Book Reviews

Ratings
***** classic
****   very good
***     decent
**       ill-advised
*         stinker!

2007 CONTENDERS:  THESE WERE MY PERSONAL TOP PICKS!

The Discourse of Legitimacy in Early Modern England  Robert Zaller ****1/2
This mammoth sized book is about the dynamic force and mutability of ideological
discourses, circulated among elite literate society, and co-joined politically and religiously,
that were relative to the concept of legitimacy over the course of the dynamic and fateful
century between the Reformation and Long Parliaments.  Much like Peter Ackroyd’s
Albion,
this is a book about ideas that deftly, and frequently spectacularly, showcases the author’s
ability to integrate a wide range of political and literary knowledge into a witty, highly
readable discussion of the changing conception of how and why kings and their counselors,
ecclesiastical polities, and that representative institution known as parliament, considered
and explained their right to wield the power that they did within the English kingdom.  For
Zaller, the book’s climax, saved for the final pages, describing the fusion of political and
sacred legitimacy that Parliament had obtained, after a century of talking about it, firmly
marked the divide between medieval and modern conceptions of legitimacy.  If that isn’t
going out with a bang, I don’t know what is!

Locating Privacy in Tudor England  Lena Cowen Orlin ****1/2
This highly readable book blazes an exciting new trail in sixteenth century British studies
with this provocative study of privacy.  Orlin does not locate privacy nearly as much as she
subjects to critical scrutiny earlier notions and previous interpretations of this topic; in her
own words, “rarely is change as rational, as responsive, as schematic, and as evolutionary
as it can be made to seem by abstract argument.”  Using the painting of a mother and two
young sons that adorns the cover as both metaphor and qualitative example, Orlin’s
narrative brings to life the notion of familiar and corporate spaces, in painting and buildings,
an impressive feat, in an analysis that entices the reader to consider contemporary notions
of what we today label privacy, which ultimately is rendered more by-product that prime
motivator, as the author concludes; “despite all the impediments that have been the subject
of this book, privacy sometimes happened.”

The Good Women of the Parish:  Gender and Religion After the Black Death  
Katherine L. French ****1/2
Katherine French scores a major triumph with this work, a sequel to her earlier work on late
medieval English parishes.  Highly readable, and chock full of anecdotal material, French
takes her evidence and mines it to re-imagine both the motivations and the benefits women
derived from the work they performed on behalf of their local parish.  Her thesis:  the
increased scope for post-plague female agency grew right out of the “domestic” side of the
family division of labor; thought provoking and persuasive.  (this book was not eligible for
the prize)

Hakluyt’s Promise  Peter C. Mancall ****
This book does a terrific job of describing one particular 16th century modernizing trend,
overseas exploration, through the life and work of Richard Hakluyt, whose book,
Principall
Navigations
(1589) presaged both the commercial and the religious imperatives of the
British Empire.  Hakluyt is sort of like a 16th century version of the Venerable Bede, as he
vividly described a world he did not actually experience himself; despite several
opportunities over the course of his life, Hakluyt never crossed the ocean blue to the new
world he was so adamant about colonizing.  Nevertheless, his writings, colored by his
imagination, described the early efforts of English explorers; such as the Cabots and Martin
Frobisher, in their pursuit of an expanded role for a Protestant England in the brave new
world of the North Atlantic.  Mancall effectively juxtaposes medieval notions (sea monsters!)
with modern ones (globalized commercial and evangelical possibilities!) to bring to life the
Elizabethan England that laid the groundwork for the Jacobean new world acquisitions.

The Monarchical Republic of Early Modern England ed. John F. McDiarmid
****
Patrick Collinson’s 1987 essay on this topic was memorable for the way it altered our
conception of Tudor politics.  As contemporaries such as Thomas Smith and John Aylmer
inform us, sixteenth century England possessed a “mixed” constitution that provided  the
necessary brakes upon monarchical power that were deemed especially necessary during
the reigns of, as James I later put it,  “minors, tyrants, or women or simple kings . .  .”    the
“monarchical republic” also included forms of local government, a crucial element in the
relationship between the core of royal government and the periphery of local
administration:  this group of essays by the cream of the crop of current Anglo-American
Tudor scholars (Ethan Shagan, Scott Lucas, Stephen Alford, Anne McLaren), explores,
refines, and questions a number of jumping off points raised in Collinson’s original essay.  
While some of the essays seem tangential, all are thoughtful and well-written; this volume
will have both immediate and long lasting impact.

