Top critical review
14 people found this helpful
Entertaining but Flawed
on 15 February 2013
I've read a decent amount of literature and source material on Cromwell. This book is an adequate if flawed attempt at painting a picture of the man at the centre of Henry VIII's most turbulent period on the English throne.
To his credit, Hutchinson makes a concerted effort to tell Cromwell's story chronologically and based upon what is actually known about the man (i.e. not a great deal). In doing so he creates an entertaining narrative which is largely based on solid source material. At no point during my reading of this book was I bored.
Despite this, the author suffers from the all too common pitfall of the historian; that of bias. Somehow, Hutchinson manages to portray a confused disapproval of Cromwell. At times we see the author at pains to describe Cromwell the private man, whose apparent attempts at humane behind-the-scenes repentance are in direct contradiction with his more formal 'Machiavellian' state dealings, dealings which the author clearly believes were ideologically driven. This confuses the narrative and gives rise to unanswered questions regarding Hutchinson's mild condemnation of Cromwell. At other times (though thankfully rare), Hutchinson's conclusions are not well-founded in source material and verge on conjecture.
The fact that this is an entertaining narrative which reads well goes some way towards compensating for its contradictory pitfalls. The conclusion remains confused, with Cromwell being described as a man who would be at home in a 20th century totalitarian state; this in spite of the author having spent the previous chapter describing Cromwell's final and quite touching testimony.
All in all I wouldn't discourage anybody from buying Hutchinson's book purely for its entertainment value. However, I would advise against taking the authors conclusions too seriously and would point towards other more accomplished works on the topic of Thomas Cromwell for the more serious academic.