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5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing breadth of knowledge, 6 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Penguin Press History) (Paperback)
Excellent book. I'd love to know it was possible for Keith Thomas to :

a) Read through the two-thousand or so source texts in this book.
b) Note the many thousands of quotations used in the book
c) And then pull them all together into a brisk and interesting narrative.

This is an astonishing piece of scholarship, both in terms of the massive scope of the work and the command that Thomas has over the the huge amounts of information that he has used here. He appears almost omniscient at times, such is his ability to quote from rare and obscure writings from every age. Although the title describes the scope of the book as being from 1500 to 1800, in reality the book often overspills a century or two on either side of this to point out some facet of his argument. This is a book that is built to be re-read multiple times - there is a vast amount to take in. I re-read portions of the book as soon as I had finished and was found a whole load of new quotes and observations that I hadn't noticed the first time I went over it. I wish all history books were as lively and as informative as this.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 30 Oct 2013
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Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Penguin Press History) (Paperback)
Having previously read and immensely enjoyed both The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England and Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History), I was overjoyed to discover that there was a third book published by this superb historian of the social and cultural history of early modern England. So I eagerly began reading 'Man and the natural world' as soon as the postman had delivered it on my doorstep: would it be as good as the other two?

Yes it is. It's incredible, unputdownable, brilliant, informative, learned, funny and then some. In barely 289 pages Thomas condenses what must have been a vast amount of research (there's almost a 100 pages of notes referring to all primary and secondary sources) into an easily readable and hugely informative story about how (and why) the relationship between Englishmen and the natural world changed radically between 1500 and 1800. So as I sat down to write this review I pondered: was is it then that makes these history books by Keith Thomas so special to me, and makes them in my opinion superior to many, if not most, of other history books I have read? Well, I could think of several reasons.

First of all, and this is entirely a matter of personal opinion of course, there's the subject matter. Even before I opened the book I was very curious about this relationship between man and the natural world, but that may be different with you (and needless to say there's no harm in that, just as I may be forgiven, I assume, for not having much of an interest in e.g. the history of China, or the Soviet Republic, and lots of other topics).

Secondly, given an interest in the subject, Keith Thomas is obviously an expert on it. This is not only obvious from the (seemingly) effortless and logical way in which he describes every aspect of it, but also (as said before) from the huge amount of research done. To coin a phrase: what Thomas doesn't know about this particular topic isn't worth knowing.

Thirdly, I personally very much enjoy his writing style: it's actually 'easy-to-read', often funny in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, always informative but never needlessly dense, and scattered throughout the texts are telling excerpts and quotes from contemporary sources (like the advertisement of an 18th century London goldsmith for 'silver padlocks for blacks or dogs').

In a word, even if you're only remotely interested to discover why we put flowers on graves, why the English are such keen gardeners, or why the countryside was once associated with boorishness and later became associated with nothing but positive qualities, buy this book, sit down and enjoy.
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