Caribbean Exchanges:  Slavery and the Transformation of English Society 1640-1700  
Susan Dwer Amussen  ****
Amussen presents an impressive narrative here, using literary and cultural artifacts as the
primary evidence for an essentially material interpretation- the motivation here was wealth!  
Whether we Anglophones like it or not, Britain presented the modernizing world of 17th
century Europe with a rather horrifying model for justifying the means by which imperial
forms of wealth and power were created and perpetuated; Amussen does a superb job of
describing and integrating the combined economic, social, and gendered implications of this
dynamic historical process.  My only reservation with this book is with some of the more far
reaching claims; it is not at all clear how widespread within British society was the impact of
the importation of Africans and slavery, at least for the period covered by the book.  This is
my only reservation, however, with an otherwise impressive book.

The Wealth of Wives:  Women, Law and Economy in Late Medieval London
Barbara Hanawalt  ****
Barbara Hanwalt brings to life the bustling economic life of medieval London in this
thoroughly researched and insightful book.  The city of London, like other chartered
boroughs in England and on the continent, made its own rules concerning the economic
roles women were allowed to play.  In Hanawalt’s analysis, London’s legal codes offered
significant protections for women’s inheritance rights, creating a horizontal distribution of
capital assets that was vital to the city’s economic growth, in marked contrast to the
patrilineal systems that operated in much of Europe during this time frame.  This book
bursts at the seams with anecdotal material, mostly derived from court records, that
describes women’s economic activities up and down the social ladder, from propertied serial
monogamists who racked up fortunes in dowers to bawdy entrepreneurs who sold
everything from salted fish to their own bodies in order to survive the mean streets of
medieval London town.  More descriptive than analytical, Hanawalt banishes any notions of
a medieval golden age for women; nonetheless she illustrates the art of the possible in the
myriad of arrangements that made up the household economies in London.

Restoration and Revolution in Britain  Gary S. De Krey  ****
This book makes a solid textbook for the study of Restoration Britain through the “Glorious”
Revolution of 1688/89.  Much like Gentles book on the earlier 17th century Civil War, De
Krey’s Restoration and Revolution is a thoroughly British affair, as is his emphasis on the
importance of tri- kingdom religious heterogeneity on political developments during this
period of history.  De Krey argues that the Restoration Crisis was the beginning of modern
British politics, which invigorated an already dynamic public sphere (a cursory discussion of
Jurgen Habermas, however, would have been helpful), while the Glorious Revolution was an
“imperial” event, both economically and ideologically, an interpretation pleasing to the ‘little
whig’ who lives inside all of us British scholars.

Liturgy and Literature in the Making of Protestant England  Timothy Rosendale
****
In the introduction to this book, the author makes some rather far reaching claims on behalf
of the historical influence of the various editions of The Book of Common Prayer (or BCP).  I
admire the verve with which Rosendale stakes this claim, and the cogent argument he puts
forward to advance his argument.  While his prose can often be a touch esoteric (keep this
in mind for undergraduates), Rosendale has a flair for style and argument that punctuates
his description of the BCP’s influence on an English Reformation that assumed a life of its
own in the breadth of its horizontal reach of its individualism, which the vertical thrust of
royal and ecclesiastical hierarchy could never fully control or contain, yet “the seemingly
irreconcilable claims of early modern absolutism and Protestant individualism were textually
synthesized into productive new tensions.”  Does this mean that Cranmer was subversive?  I
was fascinated with how Rosendale injected discussions of Sidney and Shakespeare to
buttress his claims, but most importantly, I walked away with a greater and clearer
understanding of the complicated doctrines that defined the Henrician, Edwardian, and
Elizabethan churches.  (The Neil Young reference also identifies the author as one
cool
dude!
)

Poets and Power From Chaucer to Wyatt  Robert J. Meyer-Lee  
***1/2
As do historians, literary critics continue to search for the continuities and the ruptures
between the late middle ages and the early modern period, in this case, the influence
through time of the archetypal 15th century poets, John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve,
both literary successors to Geoffrey Chaucer and clients of the Lancastrian dynasty.  As a
non-specialist (I am a historian!) I am impressed by the interpretive gauntlet that Meyer-Lee
has thrown down concerning the wide ranging influence, through time, of Lydgate, whom
Meyer-Lee considers to be the unofficial poet laureate for the Lancastrian dynasty.  What I
found most fascinating (an instructive for my current project!) was the discussion offered
here on the intersection of poetry and politics, and the tension between moral authority and
the need to satisfy the politicized representational needs of royal patrons.  I also liked the
provocative use of the verb deploy.

