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Interesting, but not unputdownable
on 23 September 2003
The factors that render a book like this unputdownable are either relevations of how the principal figure influenced contemporary political developments or - preferably AND - what a colourful personality he or she was. In the last case an author's mischievous eye in bringing that personality to life is an essential requirement.
Having bought the book on the strenght of the above synopsis I had hopes that at least the second element would guarantee a few day's entertaining reading. As it turns out, Mr. Stewart has taken great pains never to appear even remotely tabloidsy or unduly humorous in his approach of James the private person and his treatment of the King's private foibles could be read out under the Christmas tree without causing any great scandal or merriment.
What remains then to make this book interesting to the non-British reader is the impact James made on political or other major developments in the European theater. Here however the reader will find that James'occasional efforts in this field were usually without much consequence. His efforts concentrated on Scottish issues such as bringing the Kirk to heel, his unsuccesful efforts to formally create a Great Britain in his lifetime and on his other efforts in the fields of politics, theology and poetry within England and Scotland.
The resulting book is certainly "popular history" that however style-wise fully earns the Irish Times'description as being "thoughtful and erudite" which as we know is not always equal to "gripping and unputdownable". It will no doubt be of considerable interest to serious students of Britain's history and the Stuart dynasty. Foreign - and/or more shallow - readers should however approach the book's synopsis with some caution as it suggests more entertainment than this book actually delivers.