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Search tags: Early-modern
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review 2020-05-15 01:05
Behemoth, or The Long Parliament
Behemoth, or The Long Parliament - Stephen Holmes,Ferdinand Tönnies,Thomas Hobbes

For supporters of Charles I and his son, the middle of the 17th Century was a hard time and in the aftermath of the Restoration was a time to show they were right.  Behemoth is Thomas Hobbes’ history of the lead up to the English Civil War and the resulting Interregnum.

 

Covering roughly two decades of political, military, cultural, and religious upheaval within the frame of a dialogue, Thomas Hobbes uses the political framework written in Leviathan to analyze the breakdown of political order and how it was restored.  The first and second section of the book concerns how Charles I strong political position was undermined by seven factions acting independently of one another and how the King’s attempts to combat one faction were used by other factions to represent tyranny against their own party eventually leading to a rupture and war between King and Parliament.  The third section covered the civil war itself with neither side getting an advantage until the rise of Oliver Cromwell turned the tide for Parliament that eventually lead to the capture of the King and after political machinations from both sides, Charles is put on trial then executed.  The last section highlights how Parliament had no idea how to replace the King and went from one solution to another all the while Cromwell continued to accumulate power until taking over the place of Charles in all but the title of King.  However, after Cromwell’s death and weakness of his son’s leadership, General Monck uses his army to takeover the political situation and invite Charles II to take the throne.

 

While Hobbes uses the ideas in Leviathan to frame this history, it is essentially a Royalist view of the history of the 1640s and 1650s.  Throughout the book the prime factor that Hobbes saw as being the instigator of Parliament’s position against the King wasn’t taxes, but religion more specifically Presbyterian minister preaching from the pulpit against the King so they could achieve leadership of the nation like John Calvin had done in Geneva.  Though Hobbes did mention several other factors, his obsession on the religious aspect overawed everything else in this history which at times became too much.

 

Behemoth is ultimately a royalist history of events in the mid-17th Century.  Thomas Hobbes shows the breakdown of political order when the sovereign’s position is challenged and usurped by those that have no right to it and the chaos that follows, but through his partisan lens.

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review 2020-01-22 20:18
The Thirty Years War
The Thirty Years War - Cicely Veronica Wedgwood

War is hell, just imagine it lasting for an entire generation with armies crisscrossing the same ground again and again producing famine, depopulation, and disease all in the name of religion, nationalism, and then finally simple greed.  C.V. Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War covers nearly a half century of history from the causes that led to the conflict through its deadly progression and finally it’s aftereffects.

 

From the outset Wedgwood sets the German domestic and the continental political situations in focus by stating that everyone was expecting war but between Spain and the Dutch while the German economy was on the decline due to the rise of new trading patterns over the course of the last century.  It was only with the succession of the Bohemian throne and the ultra-Catholic policies of the Ferdinand II after his election that started the war everyone knew was coming, sooner and further east than expected.  The war began as a purely religious conflict that saw the Catholic German princes led by Emperor Ferdinand crush the Protestant opposition because many of the Protestants decided not to help one another until it was too late due to political conservatism that Ferdinand used to his advantage.  It wasn’t until Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedes entered the conflict a decade later that the conflict turn slowly from religious to international and an extension of the Bourbon-Habsburg in which the former used first allies then their own troops to prevent the encirclement of France by both branches of the Habsburgs.  The negotiations for the end of the war took nearly five years and would change as events in the field would change strategies until finally allied members of the Bourbon and Habsburgs would cut deals with the other side to quickly break deadlocks and achieve peace but how it took almost six years to stand down the armies to prevent chaos.

 

Wedgwood’s narrative historical style keeps the book a very lively read and makes the war’s progress advancing even when she’s relating how the continuous fighting was affecting the German population.  She is very upfront with the men, and a few women, who influenced the conflict throughout it’s course from the great kings of Ferdinand II, Christian IV of Denmark, and Gustavus to the great princes Maximillian I of Bavaria, John George of Saxony, and Frederick Henry of Orange to the mercenary generals that gained in importance as the conflict continued like Albrecht von Wallenstein to finally the political masterminds of Richelieu and Mazarin.  With such a large historical cast, Wedgwood’s writing keeps things simple and straight for the read thus allowing the conflict’s long drawn out nature to fully impact the reader and how it affected those out of power.  And in describing the aftereffects, Wedgwood disarms many myths about the effects of the war that over three hundred years became considered fact.

 

The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgwood is an excellent narrative history of a conflict that saw the end of one kind of conflict and the beginnings of another with interesting personalities that fought and conducted policy around it while also showing the effects on the whole population.  If you’re interested in seventeenth-century history or military history, this book is for you.

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review 2020-01-06 15:49
Podcast #171 is up!
King Chongjo, an Enlightened Despot in Early Modern Korea - Christopher Lovins

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Chris Lovins about his study of the reign of the 18th century Korean monarch King Chŏngjo. Enjoy!

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review 2019-12-31 00:17
Western Civilization since 1500
Western Civilization Since 1500 - Walther Kirchner

Covering over 450 years of history in a little over 300 pages seems a daunting task, even more so when it begins in Europe and slowly spreads across the globe.  Western Civilization since 1500 by Walther Kirchner is a survey of the rise of European global dominance from the beginnings of “modern times” to the generation after World War II when the periphery powers of the United States and Soviet Union rose to dominance.

 

Kirchner spends the first 20 pages doing a quick recap of Western Civilization from its Sumerian beginnings to 1500.  Then over the course of the next 300 pages, Kirchner divides the approximately 450+ years of history into 20 chapters of specific “eras” whether political and/or cultural developments and happenings.  Unlike Kirchner’s previous survey, there was no real “highlight” for the general reader though the significance of some cultural individuals—writers, painters, composers, etc.—that in my own Western Civ and World History classes in high school and college were never mentioned or those that were mentioned that Kirchner didn’t thus showing the difference 30-35 years makes in historical studies.  Kirchner obvious adherence to the Marxist theory of history was on full display, but it did not necessarily mean a favorable view of Communist regimes or leaders.  As study aid for college students in the mid-1960s there were some interesting miscues (the misdating of the Battle of Yorktown stands out), omissions (the genocidal famine caused by the First Five Year Plan), and downright lies (that the U.S. citizens were sympathetic to the British from the beginning of WWII).  Given that this book is over 50 years old there is dated terminology that wouldn’t be used today, not all for politically correct reasons, that would make the reader do a double take if they didn’t know when this book was published.

 

Though this small volume is meant as a study aid to college students and a quick reference for general readers, to which is essentially succeeds, it is pretty old and should be used by astute history readers to learn how the study of history has changed over time.

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text 2019-11-16 17:44
Reading progress update: I've read 24 out of 1183 pages.
Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works - Thomas Middleton,Gary Taylor

In the Oxford Shakespeare, Introductions to individual works point out when the editors believe a work is collaborative or later adapted by someone other than Shakespeare. They print the work in full (2nd Edition, anyway) and indicate which parts they believe are by Shakespeare. All of the equivalent discussion is omitted in the Oxford Middleton, instead relegated to this volume. I decided I couldn't live without it.

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