When I started blogging five years ago, I had been reading fairly diligently for decades but writing very little. Now the situation is reversed; I write almost every day but do far too little serious reading.
A week of vacation cannot reverse this deficit, but at least it afforded me the opportunity to make a dent in the pile of books I’d been hoping to read. One of them was Our First Revolution, Michael Barone’s fine study of England’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-89. As the title implies, Barone argues that this revolution in England helped shape our own one less than 100 years later, as well as the form of government and the economic system we eventually settled upon. But in addition to advancing this thesis, Barone studiously walks us through the palace intrigue and (this is Barone after all) the English electoral politics that led to the events of 1688-89. He also revives for our consideration one of history’s central and fascinating, but generally forgotten figures, William of Orange.
Finally, in addition to looking prospectively across the Atlantic, Barone looks eastward across the European continent to place the Glorious Revolution in the context of the balance of power politics of the day. He explains, for example, that William never would have left the Netherlands for England in 1688 if not for the success of the King of Poland and the Holy Roman Emperor against the Turks earlier in the decade, which enabled them to tie down France’s King Louis XIV. As Barone elegantly puts it, “the catastrophe for Islam at one end of Europe was a necessary condition for the triumph of Protestantism in the British Isles.”
This, then, is the best kind of history writing — one that combines a conscientious focus on the particular with an insightful treatment of the big picture.
JOHN adds: The book is indeed excellent. We discussed Our First Revolution with Barone on our radio show; go here to listen to the interview or download the podcast. To buy the book, which we highly recommend, click on the graphic below.
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