The Northern rebellion of 1569:  Faith, Politics, and Protest in Elizabethan England K.
J. Kesselring ***
Kesselring has written a fine study of the 1569 rebellion of the “Northern Earls” which adds
a new level of historical agency to the “common” participants that redefines the nature of
religious feeling and its relationship to political processes.  What is especially noteworthy
here is how Kesselring attempts to revise earlier interpretations of the revolt as elite driven,
with support from below fueled by notions of magnate loyalty.  Striking also is the image of
Elizabeth, her patience evaporated, wreaking bloody vengeance on the participants on a
scale not seen in other late medieval and early modern revolts.
(Even though this book is not eligible for the prize, I included this fyi).

Tyburn’s Martyrs:  Executions in England 1675-1775  Andrea McKenzie
***
This book is not nearly as macabre as its title might suggest.  It is well researched, and the
anecdotal material is particularly expressive, as McKenzie labors to convince the reader that
this study of public executions has much to inform us about social and cultural processes.  It
is thought provoking, as the author brings to life the last gasp of a providential world view,
suggesting different and unique ways to historically mark the transition from “early modern”
to “modern.”

The English Revolution and the Wars in the Three Kingdoms 1638-1652  Ian Gentles
***
This is one big book, exhaustively researched, that takes a “big picture” of the British Isles
approach to explain the causes, prosecution, and results of the wars between king,
Parliament, independents, the Irish, the new Model Army, the Solemn League and
Covenant, and the constantly spinning wheel of ever changing realignments that, by 1652,
had resulted in the conquests of Ireland and Scotland and the beheading of the hapless
Charles I.  To Gentles, this was not a civil war but a revolution; among the many facets of
this work is well crafted commentary on the voluminous historiography of the conflict.  
Unfortunately, the bulk of descriptive material makes it difficult to see the forest with so
many trees within the narrative, while Gentles fails to pull it all together with a clarifying
conclusion, which ultimately renders this book a worthy but difficult read.
The Jewel House:  Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution  
Deborah E. Harkness  **** THE WINNER!

Harkness labored like a scholar in the archives to research this sprawling, often episodic
account of the intersection of scientific inquiry, commerce, and court patronage in late
Elizabethan London, utilizing a methodology (described in the book’s closing pages)
derived from social sciences other than history.  This makes for a cutting edge
interpretation; the “jewel house” is London itself, in her intellectual communities bound by
friendship, competition, and an intense desire to employ what we call today the “scientific
method” as a means to improve their material condition.  This is a major work of
scholarship, but at times it almost requires a leap of faith to accept Harkness’ contention
that the myriads of disparate connections between individuals such as James Garrett and
Hugh Plat actually existed.  I suspect they might have, but this work comes perilously close
to creating a “Whig” interpretation of the history of British science.  Nevertheless, the book
packs a powerful and thought-provoking punch.
Carole Levin Dreaming the English Renaissance
****
In this book Levin provides an intriguing portal into the Early Modern English world view in
her examination of the power and influence of dreams.  I should come out right now and say
that I not only admire Levin’s work, but she is also a close friend and my co-editor for the
“Queenship and Power” book series for Palgrave Macmillan.  So, let me offer the measure of
this book from the perspective of my students.  Every other spring I teach “Introduction to
British Studies,” an interdisciplinary course in which we read and discuss works of history,
literature, theatre, and music.  This last spring (2009) we read Peter Ackroyd’s
Albion, my
first book,
The Lioness Roared, Shakespeare’s Richard III, Jane Austen’s Sense and
Sensibility
, and Peter Brown’s The Love You Make, an insider’s account of the career of the
Beatles.  Getting students to discuss and analyze what they have read can often be difficult,
but, hands down, Dreaming excited my student’s imagination and stimulated discussion much
more than the other assigned works, as we collectively came to the conclusion that much of
the providential world view of Early Modern England is still quite with us today.  This is the
measure of this book that I offer here.

