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New Worlds, Lost Worlds


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Susan Brigden, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Lincoln College, Oxford, is the author of London and the Reformation.


In many respects, the 16th is surely the most appealing of English centuries an age of extraordinary vitality, when the intolerance that wrecked France was suppressed (almost everywhere but in Ireland) by pragmatic Elizabethan moderation. Brigden's new work is the fifth entry in the nine-volume Penguin History of Britain, a series that features a number of leading lights (Kishlansky, Colley, Cannadine, etc.), and it provides a spirited introduction to this fertile period. Political and religious themes predominate, as befits a student of the late Sir Geoffrey Elton, but the author avoids the brilliant turgidity of her former teacher. Operating within the series' standard conceptual framework (dynastic change shaping the structure, right up until the fall of Mrs. Thatcher), Brigden writes with mature and engaging sobriety. She is fully conscious of the oppressive potential of English government, "whose superiority was "evident only to the English," and gives substantial attention to the disasters that befell the Irish. Indeed, her claim to speak "more of kings, and queens, than cabbages" is a little self-deprecating. The plight of the poor, prone to disease and catastrophic famine, is rarely far from the surface; astonishingly, we learn that one-third of the population of Norwich died during a plague epidemic in 1579. Equal attention is paid to popular religion to the lost world of English Catholicism, witch crazes and mystery plays and to family life and friendship. This is a well-balanced if fairly traditional history and will make for an ideal textbook when it appears in paper. (June 25) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

This is a splendid piece of scholarship that engages the reader's imagination; Brigden's (history, Lincoln Coll., Oxford) extensive research has paid off in spades. While readers may find themselves running to the OED to check words and concepts long forgotten, the chase is worth it. The title hints at the lost worlds of this dramatic era in Britain, beginning with the early years of Henry VII and carrying forward through the fascinating dynastic and religious struggles of Henry VIII; Mary, Queen of Scots; and Elizabeth I. The book covers not only England but Ireland, Scotland, and Wales as well, and scholars of this period will come away with refreshing insights into this remarkable period. General readers will be equally delighted because the writing is so fluid and accessible. The chapter on social life and customs, "Family and Friends," could stand alone as a single book on Tudor times. Highly recommended for all academic and larger public libraries. Gail Benjafield, St. Catharines P.L., Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"A fine survey of the Tudor century. Brigden aims to tell the story "to those who don't know it already," and she succeeds brilliantly. She's very strong on politics and religion, but also has fascinating discursions of the intellectual life, from More's Utopia to Marlowe's Faustus." --David Underdown, Yale University"Susan Brigden has done a brilliant job of giving us a fresh approach to the Tudor period. Although accessible to students, it will also interest established scholars." --Stanford Lehmberg, University of Minnesota, Emeritus

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