The fourth of five (so far) volumes in Ackroyd’s “History of England” series, Revolution covers, well… a lot of revolt.
Starting from the end of the Glorious Revolution that wiped the Cromwellian grimness out of power, continuing through the American Revolution, and ending with the English reaction to the French Revolution and its Napoleonic successor, Revolution stays on-topic with its title throughout. Oh, and let us not forget what was arguably the most important revolution of them all: the Industrial Revolution. Ackroyd presents the latter as more of a process than a singular event, but its impact reverberates throughout every other event in the book.
I’ve liked the way Ackroyd writes since I first read his London: The Biography (a book I can’t recommend enough if you have any interest in any aspect of that city at all). While the scholarly rigor is fully present in the facts presented and sourcing and all that, Ackroyd is anything but dry. Broad-sweep views of the politics or background events of the day are interspersed with tight, personal vignettes drawn from the people being impacted by those politics and events. More academic chapters covering the government and wars and such alternate with chapters focused on the economics of regular people trying to get by, or on the arts of the era. It’s a well-rounded read that moves along quickly given how much it has to cover.
If there is a fault to be had with Revolutions, it’s in the conscious choice of the author to focus it tightly on _England_; you’re not going to get much discussion of the slave trade or India save as to how they directly impacted on the English in England itself. It’s emphatically NOT a history of the Empire. But, he’s clear about that in the very first volume, so it’s not so much an issue as it is just something to be aware of.
Ackroyd also doesn’t cast much of a critical voice into the narrative, either; you won’t get much sense of how the author feels about any of the events he’s retelling. The lack of easily-discernible bias is honestly somewhat refreshing, but some sense of point of view would be appreciated by some readers, I’m sure.
That said, I like his approach and recommend this book and series to anyone who wants a deeper dive into English history than any single-volume book could do justice to.