Was what Oliver Cromwell told the Barebones Parliament before going onto declare that what really mattered was "those things wherein the life and power of them lay". In Christopher Hills biography of Cromwell - "God's Englishman" - he attempts to do both: tell the story of Cromwell and the English Revolution, as well as looking behind the story to see within what context those momentous events occurred, and to look at the ideas and forces that brought them to pass.
Hill doesn't by any stretch of the imagination present the reader with an orthodox biography of Cromwell. Those looking for a collection of the small details, events, and developments that together form a life would be better served elsewhere. What "God's Englishman" does is narrate the history of England in parallel with that of Cromwell (with the emphasis on the developments in England) until the two come together during the tumultuous times of the 1640's and 50's. These weren't ordinary times by any standard: a civil war ensued, the King lost his head, an explosion of pamphleting included many new and novel ideas including those of the lower orders, Britain was a Republic, and the foundations of the British Empire and Britain's eventual industrial development were considerably firmed up.
If, to paraphrase the quote of Cromwell that leads this review: there are narrative histories that are gripping and exciting reads, there are also histories that delve into those areas where the life and power of events lie (the intellectual, religious, social and economic spheres) that can be just as exhilarating. Christopher Hill has written one such history.
If one is not familiar with the era perhaps Hills The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714
is the best place to start. "God's Englishman" is a thorough look at the times, and on occasions is dense with information and argument that may overwhelm a reader in unfamiliar territory. I'd also recommend a good dictionary, or google, for definition of some of the terminology, without which a full appreciation of the book will elude the reader. The effort is well worth it.