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Cromwell Paperback – March 30, 2001

3.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

The acclaimed English biographer Lady Antonia Fraser is also a talented mystery writer whose Quiet As a Nun was filmed for the Mystery! series on PBS.
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Product Details

  • Series: Grove Great Lives
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Grove Press ed edition (March 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802137660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802137661
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a diligent & conscientious look at the life of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658 AD) from his modest beginnings as a small landowner , his spiritual evolution into a devout (but self-rightous) Puritan to his election to the English parliament, followed by his role as the the chief protagonist in the English civil war in the 1640's which culminated in the beheading of Charles I (1649) . The events leading up to the dismissal of the "Rump" parliament in 1652 and the establishment of the protectorate (essentially Cromwell's dictatorship) are also narrated ably.All the important battles(Edgehill,Naseby etc) are sketched in detail .Antonia Fraser does a pretty good job collating and narrating all the major events in Cromwell's life but what's missing from this book is LIFE (incidentally the "bio" in biography stands for "life"!) .It is an OK history but a fairly mediocre biography .For instance Cromwell is widely regarded as the man who galvanised the energies of 17th century England (by getting rid of an effete monarch and massively building up the navy) effectively laying down the foundations of the subsequent British empire but this book gives the reader very little sense of that .Considering that Cromwell's contemporaries included figures like Cardinal Mazarin,Milton,William Harvey,Francis Bacon and the birth of Newton(1642 AD) this book does a fairly poor job of giving us a "feel" for the post Elizabethan England and the dynamic energy that must have characterised it ____a good biography being more than just a day to day narrative of the subject's life.This is quite a leaden and turgid book .I finished it more out of a sense of obligation than pure reading pleasure( it is more than 700 pages long!) . It is most definitely NOT a page turner!
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Format: Paperback
I don't know much about the English Civil War. I do know a fair bit about military history (having read a lot of it over the past 25 years) and so I somehow came into possession of a second-hand copy of Antonia Fraser's biography of Oliver Cromwell. This is a well-written, thorough (perhaps a bit too thorough) biography of a fascinating, very deeply religious man and successful soldier.
The author backgrounds Cromwell reasonably well, given that sources for his early life are presumably scarce, but the heart of the book (after the first 90 pages or so) is his military and political career. He started this as a Member of Parliament, became a junior soldier (a captain to start), moved up through the ranks to the top of England's military, then reverted to politics as Lord Protector, and was even offered the crown as king just before he died. All of this last happened in the final sixteen or so years of his life: a very eventful period.

The book divides into three stages after the early life segment: subordinate commander in the Army, commander of the Army, and finally Lord Protector. The last is the longest, with much discussion in detail of English politics of the era, the wars they fought and why, and issues ranging from religious tolerance to the fate of Royalists who stayed in England when the King was executed and Parliament took on the reins of government. The military chapters are especially well done. Fraser isn't a military historian, but she exhibits a considerable grasp of the nature of battles and why things happen the way they do. The battles are covered in considerable detail, so that Cromwell's genius can be understood (he appears to be the only English general in history able to control that country's cavalry) and his impact fully appreciated.
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Format: Paperback
Cromwell is perhaps the single most controversial figure in English history. Only John and Richard III have attracted as much venom as he has, and there are still people alive today who hate him -- see some of the other reviews here for at least one example. Naturally the truth is complicated, and Fraser lays out a good deal of detail in support of her case, which is that Cromwell was much maligned, and was on the whole a good and religious man trying hard to do what he thought was right.
I had no prior belief about Cromwell, but I have to say Fraser convinced me rather of the opposite -- that he was a religious fanatic, brilliant but limited, who was neither a great ruler nor personally very admirable. Her apologies for some of his worst sins, such as the terrible events in Ireland, are outlandish.
On the plus side, this is a thorough and detailed book, with enough information to allow a reader to make up their own mind. Fraser does at least keep the facts separate from her opinions. The book is excellent on Cromwell himself; it's pretty good on details of the Civil Wars, though it doesn't go to the level that an exclusively military history might. However, it's surprisingly weak on the overall political background. To truly understand Cromwell you need to know what came before and after. I would have liked to see more about the religious state of the country, and why it got that way, and also about the Revolution of only thirty years after his death. But in concentrating on Cromwell the man (at perhaps too great a length), Fraser has skimped on the surrounding politics.
Overall, I'd recommend this only if you're deeply interested in knowing a lot about Cromwell's life, or if you already know the political and religious framework of the years 1640-1660.
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