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Aristocracy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

William Doyle
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Nov 2010 Very Short Introductions
Aristocracies or nobilities dominated the social, economic, and institutional history of all European counties until only a few generations ago. The relics of their power, in traditions and behaviour, in architecture and the arts, are still all around us.

This short introduction shows how ideas of aristocracy originated in ancient times, were transformed in the middle ages, and have only fallen apart over the last two centuries. The myths in which aristocracies have always sought to shroud themselves are stripped away, but the true sources of their enduring power are also revealed. Their outlook and behaviour affected the rest of society in innumerable and sometimes surprising ways, but perhaps most surprising was the way in which a centuries-old aristocratic hegemony crumbled away over the last two hundred years. In this Very Short Introduction William Doyle considers why this happend and what remains today.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Aristocracy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) + Aristocrats: Power, Grace and Decadence - Britain's Great Ruling Classes from 1066 to the Present
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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (25 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199206783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199206780
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 10.9 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 481,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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excellent introduction to the subject, clearly structured and packed with telling examples (BBC History Magazine)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 11 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the fourth VSI I have read and it is just as good as the others. Concise, crisp, witty and informed. Congratulations to the author and editor.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hereditary Privilege 3 Jun 2013
By opus
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I feel compelled on a day when the Deputy Prime Minister feels compelled to rush through Parliament a Bill to ensure that the next Monarch (if he is lucky) will be female, and where some daughter of aristocrats claims prejudice against herself because she cannot inherit her father's title thus proving how oppressed she, a woman who has no claim to worth beyond having been born, is, to review this book (which I am re-reading). It is both fascinating and mind-boggling in the intricacy and longevity of Aristocracy. Sadly, despite my father's assertion that I was the bastard son of the late Lord --------- I cannot claim blue-blood, and even my mother was only distantly related by marriage to the Duke of ----------. How will I ever survive the shame of it all - a commoner, and a male at that - where's the equality in that.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Blue Blood 14 Dec 2010
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If we give it a thought, most of us seem to have a love-hate relationship with aristocracy. On the one hand aristocracy exemplified unearned and unwarranted social privilege, while on the other it symbolizes more refined set of manners and conduct that all of us could aspire for. Number of countries in the West that have some form of an aristocratic social class has been dwindling over the past couple of centuries, and even in the countries that still cling to their aristocracies those have been reduced to largely ceremonial functions.

This short book introduces Western aristocracy to the modern reader. The approach is largely historical, and a fair amount of attention is given to various aspects of aristocratic life - who can become part of aristocracy, what sorts of privileges and duties did the aristocrats enjoy, the relations between the aristocracy and the lower classes on the one hand, as well as the aristocracy and monarchy on the other. One of the more interesting insights that this book offers is that despite their claims to more or less stable and unchanging sets of norms, most aristocracies were very skilled at adapting to the various changes in social and economic norms over the course of the past two millennia. Similarly, various revolutions that aimed to overthrow the aristocracies were only marginally successful at the time. However, these revolutions had a very lasting effect on the long-term status of aristocracies. They were practical proofs of concept that societies that are not organized in an explicitly hierarchical fashion can indeed exist and even thrive. Today we take these insights for granted, but it took several centuries of ebbing and flowing social upheavals until they were finally taken for granted.

This is a very readable and insightful short book on aristocracy that can serve as a very good introduction to this ancient social structure.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First-rate extended essay on a complex subject 7 Mar 2012
By Michael K. Smith - Published on
One would not expect such a short book on such a complex subject -- and one whose title emphasizes its brevity, moreover -- to be worth more than a glance, but Doyle proves such expectations wrong. The author of a large number of books in European political history and an emeritus professor of history at Bristol, he has produced here an excellent essay in five chapters on the history of aristocracy in the Western world, both in the abstract and as it manifested itself over the centuries. "Meanings and Entitlements" considers the essential nature of the aristocracy as an unequal, privileged, hereditary elite with origins in the Roman Republic. "Myths and Beliefs" examines the ways in which the aristocratic elite has always sought to set itself even farther apart from the rest of society through its behavior and the beliefs it fosters about itself, including claiming descent from the old gods and documenting (or inventing) a long and glorious genealogy. "Living Nobly," also known as noblesse oblige, is a relatively recent term but the notion that there were certain things a nobleman (ideally) was expected to do, or not do, goes a long way back -- though the waning of feudalism meant the pressure became more social than legal. There was also a considerable degree of theater involved, hence heraldry, lace ruffs, and lavish residences. "Impacts and Legacies" deals with the influence the wealth and the aristocracy (which were one and the same until well into the Industrial Revolution) have had on the local economy, the development of capitalism, technical innovation, warfare, and political institutions -- either as leaders or as a horrible example to be pointed to. Even the concept of "liberty" can be said to derive from the wish of the aristocracy to be as free as possible from the demands of the monarch. "Aristocracy Eclipsed" discusses the place of aristocratic expectations and institutions in a modern world heavily dominated by republics and with little regard for deference based on bloodlines. While the rule of the elite has never gone uncontested, it took the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution to strip the aristocracy of nearly all of its worldly power. (This section is rather heavy on the French experience, since that is Doyle's own specialty.)

The author's style includes a deep vein of dry humor ("Killing has always been a preferred way for gentlemen to pass the time"), which makes this pocket-treatise quite an enjoyable read as well as an informative and insightful introduction. And the bibliography runs a surprising eight pages.
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