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A Good Primer
on 31 December 2010
The best thing about this book is its length. For a history book by a professional historian, it is laudably short. The book gets its points across clearly and with precision. As something to dip into for the desperate, essay writing sixth former or undergraduate looking for an idea or quote, it would be hard to better.
For those looking for a more comprehensive purview of the romantic movement and its effect on society, it leaves a lot to be desired. There seems to be a whole chapter missing - the one that deals with romantic theories of science. These had a powerful influence on the biological sciences in particular.
The chapter on the romantics' interest in language, history and myth is the high point of the book. This is taken forward into the complex, almost incomprehensible positioning of the romantics in contemporary politics - a sort of reactionary liberalism, loosely tied to an idealised pastoral volk and terrified of the urban mob.
The influence of the romantics on contemporary political thinking and on social policies is not covered; it is treated as an almost exclusively artistic movement. Again romantic thinking on what constituted a "people" revolutionised concepts of nationhood, which had reverberations beyond the nineteenth century into the twentieth.
The book ends with the classical-romantic "dialectic" continuing all the way up to the present day. This further confuses the definition of the word "romantic". To support the book's arguments, quotes seem to be selected at random across the period 1760-1880. I could have used a little more rigour around the definition of the term, but perhaps that deserves a (longer) book by itself.