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on 28 May 2010
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.
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on 10 October 2013
This is quite the best book I have read on Oliver Cromwell. It goes into depth on the complexities of the man, the times, and the misnomers concerning him. Without a doubt, this man took the reins of the nation - not by design - but by necessity - bridging the gap between the medieval world and the age of reason. England could not go back, it could only go forward.
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on 15 June 2009
Christopher Hill (1912-2003) was one of the key British Marxist historians of the twentieth century. He became interested in the English Civil War before the Second World War - when he also became a member of the Communist party. Later he served with distinction for many years as the Master of Balliol College.

The book has been fairly described - by Martin Kettle - as 'the bestselling (but not adulatory) biography'. Certainly it presents a captivating picture of a human Cromwell surrounded by the forces of God, providence, and Revolution. As such, and as a piece of writing of its time, it remains an essential volume. Nevertheless it does have significant weaknesses. Perhaps the most obvious is the lack of detail on Cromwell the soldier, and in particular on Cromwell's crucial role in the Second Civil War of 1648. As in many retrospective views of Cromwell Sir Thomas Fairfax is also reduced to relative insignificance.

Nevertheless an important and a highly recommended work which should now be supplemented by more recent studies for sake of completeness.
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on 22 November 2015
Brilliant set of essays about a great if flawed leader. Hard going at times but worth persevering with.
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on 7 August 2015
Great book for price
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on 13 October 2014
Great book & service
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on 5 September 2015
What I expected
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on 24 October 2012
Its instructive that not one of the reviews here mentions the word 'Ireland' In impressively short order Cromwell put half the population of a country to the sword.

Without the aid of machines or chemicals and with explicit instruction not to spare women, children or infants in their cots, he orchestrated mass killing of civilians on a scale that was and is unique in these islands. Those who he wiped out died not because of anything they had done, but simply because of who they were.

This butchery of a people is the central fact of Cromwell's life. Unlike the reviewers here, and the authors of most books about Cromwell published in England, Cromwell himself did not seek to cover up his actions and was proud of what he had done.

Its interesting that, when confronted, most Cromwell fans are well aware of his genocide. Its not ignorance, its more that it just doesn't matter that much. It doesn't matter because the people he killed didn't matter and still don't matter in the minds of those who adulate him.

Its sad that those prejudices and feelings of superiority blind people, even now, to the suffering and pitiless slaughter Cromwell inflicted on his innocent victims.
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