on May 1, 2006
I consider myself reasonably well read and with a long standing interest in history, although mostly either ancient or twentieth century. However, before picking up this book I new almost nothing about what is known as the long seventeenth century. As my interest developed after reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque cycle of novels and a couple of biographies of Robert Hooke and Samuel Pepys I looked for a good introductory book on the period.
This is that book.
It really provides an excellent introduction to the sweep of politics and developments from the ascension of James VI and I to the throne of England, though the civil war and subsequent commonwealth, through to the Glorious Revolution and beyond to the death of Queen Anne and the Hannoverian age.
Barry Coward does an excellent job of keeping the reader focussed on the developments and themes that ran though the period (religion, with catholics, protestants and non-conformists; the evolution of 'government' between monarch and parliament). He explains the evolution of current thinking about the period, and whilst making his own opinion clear he does say when alternative interpretations are available.
Of course there are many times when I wish that he could have explored topics in greater depth (the whole civil war take only part of one chapter, for example), but there are more specialist books available on every subject (many referred to in the excellent bibliography). Also there are many thousands of people mentioned by name, and a short biographical section would have been useful to me, but the main personalities can be researched on wikipedia if required.
Overall, get this book, read this book and then be prepared to read a lot more books on the parts that interest you.