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The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783 [Paperback]

John Brewer
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1, 1990 0674809300 978-0674809307

This powerful interpretation of English history provides a completely new framework for understanding how Britain emerged in the eighteenth century as a major international power.

John Brewer’s brilliant analysis makes clear that the drastic increase in Britain's military involvement (and success) in Europe and the expansion of her commercial and imperial interests would not have happened without a concurrent radical increase in taxation, along with a surge in deficit financing and the growth of a substantial public administration. Warfare and taxes reshaped the English economy, and at the heart of these dramatic changes lay an issue that is still very much with us today: the tension between a nation's aspirations to be a major power and fear of the domestic consequences of such an ambition—namely, the loss of liberty.


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Brewer poses another question of great importance...how did a small island, of no great population, and which had, for the most part, played an insignificant role in seventeenth-century Europe, transform itself, in the space of sixty years, into a great naval power with an immense empire? Brewer is to be congratulated [on] here identifying a major theme and pursuing it with great skill. (John Cannon Times Literary Supplement)

What Brewer does is to link the work of other historians with his own research into the workings of the bureaucratic machine, and to draw some wider conclusions about the nature of British society in general. (Jonathan Clark Sunday Times)

Brewer has countered the traditional image of Britain as a lightly administered society by showing the degree to which the ideology of liberty was founded on a highly organized bureaucracy. (David Simpson New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

John Brewer is Director of the Center for Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Studies and Director of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674809300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674809307
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true work of real genius! November 27, 1999
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"From its modest beginnings as... a minor, infrequent almost inconsequential participant in the great wars that ravaged sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe... Britain emerged in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as the military Wunderkind of the age.... [B]y the reign of George III Britain had become one of the heaviest weights in the balance of power in Europe [and]... was on the threshold of becoming a transcontinental power..."
The above quote is the opening of War, Money, and the English State. There have been many histories of Britain's military successes in the century after the expulsion of James II Stuart--biographies of the first Duke of Marlborough, histories of the British navy, narratives of the Seven Years' War, and so forth. There have been many histories of Britain's economic growth--and even attempts to explain why Britain saw such mercantile and then industrial success in the eighteenth century. But the connection? John Brewer takes on the task of filling in the gap: how was Britain's economic success translated into massive military power?
This question is especially interesting because Britain appeared to successfully mobilize its resources for eighteenth century wars in a manner very different from the continental "absolutist" powers. The apparatuses of royal secret police, lits de justice, the co-option of the middle nobility in the centralization of power and authority, and the ideology of a king "freed from the duty of observing the laws" are in large part absent from British military mobilization. It followed a different pattern--one that may have had decisive consequences for human history...
John Brewer handles his topic superbly, making The Sinews of Power one of the best books I read in 1991, and making it one of the best books I read in 1995, when I re-read it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating January 12, 2009
Format:Paperback
This book is devoted to an apparently narrow topic, the financing of the 18th century British war effort. In the course of the 18th century, Britain went from a peripheral European power to the greatest nation in Europe. During this period, Britain was almost continually at war. Explaining how Britain paid for these successful hegemonic wars provides a series of illuminating insights into 18th century Britain. At the time of the Glorious Revolution, Britain was a relatively weak power with a relatively weak monarchy, modest administrative apparatus, and a modest Army and Navy. Britain had largely been on sidelines during most of the destructive wars of 17th century continental Europe. Brewer demonstrates that apparent British weakness proved to be a blessing in disguise. Like other European states, Britain became a fiscal-military state, but later than its continental competitors. Britain was relatively unified, few internal trade barriers, and had uniform legal and tax policies. While the monarchy was relatively weak, the relatively strong parliamentary institutions meant that when Britain became committed to continental warfare and relatively high taxation, the parliamentary participation of the aristocracy and gentry gave tax policy a legitimacy largely unknown on the continent. At the same time, parliamentary debate and criticism of government acted as a relative check on corruption and promoted relatively efficient administration. The relatively late development of central administration resulted in a modern bureaucracy with relatively little venality (purchase of offices) and tax farming. Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good November 5, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In the 17th Century England was a minor power which steered clear of European Wars. From the 1690's on England became one of the strongest military powers in Europe. It developed a strong navy and acquired an empire outside Europe. It however was able to keep its European enemies of balance by the use of subsidies to allies such as Prussia.

So successful was England that it not only conquered one empire. It actually lost its American colonies, its first empire and then replaced it by conquests in India and Africa.

Some years ago it was thought that the key to England's success was its growing economic power which took place hand in hand with its growth of empire. This book suggests that something else was happening. For most of the period France was a larger country and its growth rates were not that dissimilar. What was different about England was that it was able to impose very high tax burdens on its citizens with low administrative costs and it was better able to debt manage.

The book suggests that the reason for this was that England's government was not a monarchy but a government that was shared between a monarch and the parliament. This firstly meant that taxation was seen as fair. Secondly there was oversight which led to tax collection being efficient. In France tax collection was done by created hereditary positions. In England it was done by salaried positions with people appointed on the basis of educational qualifications.

The main devise used to collect tax was excise. There was no income tax until the time of Pitt the younger and land tax was not set at a high rate. Rather a large number of commodities such as beer soap, whine etc had a tax placed on them at the point of production.
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