Brisk, thoughtful assessment of the full significance and implications of an episode in British history underappreciated on...



A shrewd analyst of American politics turns his gaze eastward to the Glorious Revolution that placed William and Mary on England’s throne and served as an example to America’s Founders.

Following the English Civil War and the uneasy Restoration of Charles II, James II became king in 1685, determined to make England safe for Catholicism. To this end, he manipulated elections to Parliament, eliminated many representative assemblies and otherwise intemperately exercised royal control. Meanwhile, William of Orange, stadtholder of the United Netherlands and husband of James’s daughter Mary, was determined to oppose the hegemonic ambitions of France’s Sun King. Fearful that James might ally with Louis XIV, William invaded England in 1688 with a force of 500 ships and 15,000 men. Barone (Hard America, Soft America, 2005, etc.) attributes William’s largely bloodless victory not so much to his considerable talents as a soldier-king, but rather to his sublime understanding and mastery of politics. Accustomed to the Dutch exercise of tolerance and a free press, William used pamphlets and newsletters to sway an increasingly literate public and prepare the ground for his “invitation” to Britain. He convinced the English that he would end the untrammeled power of James and his counselors, ensure a free and lawful Parliament and save the Church of England and the ancient constitution. With the help of talented general John Churchill (who betrayed the king), William maneuvered brilliantly to achieve his larger political goal of binding England to a war with France. He allowed James to escape the island, avoiding the threat of regicide. He also acceded to the Declaration of Rights, guaranteeing citizens’ rights to petition and keep arms, prohibiting excessive bail, fines and illegal punishments. These rights, Barone argues, along with William’s promise not to interfere with Parliament, are precisely what the American colonists had in mind 75 years later.

Brisk, thoughtful assessment of the full significance and implications of an episode in British history underappreciated on this side of the Atlantic.

Pub Date: May 8, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-9792-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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