The reader is taken on a journey around the world, through Russia, where Tsar Peter is about to launch a coup that will change his country's history forever; to the splendid court of the Sun King in France; to Mexico; to the Sonora desert of North America, where a Jesuit priest and his tribe of Pima Indian converts are about to discover California; to Manila, Jamaica, Australia, South Africa, Siam and to England, where a Dutch king lands in Dorset to begin the Glorious Revolution and fashion the state under which we still live.
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(241mm x 161mm x mm)
Publisher: Granta Books
Country of Publication:
UK Kirkus Review »
What a brilliant idea. What a brilliant book. Warning: you may think you'll be able to dip into it, but you'll be totally hooked. As Wills says, 'serendipity, surprise and letting one thing lead you to another are not attitudes often associated with the methodical world of the professional historian'. But don't be fooled by modesty. He moves methodically from scene to scene all over the world, and he always - by serendipity, surprise or sheer meticulous scholarship - finds something significant happening. He wears his scholarship lightly. Take Siam. Having set the scene for us, since some of us may need to think about exactly where Siam was, and tossing lightly into this exotic picture the fact that 'a splendid Siamese embassy to France in 1686 has led to the dispatch of a return embassy accompanied by six hundred troops', he introduces us to Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek from Cephalonia which in the 1680s was ruled by Venice. The European powers of the day were already jockeying for a position in the far east. Phaulkon 'was walking whole networks of tightropes'. What a phrase. Then again, take Russia. In 1688 Russia had two tsars of whom Peter (not yet 'the great', he was was only 16) was one. He lived in the country, playing soldiers with his friends. 'Peter did not make himself colonel, but started out as an enthusiastic drummer boy and worked his way up - quite rapidly, to be sure...' Pause for a quiet chuckle. But those boys ended up as the Imperial Guard. Our 'Glorious Revolution', when we managed to change monarchs with hardly a jolt, 'might be described as a complex baroque improvisation for two kings, a polyphony of peers, choruses of invading soldiers and rioting Londoners, and an obbligato for printing press'. There's no more I can say - except buy the book. Review by LIZA PICARD (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Mr. John E. Wills
John E. Wills is professor of history at the University of Southern California and the author of many acclaimed works in cultural history.