their separation inhibits an easy understanding of his role and impact within the broader empire.  These problems limit the usefulness of Clot’s book, which is recommended for anyone seeking to learn about the sultan only because of the disappointing lack of anything better.

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review 2018-04-07 01:20
A detailed account hobbled by a dense text and poor maps
The Williamite Wars in Ireland, 1688-1691 - John Childs

The overthrow of King James II during the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 is one of the key events of not just English history but Irish history as well.  As king, James had pursued a policy of “Catholicization” in Ireland, allowing Catholics to serve in the army and the government, which fueled anxieties among the Protestant population.  When news reached them of the dramatic events in England, the Protestants began defying the Catholic authorities, who responded to what soon became an uprising against Catholic rule.  The result was three of the bloodiest and most destructive years in Irish history, as the island served as the battlefield on which broader struggles were waged.  This war is the subject of John Childs’s book, which details the campaigns from the initial unrest to the conclusion of the conflict.


Childs traces the success of the rebellion to the two-week period in 1688 when Derry was without a garrison, arguing that had the town been continuously occupied and the Protestants there suppressed the rebellion could not have prospered.  Yet even with Derry the Protestants faced a difficult first year, as the more numerous Catholic forces gradually asserted control throughout the island.  By the summer, only Derry and Enniskillen remained as Protestant holdouts, yet the arrival of forces under the command of the Duke of Schomberg managed to secure most of Ulster before the end of the campaigning season.  The new year saw an increased commitment of forces against the Catholics, one led by King William III himself.  With William’s army pressing down from the north, the two sides clashed at the Battle of the Boyne, which broke James’s fragile resolve.  His flight left his supporters with no other option than an attrition campaign that could buy them time in the hope that William might suffer defeats elsewhere that would salvage the situation for them.


Childs recounts the conflict in considerable detail, carefully tracing the numerous skirmishes that characterized the “war of posts and ambuscades”.  This results in a dense text, one that makes it challenging to follow the sequence of events.  Making matters worse are the inadequate maps provided, which provide only basic geographic details, rendering them less than helpful in following the various battles and campaigns.  Better maps and subheadings within the chapters would have gone far into providing a more accessible history of the war than the one Childs has written, in which the value of his examination of the conflict is offset by its inaccessibility.

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review 2018-04-02 19:47
The institutions of the Ottoman state
The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power - Colin Imber

For the past several decades, readers seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire have turned to Halil Inalcik’s seminal book The Ottoman Empire; The Classical Age.  Written by the dean of Ottoman history, it provided an overview of its history and an examination of its components that has stood the test of time.  Over the three and a half decades since its publication, however, a wealth of new scholarship has emerged that has refined and developed our knowledge.  The fruits of this can be seen in Colin Imber’s study, one that treads much of the same ground as Inalcik but does so with the benefit of an additional generation of study.


The layout of Imber’s book is similar to that of Inalcik’s (which Imber helped translate); an initial section chronicling the political and military history of the period followed by chapters providing an analytical overview of various aspects of the empire.  But whereas Inalcik’s book provided a broad‑ranging survey that included its cultural and religious elements, Imber focuses more narrowly on the institutions of state: the palace, the bureaucracy, and the military.  This allows him to provide a more detailed examination of the military state, one that describes its development and shows how it both conquered and governed the lands of three continents.


Clearly written and well grounded in the literature of the field, Imber’s book is a detailed and up-to-date account of the factors underpinning Ottoman power in the first centuries of its existence.  Anyone seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire would do well to start with it.  With its concentration on imperial institutions and its closer examination of such things as the Ottoman navy (which has received far more scholarly attention in recent decades than it had when Inalcik wrote his book), it complements rather than replaces Inalcik’s longstanding survey, providing readers with a good foundation for exploring in more detail the last and greatest of the Muslim empires.

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