Christopher Hill is one of the modern era of British Civil War historians. He obviously has socialist leanings but his analysis of background and events is interesting and well worth considering if you are studying this period (which I am).
This is not an easy book to read. It assumes considerable familiarity with the events leading up to the EnglishCivil War and the execution of King Charles I. It also comes at its subject matter in a thematic rather than a chronological manner, often seeking to draw a conclusion from contemporary sources that may be many years separated from each other, many of which may involve Roundhead or Cavalier bias. Hill does occasionally warn of such bias, but still proceeds to draw selectively on those sources that support his Marxist-inspired interpretation.
Nevertheless, whether you agree with his conclusions or not, this book is an admirable example of scholarly research, as well as of academic argument. There is much interesting information about the many radical groups that flourished during this period, when central authority, intellectual repression and censorship were in abeyance.
Christopher Hill is one of my favourite historians, and of his books, of which I have about a dozen on my bookshelves, this is probably the best. Its style owes much to EP Thompson's monumental 'The Making of the English Working Class', both in terms of structure and historical methodology. Hill is a Marxist historian, but there is little dogmatic or reductionist about his work, and, contrary to the review below, a familiarity with Marxist concepts is not at all necessary to appreciate the value of this important book. Hill begins the work with a general survey of the social, religious and economic background to the English Revolution; the forces which created it, and the openings it itself created through, eg, the New Model Army, the consequences of the Protestant Reformation, and so on. Hill is looking at 'internal' and 'external' causes of the 'flourishing of radical ideas' in the revolutionary decades, 1640-1660. He traces the development of the ideas in themselves, and the response to social conditions, conceived here in the broadest sense possible. Thus his work follows a sophisticated dialectical structure, whereby 'ideas' are discussed in themselves, but always related to the social and cultural millieu in which they operate. And what ideas! Christopher Hill shows enormous sympathy for the 'exhilirating freedom' of the revolutionary decades. He shows us, like Thompson, people making their own history, not because but in spite of thier 'circumstance'. Thus he presents the Seekers and Ranters, anarchist libertarians who believed, as a logical consequence of Calvinist doctrines of predestination, that the holy were justified sinners; the radical Quakers; and individuals like Samuel Fisher, Abeizer Coppe, the anonymous author of the anarchist 'Tyranipocrit Discovered', and John Bunyan. Of course the book is most famous for its portrait of True Leveller Gerrard Winstanley, the hero of the book. For Hill, Winstanley is the apogee of seventeenth century radicalism. His agrarian communist priciples strikingly resemble modern libertarian socialism, and his social theory, like Hegel and Marx, was dialectical, in a way. Winsatanley's shadow stretches long and dark over the book, and it is no worse for that. The book has a scope far beyond the sects of the English Revolution, also discussed are the protestant ethic, the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, Milton's epics, the burgeoning scientific revolution, the 'puritan sexual revolution', and much more. From this book one gets a sense of the experience of the civil war, as Hill states in his Introduction, from a worm's eye view. But it is a very one-sided view. More balance is necessary. It would be interesting if Hill had had more to say about popular conservatism, about resistance to these ideas, so that a greater understanding of the radicals may be brought to light. Yet this book fully deserves its five stars, and equally deserves to be read, discussed and appreciated after almost thirty years. A testement to one of the greatest historians alive today.
If the EnglishCivil War is your concern, then this book is a must. Hill even makes you consider the Ranters (who believed it their duty to sin as frequently and openly as possible) as a group with logical ideas. Hill is concise, clear and often very witty. This book has helped my study of the period a great deal.
Mr Hill is widely known as *the* historian of the EnglishCivil War. This book, long considered the cornerstone of Civil War historiography, is full of new and bold ideas that Mr Hill puts forth in great detail. A word of warning: if you do not know what millenarianism is, or who the Levellers, Diggers, and Ranters were, then you will not understand this book! Mr Hill assumes a level of knowledge that very few people have, and this book is a very difficult read. If, however, you take well to Mr Hill's Marxist veiws (including a distinct lack of objectivity in the area of religion), and you are well versed in English history, you would do well to read this book. "The World Turned Upside Down" is still, with all its inherent problems, the best book on the subject.
Certainly a candidate for it. Hill's monumental work is probably the definitive work of the British Marxist Historians group of scholars who appeared in the immediate after of World War II. It featured such lumanaries as E.P. Thompson and Rodney Hilton and basically invented Social History through its study of what became known as 'History from Below'. Thompson's 'The Making of the English Working Class' is the most famous publication of the group, but 'World turned Upside Down' is, in the humble opinion of this author, the best. It expands on Hill's thesis about the two revolutions that took place in England at the time of the Civil War. Focussing on the second, democratic, revolution, that ultimately failed; Hill examines some of the main players. Groups such as The Levellers, The Diggers and The Ranters are examined as are the early Quakers, in a way that is sad, compelling and eminently readable. At the same time important questions are asked about the so-called 'traditional' view of history..... Buy this book, read it and inject the arguments into your brain