I enjoyed this book. It is indeed brief, with 6 official chapters, although there is a long introduction that amounts to a 7th. The introduction discusses the meanings the word "freedom" can carry and the difficulty of defining it in a widely agreed sense. Particularly, they discuss the difference between "negative" freedom and "positive" freedom although those terms themselves being abstractions they do not seem to me to make the matter much clearer. They note that freedom can mean one thing in the context of an individual and another in the case of a people or nation (sovereignty). They concentrate on the former. They also note that they will discuss the idea as it evolved in Western civilization because it is what they are familiar with, This discussion was interesting and reasonably brief.
Each chapter has a thesis stated at the beginning and a list of questions at the end, I guess for classroom or reading group discussion. There are many endnotes at the end of each chapter and they are very interesting. There is a rich bibliography that would take a lifetime to study.
Chapter 1, "Prehistory" covers 40,000 years of history in 25 pages. The main thesis, stated at the beginning, is that trade and commerce have led to freedom. It focuses on ancient Greece and the Roman empire.
Chapter 2 "Rule of Law" covers the development of the rule of law from the Dark Ages to the 17th century, The thesis is that the rule of law enabled trade and commerce which led to greater freedom. I must say that I reached a different conclusion based on this chapter, that freedom for a wide number of people in a society depends on laws curtailing the freedom of the most powerful in that society.
Chapter 3, Religious freedom, deals with the development of different religious approaches in the West eventually leading to tolerance of religious differences. It covers the same period as chapter 2. Prominent figures include Roger Williams and Martin Luther. This was a good chapter although probably the least controversial subtopic.
Chapter 4, Freedom of Commerce, focuses on the growth in prosperity in the 18th century. The main figure is Adam Smith. The thesis is that trade and commerce under the rule of law generate prosperity. This section, I felt, strayed a good deal sometimes from the "history of liberty". For example, there is a discussion of Bastiat's demonstration of the "broken windows fallacy" which, regardless of its merit, I could not perceive to be closely connected to the history of liberty.
Chapter 5, Civil Liberty, focuses on the expansion of rights in the US from 1776 through 2010, from a nation in which the vote was held by landowning white males to one where it is held by nonlandowning men and women of all colors. It also touches on reproductive liberty. The principal figure is Martin Luther King, Jr. Like the religious freedom chapter, it is not at all controversial but at the same time the authors manage to generate many insights in a short amount of text.
Chapter 6, Psychological Freedom, covers a number of scientific experiments in which people's decisionmaking is shown to be constrained by things like social pressure or the way a choice is phrased. It suggests this topic is relevant to the "history of liberty" because many people are not so interested in political rights as they are in personal independence. I found the connection strained although the topics covered are certainly interesting.
None of the chapters is limited to a recounting of history or dry in any sense. The authors liberally introduce philosophy and political theory into each chapter. They do so in plain and easily comprehended language. Overall, I found it interesting and thought provoking. At the same time, it was not necessarily a rigorously coherent work, more of a compendium of interesting thoughts and ideas centered, sometimes tightly and sometimes loosely, around the topic of freedom and organized in a mostly chronological fashion.