- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (May 7, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1610393317
- ISBN-13: 978-1610393317
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #756,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832 1st Edition
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Fraser writes energetically about the political wrangling, finding both humor and humanity in the struggle.”
Total Politics (UK)
"Perilous Question is a cracking good read and should be on every parliamentarian's summer reading list."
Engaging, elaborate and elegantly wrought.”
A spirited attempt to bring the controversy and passion of the era to a new audience. Her prose is charming and fluent. She shows she has lost none of the touch that brought her fame as a popular historian.”
Antonia Fraser's superb narrative of the passing of the Bill, which, as well as providing incisive pen portraits of all the major protagonists, is expressive and elegiac of an age when, despite everything, enlightened rationality informed political discourse The 1820s and early 1830s have all too often been seen as a historical backwater between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the start of the Victorian era that began with the queen's accession in 1837. With Fraser's erudite and acute portrait of this age of reform, it won't be thought so anymore.”
In Fraser's latest work on British history, she deviates from biography (Mary, Queen of Scots; The Six Wives of Henry VIII) to tackle the perilous question” of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, seeking to get at the personalities involved in this historical moment and the reactions of people at the time Fraser moves the narrative along at a quick pace in order to give, as she says, a flavour of the times” The book is recommended for Fraser's fans and for British history enthusiasts.”
The Wharf (UK)
Antonia Fraser captures the febrile times with a kaleidoscope characters who leap off the page in their eminence, silliness and eloquence. This is a particular slice of history demanding a particular reader but it is edifying and breathless stuff and there are many lessons that our current ruling class could learn if they could tear themselves away from their expenses chits to make the effort.”
Shelf Awareness for Readers
Political gerrymandering as historical thriller: Who would have guessed? In Perilous Question, Antonia Fraser makes precisely that leap--presenting the history behind Britain's Great Reform Act of 1832 in terms that are both historically thorough and deeply fascinating .With her usual perception and clarity, Fraser draws life from a seemingly dry topic, turning political history into real story.”
The final chapters of the book read like a thriller The book should be required reading for today's millionaire ministers who seem sadly lily-livered by contrast with Grey and his Whigs. This is history as it should be written: lively, witty and, above all, a cracking good read. I found it almost impossible to put down.”
The Express (UK)
"Do children at school still learn about the Great Reform Bill of 1832? . What I don't recall from school is how thoroughly entertaining it was. What a slice of human drama, how tense, how crucial and how very nearly it could have foundered, thereby propelling our nation into riot and revolution. For that we need impeccable historian Antonia Fraser, who invests such humanity in her huge cast of characters.”
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The passage of the Reform Bill involved the forced approval of the House of Lords (by having King William IV threaten to name a large number of additional peers in order to tilt the Lords in favor of the bill). I assume that this led to a permanent diminishment in influence of the Lords, but Fraser doesn't mention this.
This book works best for students of English history who are already familiar with this period but want to drill down in a blow-by-blow description of the political battle over the bill. That didn't really work for me. I have in a general sense been aware of this particular crisis point but knew next to nothing about it. I generally like my history reading to combine the political events with explanations of the social, cultural and economic causes and effects. That's not this book.
This book is a must read for those who, like myself, may have tilted most of their reading in 19th century British history to the better known times and prime ministers of Queen Victoria whose reign began five years after the landmark 1832 Reform Bill. This book provides very good biographical insight into William IV, a monarch virtually neglected compared to Victoria. Also receiving in-depth exploration is Prime Minister Lord Grey, Robert Peel, Lord John Russell and we even briefly encounter the youthful Gladstone and Disraeli. Also worth mentioning are numerous excellent color reproductions of period portraits of William IV, Wellington, Peel, Grey, etc. It's unusual to find color plates in a book of this size and scope. Many highly amusing political cartoons of the era are also included with the these illustrations, grouped in the center of the book. It makes one wish someone would publish an extensive collection of such 19th century cartoons.
Perhaps the book's only failing is not placing the Reform Bill of 1832 in context with those that came along in 1867 and in the 1880s, and then into the 20th century, increasingly broadening the electorate. Such a brief summary would have fitted in nicely in the conclusions but that is a very small fault to find in an otherwise excellent work.
To that end, the Reform Bill as introduced cut the number of seats in parliament by 168 while adding half a million males to the electorate. The so-called "rotten boroughs" were to go away. These along with other core provisions triggered many months of national passion, roughhouse and peril.
The book is not always the easiest read, requiring some periods of endurance and discipline to keep the players straight, yet always relieved by bursts of excitement as the debates become drama. A lifetime of learning fuels this capsule history and Dame Fraser is a scholar with the proper voice to guide the common ear. She vividly records the bruises and the biases as the reform-minded House of Commons battles the status quo House of Lords, with the King an anxious and active principal.
The story is every bit as dramatic as the final days of the Nixon presidency when the temper of the nation seemed just a spark away from combustion. It is also a story of politics every bit as venal as that practiced in today's U.S. House of Representatives. But at least in 1832, the outcome was an actual, hard-won product.
Dame Fraser records that an Anglican preacher wrote at the time of the Reform Bill debate that, "all great alterations in human affairs are produced by compromise." The Reformers, she notes, strove to find the balance "between the abuses we wish to amend and the convulsions we hope to avert." Preacher and reformer alike offer worthy notions for modern legislators in an excellent book they might profitably read.
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