Frances E. Dolan Marriage and Violence:  The Early Modern Legacy
***3/4
Dolan pursues an ambitious agenda with this book, which opens and closes with a scathing
critique of modern American marriage.  In between is a mostly fascinating discussion of the
enormous influence that early modern English conceptions of marriage have had on shaping
our perceptions of what marriage means to us today.  Dolan has published much on the
topic of marriage, and this book is, above all, an extremely thoughtful study, as she points
out that are actually a number of competing and contradictory conceptualizations of marriage
at play both then and now; the hierarchical, with the husband/father as head who is,
theoretically, ‘the boss” the companionate, in which two equal beings come together as one
in love and companionship, and the contractual, in which two interested parties come
together to a create a mutually beneficial, symbiotic socio-economic relationship.  All of these
types of marriage have their problems, and engender violence in specific ways.  While most
of the book lends itself to her grand design, “in order to imagine, much less create,
genuinely new social arrangements, we have to let go of a past that still shapes our present,”
the most compelling chapter is the last, a study of depictions of marriage in novels about
Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, which masterly demonstrates how works of fiction have shaped
our understanding of the power dynamics of marriage.

Alan Houston, Benjamin Franklin and the Politics of Improvement
***3/4
I should come right out and admit that I have never read a scholarly study of Franklin’s
career prior to this book.  That said, I found this book both edifying and enjoyable.  While I
cannot comment on its place within the historiography of eighteenth century American
history, I can about its place in eighteenth century British history, or the history of the Atlantic
world, in which the histories of Britain and America are one, a concept Franklin himself
subscribed to over the course of his long and prolific career.  Houston’s study clearly
identifies Franklin as a first rate Enlightenment thinker, in the same class as Locke, Hume,
and the rest of the French philosophes.  What makes Franklin’s brand of Enlightenment
thinking so palatable to a modern audience is the emphasis on the utilitarian results of
improvement, in which political economy was fused with the moral and ethical results of
Franklin’s unceasing efforts to make the Britain in which he lived in both prosperous and
efficient.  

Jennifer Summit Memory's Library
***3/4
This book (this year's JBS winner) filled an important gap for me in my research on George
Ferrers, who has his own connection with John Lydgate and the various antiquarians who
assembled early modern English libraries.   I am personally intrigued by the continuities in
England between "late medieval" and "early modern," and I soaked up Summit's revelations
like a sponge.  The control of knowledge in the wake of rapid transitions (i.e. the invention of
printing, and the dislocations of the English Reformation) is a theme that can be grasped by
scholars of all phases of British history.  Indeed, the interpretation presented here stands the
Whig theory of British history right on its head! (if you want to know
why, read the book!)  
The chapter on Humphrey duke of Gloucester's fifteenth century library is especially
illuminating.

Sarah Ellenzweig The Fringes of Belief
***3/4
I found this book to be the most thought provoking of all the entries this year, in which the
subject matter easily transcends the conceptual category that Ellenzweig stakes out for her
interpretive turf, to provide an erudite commentary on the twisted path to modernity that
occurred in what we call the early modern epoch.  This book could easily have been written
in an off-putting esoteric fashion.  Instead, the clarity of the narrative is matched by the
lucidity of the argument; I learned much about Rochester and Behn, while the final chapter
on Pope’s Essay On Man is a masterful conclusion to this work.  After reading this book, I
cannot help but wonder how many thinkers and politicians in modern times have wrestled
with the conceptual genie that is the utility of belief as both a social and a political stabilizer,
but chose to keep such thoughts to themselves.  

Phyllis Mack, Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment
***1/2
In his 1963 opus, The Making of the English Working Class, E.P. Thompson acknowledged
the historical force of Methodism, with Marxian disgust and loathing.  Feminist scholars have
nailed him to the whipping post ever since, in their own reworking of class formation.  Mack
takes a different route.  Like Cox’s work on missionaries (discussed below), Mack argues for
the essential sincerity of religious belief as an agent of historical change, and she lets her
own cast of historical actors do the talking.  This approach brings alive the age of Wesley.  
But in addition to a brisk and compelling narrative, Mack integrates the methodologies of
social and gender history to manufacture a though provoking analysis that makes a powerful
case for the rise of Methodism as part and parcel of the process of modernization itself.”
((18)  Methodism was superb at social control (indeed, this is Thompson’s explanation for
why Britain failed to have a continental style revolution during the processes of
industrialization) but Mack emphasizes the kind of individual control over emotion that
empowers her subjects as both thinkers and actors- the analogy of the actor on page 11 is
especially apt!

