on 8 November 2009
Be careful re: the title. Whilst Vols 2 and 3 deal in great and well-written detail with Republicaism v Authoritarian rule, Vol. 1 is the must-have introduction to the 'Cambridge School' of contextualism - the study of the works of great thinkers in context, asking essentially 'what did the author say and what did they mean by saying it'? Seems obvious? Well, as Skinner shows, many eminent historians have claimed the most bizarre things on behalf of various authors of the past, simply because they spent too little time considering why a text was written. One classic example would be this: why did Machiavelli write The Prince. The answer no doubt includes a desire to teach the lessons he believed he had learned, but the slant he takes seems anti-Republican, a political ideal he was known to favour (and also wrote a great work on: The Discourses). So what was he up to?; well, in part, he was trying to show he could be loyal to the new regime, if they would only give him his old job back. Anyhow, this is a must for anyone serious about doing history, but one which has also to be read critically - Skinner's approach should be but one tool in the historian's kit-bag.