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A Radical History Of Britain: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries - the men and women who fought for our freedoms Hardcover – 4 Jun 2009


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (4 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408700506
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408700501
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 484,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A vigorous and wide-ranging account of this glorious tradition' Robert McCrum --Robert McCrum, Observer

'The publication of A RADICAL HISTORY OF BRITAIN could not be more timely' --Daily Telegraph

'Spirited and engaging . . . There is plenty of inspiration in this gripping history' --Sunday Express

Book Description

* Rousing, brilliant, and hugely readable study of a millennium of one nation's free-thinking

* Subtitle: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries - the men and women who fought for our freedoms

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Bevan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 27 Feb 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is an absorbing if ultimately limited account of the major episodes in British history in which popular movements have ranged themselves against the Government of the day to press for socio-economic and political change. From Magna Carta (which Vallance puts into perspective as something rather less than the mythical foundation-stone of our freedom that it has since become), through more genuinely revolutionary moments like the 1381 Peasants' Revolt, Cade's and Kett's rebellions of the following two centuries (all put down with savage force), the author pauses to dwell at some length on the Civil War, and the challenges posed by the Diggers and Levellers in the 1650s. There's then a curious historical lull until the late 18th/early 19th centuries, when Tom Paine and an upsurge of revolutionary fervour abroad lead us on to Luddism and the hideous state brutality of Peterloo and the Six Acts, and the repression of Tolpuddle. In his in-depth analysis of Chartism and the Suffragettes (on whom he is particularly illuminating), Vallance is at his most interesting, showing how universal suffrage, rather than revolutionary change, became the dominant and enduring theme of protest.

He broadens the insights from this analysis into a general, and (it seems to me) over-comfortable conclusion that gradualism is `the British way' of bringing about political change. There is, sadly, a frustrating absence of reflection on how contemporary protest conforms (or not) to this thesis, with little detail on anything later than the Cable Street riots.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Agent on 8 Nov 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a book on 'radical' history by someone who does not like radicalism, and as such it cannot help but be deeply dishonest. In many cases Vallance explicitly has a go at other radical histories (dubbed disparagingly as 'marxist') for their overly radical tone. While I am not a marxist and find those dogmas within historical writing to be very tiresome, I also do not agree with Edward Vallance's take on 'radicalism', which is in fact nothing more than the 'rights' and liberal values that have already been attained within British politics. These weak voting rights and equally weak protective shields within parliamentary democracy are for him the 'radical' outcome he is pleased with, while any more radical ideas that didn't make it into the mainstream of British politics (or have since been crushed) are kind of brushed aside.

It becomes apparent then that the author has an axe to grind throughout the book: he wishes to debunk more radical accounts of history in favour of a circular logic that says that those movements that resulted in the rights we have now were the true radicalism, while those radical ideas which didn't make it were not to be taken seriously in the first place. There is one deviation from this pattern which is also the most serious dishonesty in the book. The rights of workers, as fought for through many decades and even centuries by the workers themselves, are barely mentioned. The word 'strike' does not appear in the index, nor can I find a mention of the 1926 General Strike that threatened the authority of government (admittedly I started skim-reading towards the end, not wanting to waste too much time on such egregious nonsense so do correct me if it's in there).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tim Reviewer on 15 Oct 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent. Ignore the "glorious story of kings and queens" nonsense that the Establishment pretends is the history of Britain and read this instead. The brutal suppression of ordinary folk by the State and Church over the centuries is truly shocking. Edward Vallance really brings to life the long, almost unendurable struggle by the weak to secure basic rights. It is a warning to we in the 21st century confronted by right wing rulers who, amongst other things, would like to scrap the European Convention on Human Rights.
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19 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Clark on 17 Aug 2009
Format: Hardcover
This magnificent work is an astonishingly wide-ranging and erudite history of British Radicalism, covering historical episodes as diverse as Magna Carta, the Levellers, Tom Paine, Luddism and the fight for women's suffrage within its monumental scope. Indeed, the real revelation of this book is that Vallance's sophisticated treatment of these topics, particularly virtuoso when dealing with how subsequent ages understood an episode, actually shows that the connections between them are much more complex than one believed when one picked it up. This does make the book a harder intellectual work-out than it might have been in the hands of a weaker historian, for there is relatively little common structure or simple narrative to link the sections, although there are amusing, surprising, obscene or insightful revelations frequently enough that working through it is never a chore. Moreover, coming to a full understanding that the British radical tradition is not so much a single golden thread as a complex multicoloured tapestry repays the effort that this book demands and deserves, and is a lesson I wholeheartedly recommend to both contemporary radicals and their conservative opponents.
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