This is a wonderful book doing what scholarship probably does best. It’s exactly what it says it is, a study of changing attitudes in England 1500-1800 though there’s not much 1800 in it. And for good reason, 1800 was a very different place, considerable change, much of it unlikely seeming, took place over 300 years. Keith Thomas follows general human commentary and wondering though that period to suggest the pace of change, the thrusts toward the eventual future and the obstacles and conflicts that more or less calibrate the rate of change. There’s not much theory here, mostly it’s a zillion quotes, often from people you’ve never heard of but that do seem to represent the social diversity of people, ideas, means and environmental changes. The result is not a pedantic or dogmatic book but an impressionistic look at a real people going through real changes in lifestyles, thinking, earning, law, religion, etc. All of which may sound like a fairly boring read but it’s not at all. For all the talk about it, social change is difficult, complicated, not understood and is probably beyond any understanding since it involves much more than talking and thinking. Keith Thomas very admirably, however, illustrates with a nearly sublime maturity the grounding value of taking the time to carefully look at what has changed and some of what it took for the changes to occur. In a time that endlessly and variously “calls for change” it’s a very refreshing look at the human side of long term social changes.