Tuesday, 21 June 2011

I've been reading again - here's my review for Amazon

Having been inadequately educated and having been brought up amidst Toryism and surrounded by what passes for Tory 'thought,' I have long known that what was missing in my reading at least was more study of the radicals in our British history. I have tried to remedy the omission. I came to admire David Lloyd George for his sticking up for the down-trodden in Wales and elsewhere and for his opposing the war with the Boers and, likewise, James Ramsay Macdonald for his principled but unsuccessful stand against British involvement in war in 1914. Another book has now come along that has helped me again.

'A Radical History of Britain.' by Edward Vallance, is a massive (639 pages, including notes and the index) and important study of British history as seen via radical eyes. It starts (after an 'introduction' that brings in King Alfred) with the Magna Carta. It moves on to the turbulent fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and I can now better distinguish my Jack Cade from my Robert Kett, my John Ball from my Jack Straw, and my Wat Tyler from my Lollards.

The English Revolution - one of my favourite periods of history - is well covered and such as the Levellers, the Diggers and the Muggletonians become people and causes rather than the footnotes to which they are often consigned. No radical history would be worthwhile without chapters on Thomas Paine, the Rights of Man and a description of the torn British attitudes towards the French Revolution. The Peterloo Massacre is given pride of place, as are the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Chartists. I knew about these but I now know much more.

Later in the nineteenth century, the emergence of the women's suffragists brought to prominence the rights of women as much as the 'rights of man.' The latter didn't always embrace the former. One of my reservations about the book was that too much space is given to the suffragists' cause at the expense of other aspects of radicalism.

Another reservation was that some great radicals are not mentioned at all. For example, Mr Joseph Arch, M.P. (1826 - 1919), founder of the first union of agricultural labourers and an outstanding advocate of better pay and votes for many of the labourers - not won until 1884 - as well as a strong supporter of freedom of religion in the country areas where the Church of England was dominant and the introduction of Parish Councils. I recall in my own lifetime the mutual antagonism of the respective adherents of 'church' and 'chapel.' Sadly, both church and chapel are finding these secular times hard. Parish Councils thrive, however. Maybe that is what some of those early British radicals desired.

All in all, though I had reservations about this book, I recommend it highly. It's a very good read and I continue to learn.

Here's the link to the book, the review - and others:


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