No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, April 30, 2005

#38: 1688: A Global History -- John E. Wills

I bought this because it has a chapter on Dampier: have only just got around to reading the rest of the book. Wills, Professor of History at USC, aims to set out a picture of the world in 1688. He resists the temptation to focus on Europe (the Glorious Revolution is towards the back of the book) or on big names. Instead, he starts with the slave trade; then the Dutch East India Company, which I've just been reading about in the novel Islands (reviewed here); Tsar Peter's Russia, the Jesuits in China, Versailles, Aphra Behn, the Great Sultan, Janissaries, the Jews in exile ...

This book is just at the right level for the informed general reader. Inevitably there's a lot of speculation about the individual characters who people these pages, but there are also plenty of quotations from contemporary texts. Wells has an eye for metaphor: the vagabonds in Amsterdam, punished by being put in a cellar and having to work the pump or drown, for example. He's good at drawing parallels between different societies -- slavery, piracy, abuse of rank and the ways in which women could wield power. (Occasionally, he refers forward to something he hasn't yet covered, which was a little annoying; I'd rather he'd referred back from subsequent cases.)

Very readable, and with a tendency to be compassionate rather than judgemental. Recommended.

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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