(I got an ARC of this book courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
I like to say that you can't really go wrong with Peter Ackroyd, and it seems to be once again the case. Even though what I read of him years ago feels pretty far by now, I still stand by this opinion. The man has a knack to present historical elements in such a way that one just can't help but come back to his books no matter what—at least, I can't. I stopped counting how many times I put my tablet in Sleep mode, thinking "I should do something else/read all the other books that I should have reviewed long before this one", yet kept opening the file again after half an hour or so.
Of course, I'll also confess to a complete lack of impartiality when a book deals with the Civil Wars, since it's one of my favourite periods of British history (the other one being the Victorian era, but let's not go there for now).
What you won't find here, obviously, is a very detailed account of every little event of the 17th century: there's just not enough room for that, and I'm well aware of it. Rebellion is the third volume of "The History of England", and as such, it deals with the period as a whole. (If I wanted to know how exactly the battle of Naseby went, I... Actually, I would open another book I own, detailing precisely that, down to the bullets found years later on the battlefield.)
What you'll get here, however, is a solid account that can be read even if you're not a History major. In a compelling style, the author manages to convey causes and consequences with definite clarity, and even some humour. Because, let's be honest, this is a gem:
"At the end of the discussion Cromwell, in one of those fits of boisterousness or hysteria that punctuated his career, threw a cushion at one of the protagonists, Edmund Ludlow, before running downstairs; Ludlow pursued him, and in turn pummelled him with a cushion."
"Cromwell now always carried a gun. In a riding accident, later in the year, the pistol fired in his pocket and the wound kept him in bed for three weeks."
It gets to show that the historical figures we take for granted in terms of seriousness aren't always so. But then, there's no way now to forget about those assassination plots, right, since they pushed Cromwell to carry that gun?
The narrative (it reads like a narrative, not like something arid, for sure) is interspersed with such little anecdotes, as well as chapters about literature (Hobbes' Leviathan, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress...), science (Isaac Newton...), and other daily life happenings, reflecting how people lived in the period.
In short, heartily recommended by yours truly.
I gave my review a serious titivation and posted it to my blog...but if you've never read this book, go straight to the bookstore and buy it.
Stories like this are too true to tell in non-fiction. Stories like this are too hard to read when they're merely factual. But don't kid yourself, this is a reality and we here in the fat and happy West don't give it any thought.
Change that. Buy the book. Read the book.