The Leveller Revolution by John Rees. Book about the Leveller movement of the English Civil War period. It's balanced somewhere between being an academic and a popular book. It's written in an accessible style but Rees assumes quite a lot of background knowledge: I had to resort to Wikipedia a lot. He also sticks to chronological order, which helps in that there's a kind of story, but also leaves the early chapters a bit bewildering as it has a lot of names of people (John Lilburne, Thomas Rainsborough) with no clear significance.
The academic background is that there was apparently a revisionist tendency recently to play down the scale, significance and unity of the Levellers. One of Rees purposes is to refute that, which he seems to do quite successfully, quoting them and showing where the evidence contradicts. I wasn't aware of this revisionism before so I feel a bit unnecessarily educated about it now, though it might be useful if I encounter it again.
Rees also emphasizes how much the Levellers were like a modern political movement, rather than a political party. They had a great deal of organisation: it took a lot of work to generate their massive petitions. They were able to coordinate for particular goals, uniting with more moderate factions to oppose a peace deal with the King. Using secret, illegal presses to produce pamphlets and then distribute them was more difficult: managing to produce frequent and regular illegal newspapers still more so.
The author is a Marxist but the book wears it lightly. It might mean he's a bit too pessimistic about the significance of the Levellers, underplaying the way their ideas gradually made it into the mainstream.
Rees quotes the opponents of the Levellers a lot, and the melodramatic accusations of how radical they were contrast with how modest their actual programme was. They wanted to extend the franchise to most men, but not servants or women. They wanted regular elections. They were against debtors prisons. They wanted freedom of worship for other Protestant denominations (not just the state Church of England). They didn't actually want to level everyone, though some eventually accepted the label as so many groups have had to reluctantly accept insults as descriptive terms (Tories, Quakers, Suffragettes, Mormons etc).
You can see it as either depressing how ferociously their modest goals were opposed, or perhaps more optimistically as how ideas can go from being seen as horrifically radical to plain common sense.
The book has a lot of detail on the divisions and conflicts within the Parliamentary side of the civil war that I wasn't previously aware of. The Long Parliament seems to have been both more oppressive and less functional than I was aware of. They imprisoned and censored rivals within their faction, struggled to govern, and at one point were mobbed by royalists who entered the building.
Cromwell also comes across as more of a centrist here. He was desperate to make a deal with the King and turned against his radical allies in an effort to do so. In response Charles I, never missing an opportunity for self-harm, decided to ditch him and ally with the Scots instead. In some ways you can see his execution as a kind of suicide by stupidity: hardly anyone originally wanted him dead but he created a situation where no-one could trust him alive.
Overall, an interesting and worthwhile book, but despite the short length you'll need to put in some effort unless you're already a Civil War buff.
What I'm Reading 2
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. First volume in a science fiction series with an interesting series: an interstellar civilisation linked by a hyperspace network finds that the network is about to collapse, which is a particularly big problem as their space habitats are dependent on trade to survive.
There's a decent amount of action and the pacing is fine. But the book is badly let down by poor world-building. You hardly get any sense of place: what life is like, how things look and feel. The characters mostly don't feel believable either: they're mostly aristocrats born into privilege but just seem to talk and act like average citizens. Some bits almost seem like a case study in bad writing:
The imperial guard pushed the door open and Marce Claremont walked into the ornate and cavernous room where the executive committee was having its first meeting of the morning. Marce sported a folder and eyes as large as plates as he took in the baroque design of the immense room and realized that no matter how long he stayed at the imperial palace he would probably never get used to its ridiculous sumptuousness. It was, in a word, excessive.It's "ornate", "cavernous", "baroque", "sumptuous" and "excessive" but we have no idea what makes it so. Are there paintings? Great expanses of polished wood? Intricate moving sculptures? We're just chucked a handful of adjectives.
Overall, can't really recommend it. Feels like something written in haste without being really thought through.
What I'm Reading 3
The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills. Short novel about life amongst bus drivers in a thinly disguised London. (The Routemaster becomes the Venerable Platform Bus, Oxford Street the Bejewelled Thoroughfare). Nothing much happens except for conversations, but I found it fascinating and easy to read.
The great conflict is between the drivers and the inspectors who constantly strive for "The Maintenance of Headway": an even spacing of intervals between buses. "There's no excuse for being early", they declare. The drivers like to be early: a shorter gap means fewer people on the bus and less stress.
It's hinted that the Maintenance of Headway is more of a religion than about practicality, but any allegory is kept very light.
I loved this book, but if you need a decent plot, or even just something to happen, it might annoy you.
Running going pretty well again. Managed a couple of personal bests at 5km and 10km. Managed a glacially slow 22km, about a half-marathon, to see if I can do it. I can do, but my knees aren't too happy about. Might try to enter a 10k race or something if I get the time.
Work is OK. Still on the other team, will be moving back to the original team next month in theory. They've amalgamated my old team with another so looks like I won't be a full time Scrum Master again for the moment as they're already one over. As long as I can keep it on LinkedIn it should be fine. My other team's group has a new boss who looks ominously clueless, but we'll see, maybe he'll learn fast.
Socioeconomics Federal Regulation Is Not the Cause of Declining Dynamism. The sociology of science fiction.
History. 18th Century Cudgelling Matches: "two Shillings for the man that break a head; and One Shilling for the man that has his head broken". "The Second World Wars". The last casualty of WW1. Lost soldiers fighing WW2 after the end. Transvestite protesting.
Politics. In the face of strongmen, conservatives are letting their principles vanish. The Conservatives can't rely on Brexit to win them the next election. Complete list of swearing in "Fallout" by Tim Shipman. The captured economy:
TELES: I think one thing that we tend to underestimate about Britain is the fact that there's very large barriers to entry to the agenda. The problem with the United States is, you can get lots of things on the agenda but there's all these things that keep it from getting all the way to passage. But if you wanna do something creative, there's lots of little holes, places where you can start. You can start in states, you can start in one branch of government, you can start in the bureaucracy, you can start in the courts. Britain has a much more compressed system of agenda setting and that dramatically reduces the overall creativity of the system, although it does mean that when you actually get a desire for action, you can produce it. Now that can also produce disasters like the poll tax and so in that sense I think our political system is also… At least at its best, is more deliberative. It's a lot easier to do really big stupid things, at least through legislation, than it is in the British system than it is in the American system.Random. Words:"Both fiddle and violin come from the Roman goddess of joy, Vitula, who gave her name to a stringed instrument; fiddle came down to us via the Germanic languages, violin through the Romance one". Why the flag of the Turks and Caicos Islands featured an igloo. How to Perform 11 Strongman Stunts.
|< I'm a sick bastard | To The Emperor! >|