The intentions of the author of this book are, I presume, to set out the linkages between religious dissent in England and the progress of trade through innovation and progressive political ideas. This thematic is however not at all clearly set out in her Introduction that runs to a mere two pages. Similarly her conclusion fails to comprehensively round up her work with any real thematic summation.
This lack of a clear strategic sense of what her history is about plays out in many chapters, particularly early on. Here the author adopts a kind of potpourri approach by throwing in lots of detail that sometimes is of interest in the vain hope that that from this mixture an understanding of her theme would emerge.
In practice what happens in the earlier chapters is that the reader is left confused by a seemingly endless series of unconnected paragraphs, often about the lineages of early dissenters involved in trade. Also at this stage any attempt at a structured chronology is abandoned, for what reason I know not. An example of this comes on page 70 where we find ourselves catapulted back in time from 1647 to 1500 without explanation.
It is a pity she adopts this approach, because the subject matter is of much interest. Happily however things improve and I found her discussion of the nonconformist links in Lewes, thereafter her narration of the influence of Tom Paine and her account of the early English campaigners of the 1790's both enlightening and interesting. Particularly resonant is her noting of Paine's comment that spiritual freedom (in this case derived from the tenets of Christianity) was the essential prerequisite of political freedom. But such nuggets are too rare and I wish she had developed and discussed such themes earlier on. Nevertheless I found this section of the book to be inspiring.
If the book is something of a curate's egg, the subject matter is nevertheless fascinating. It is a shame however that the reader has to wait until the second half before the author deals with it in compelling fashion.
- Dr. Robin Carlile