Jeffrey Cox The British Missionary Enterprise Since 1700
***1/2
I really liked this book, for a number of highly subjective reasons.  When I think about what
makes a good book, I contemplate that ultimate test- what will my under graduates think if I
assigned it.  I feel confident that this book would be warmly received in my British Empire
class; it is not esoteric in the slightest, yet it pulls together strands of post colonial empire
studies, women’s history and gender studies, and an obvious concern for the role that
religion played in the imperial enterprise.  At the same time, it has a good beat, and you can
dance to it.  The history of Protestantism, in all of its doctrinal and institutional formulations,
has always been central to a comprehensive understanding of British history; most historians
of Modern Britain will see the corollaries between the metropole and the periphery in this
study that restores the role of women and the colonized in the many different ways that
Christianity was transplanted in the imperial territories, which did much to contribute to that
reservoir of goodwill that still exists with the commonwealth today that is largely absent in the
post colonial territories of France, Holland, and Belgium.

George Boulukos The Grateful Slave
***3/4
This book comprises a well written and intriguing interdisciplinary study of the origins and
evolution of racially based conceptions of slavery in the early modern British Atlantic world.  
The author makes bold, sweeping claims concerning his thesis, which is argued consistently
throughout the text.  The problem for me as a classically trained historian (which is a quaint
way of saying I can be, in some respects, “old-school”) is making the vital connection
between cause (works of literature creating the ‘trope” of the ‘grateful slave’) and effect (the
ability to demonstrate how these works of literature created social and cultural perceptions of
slavery).  The world that Boulukos creates is fascinating, as he weaves economic theory and
psychoanalysis into his narrative for added complexity.  Ultimately, this adds up to one big
question- do we live in a Foucaldian world, or not?  (I do believe this world moved to Texas
with the Bushes!)

Derek Neale The Masculine Self
***1/2
This book represents a solid work of interdisciplinary research and interpretation.  Gender is
not just about women; Neale goes boldly where no man (or woman) has gone before, to
subject masculinity to the methodological and interpretive modes of women’s history and
gender studies.  It is to his credit that, despite the abundance of evidence examined, Neale
does not make any far reaching claims concerning the role or the importance of concepts of
masculinity within the late medieval/early modern time frame that he examines.  In fact, Neale
seems rather tentative in his conclusions at the end of the book.  Nevertheless, this book
makes a fine jumping off point for future analyses of social constructions of the male gender
in British history.

Colin C. Calloway White People, Indians, and Highlanders
***1/2
I rated this book as highly as I did for the simple fact that I enjoyed reading it.  Calloway
reaches way too far in his efforts to demonstrate the extent and depth of the relationship
between Indians and Highlanders, but this book remains a thoughtful enterprise, as the
seasoned scholar employed his intellect to explore an obviously heartfelt historical journey
that bridged the personal, the familial, and the professional.  While this is far from a book of
original research, I learned much about Highlanders and Native Americans in an enlarged,
imperial British context.

Alison Games The Web of Empire
***1/2
The richness of the anecdotal material makes this work a compelling read, in particular the
account of the failed colony on Madagadcar.  The book is most illuminating in its descriptions
of “cosmopolitan” interactions in the Mediterranean, the Levant, and East Asia, and the
attempt to link these experiences with those encountered in North America, the Caribbean,
and Ireland reveals the author’s complex and ambitious scholarly goals.  The results,
however, are a mixed bag; nothing really all that new here on Ireland or Virginia, although
the other chapters provide fresh counterpoints to the decided lack of cosmopolitanism in
these endeavors.  Nevertheless, this book makes a fine addition to the growing body of
imperial studies, which appear to be the most ‘cutting-edge” of current British historical
studies, although it has an almost ‘old-school’ quaintness with its lack of gender, or any other
form of recent methodological analysis.