Since the beginning of the year I have been consuming books by the pound. Eg. I am currently (re-) reading Antonia Fraser's Cromwell: The Lord Protector. Now there's a book with some heft to it. More than seven hundred pages of the finest niggling detail you could possibly imagine. And that's my review of it more or less.
When I first read it, probably not long after it was first published, I devoured it then and thought it quite the work of biography. Now, on re-reading it, (and I'm about halfway through) I find it cluttered by the undergrowth of detail. Fraser somehow seems to miss the forest for all the trees and bushy bushes she's uncovered. So that, as far as I've come, I have no sense at all of how and why the Roundhead revolution occurred, what the political, social and religious situation was that gave rise to the Puritan phenomenon and how it was actually able to seize power in England.
It's a period (the middle of the 17th century) that perhaps many non-Brits don't know much about. And in a certain sense, they wouldn't learn much more from reading this book. Oh sure, they beheaded King Charles I. They (Cromwell) developed a new style of army, or new tactics, which affected military campaigns on into the future. They "subdued" Ireland. (Hah!) Quite viciously.
You might be surprised to learn that England was a "Protectorate" for some years...the "Protector" being Oliver Cromwell. A euphemism, really, for "Dictator" since at some point or other Cromwell, after having disposed of the king, subsequently "dismissed" Parliament at sword point.
But in this book, you don't get the impression of why this all occurred, what its roots were. I always thought that England was, after Henry VIII, essentially Anglican. Fraser does show that in the 17th century there was considerable dispute over the status of various Christian denominations. The Anglican church, represented by King Charles, was deposed as the state religion amid controversy and battles among Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholic bloody papists! and Puritans and a host of other Anabaptists and obscure sects. What Fraser doesn't give us is the historical context of it all. Instead she jumps straight into details of various battles won by Cromwell over Royalists (Cavaliers), Presbyterians, Irish and God knows who else...leprechauns.
So, now, the legend is that Murrica was colonized by the persecuted Puritans of the Mayflower, who fled England because they could not practise according to their religious conscience. Even Cromwell considered emigrating. But in Fraser we find that it was the Puritans who, for a time in England, trampled on freedom of conscience. Who knew, eh?
Unfortunately, by the end of this book, you may know it happened, but you still won't know why.