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The English Civil War: A People's History Paperback – 5 Feb 2007


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Product details

  • Paperback: 674 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (5 Feb. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007150628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007150625
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 47,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘Rich, vivid and passionate…a moving, lyrical and principled piece of writing…Purkiss has a gift for evocation.’ Independent

‘You begin to get close to what it would have been like to live through the nine momentous years from 1640 to 1649…it would be hard to imagine anything more irresistible than this rich layer cake of a book, crammed with the stories and the voices that make history human.’ Guardian

‘Purkiss has an eye for the narrative vignette that can illuminate the age.’ Sunday Times

‘Wonderful…Purkiss offers a sumptuous portrait gallery of the men and women who lived, wrote and died during this turbulent period…A joyous read.’ Daily Telegraph

‘Narrative history at its best: gripping, heartfelt, complex.’ Mail on Sunday

‘This book vigorously brings the horror and humanity of the conflict to life.’ Financial Times

‘Light in touch, though grounded in an enormous wealth of documentary material this “people's history” shows how England’s men and women coped with quite extraordinary times.’ Scotsman

About the Author

Diane Purkiss is Fellow and Tutor at Keble College, Oxford. She was formerly Professor of English at Exeter University. She is the author of the highly acclaimed ‘The Witch in History’, and ‘Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories’.


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One night in 1712, a man named Thomas Neville lay dying in his own bed, surrounded by family and friends. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 29 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
I'm shocked to see this book receive such a poor rating. It's one of the best history books I've ever read. The reader who complains about the coverage given to women is missing the point. This is, as the title says, a people's history - and people includes women and children, not just the men whose exploits are usually chronicled. There are any number of books about the generals and politicians, but Purkiss's mission is to describe what the war was like for those who lived through it, whether or not they were involved in the fighting or political power-struggles. Hence we get chapters on children, food, art, iconoclasm, the banning of Christmas etc - though she's also excellent on the well-known figures like Charles I, Cromwell and Milton. I found it a gripping read, superbly written and often very funny. This is her account of the latest fashionable play at Charles's court: "It was about love. It was about faith. It was about four hours longer than the audience was used to."
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jezza on 6 May 2010
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed reading this - it's popular history well done, for the general reader but assuming the right level of knowledge. Lots of interesting stuff about women in the civil war, daily life, and so on. But I did find the book somewhat slanted towards the Royalists and hostile towards the various other sides. In a way it reads like a riposte to Christopher Hill's claim that the Civil War was England's revolution - so the Levellers, and the Diggers, were conservative, backward-looking radicals; the 'godly' puritans were indeed joyless Calvinistic Taliban, and so on. She's good on the Clubmen though, and one can't help feeling some identification with them - especially now, at election time.

And considering how important religion is to the story, I'd have liked the distinctions between the various denominations and factions set out clearly in one place, rather than scattered through the text for the reader to pick up and assemble themselves. Still, a good book - and a salutary warning for anyone who thinks that revolutions and civil wars are fun.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Bull on 24 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
Having struggled with the 'people's history' for several months - and pushed it around my desk whilst other books get devoured in a few days - I have reached to about page 400. At some point I will read the remaining third of the book: but see no great urgency. Clearly therefore I am not astounded - though I have been charmed by some of the vignettes, and entertained by some of the more arcane details. The illnesses of Charles I, and some of the social history, do make this a worthwhile volume.

Neverthless on the down side even a fairly casual and incomplete reading shows quite a number of errors, or points of confusion. It is worth examining a few of these. On page 3 we read that '800,000 people' died during the course of the conflict: most estimates suggest that disease and fighting between them claimed rather less than 200,000. On page 4 we see that 'universal male sufferage' and 'promotion on merit' were 'invented' during the war as well as the 'need for home and food' (!). On page 45 we are told that 'most' people who experienced the English Civil War were Londoners. On page 48 the Battle of Worcester is fought in 1650 - which is strange as celebrated military historian Richard Holmes has written a book entitled 'Worcester 1651'. On page 56 we are told that 40% of Royal expenditure was on the 'household' - whilst many others have suggested that war and the navy were the really expensive items in Stuart expenditure. How many similar errors occur later in the book is anybody's guess.

In short there are many more reliable volumes on the market - as for example those by Austen Woolrych or Trevor Royle - but curiously it is the 'people's history' which occupies all the best slots on the book chain shelves. This is an object lesson in the power of marketing. . .
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. Cor on 20 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book explains the lives of those who lived through these dramatic wars, and the impact of war them as intended. However it fails to explain properly explain or mention lot of important details about this crucial period. This is a book best served for a general, non-academic reader of history once they already know what happens by reading some other book.

There are a multitude of factors to why the English Civil War broke out, and Purkiss does not give them justice. Whilst this book covers the religious foreground rather well, it doesn't explain the non-religious reasons well enough. It fails to explain the idea of Charles I's personal rule without parliament in enough detail. It fails to mention what the Thirty Years War did to Charles I's reputation. These are things which a respectable 670 page history of the English Civil War should certainly mention.

The book captures well the impact that the war had on the citizens of England, but did little to explain the actual war itself. About a paragraph or so in this book is dedicated to the general strategic intentions of both sides, only to say that she disagrees with the idea that there was a general plan. She then fails to explain in detail why. To the first time readers of the English Civil Wars, this would give an only a minimal sense of how the war took place.

It is disappointing as well that she talks about writing about the lives of everyday people, and waxes lyrical about the impact that the printing press had on society, without talking about reading and the printing press in society in much depth.
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