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Reaching for a Larger History: A comparative book review

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Philosophy Teacher's Assistant
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Dordt College

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book reviews
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  1. Introduction
  2. The unknown American revolution
  3. The Brittanic viewpoint
  4. The striking people-groups
  5. Final considerations
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

Hugh Kearney's The British Isles: A History of Four Nations and Gary Nash's The Unknown American Revolution both attempt to introduce an often missed dimension into their respective subjects. Although each book has a unique style and approach (because of differences in scope, audience, and preceding literature) this common goal of reaching for a larger history is the best point from which to compare them.

The British Isles: A History of Four Nations traces ?the interaction of the various major cultures of the British Isles from the Roman period onwards.? In this sense, it is the history of a geographical location more than a nation, or, to be more precise, it is as the title would suggest the histories of four nations in one book. The four nations are England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and Kearney contends that apart from one another the history of none can be properly understood. Kearney presents this theory as against that of nationalistic historians.

[...] I left the book with a profound conviction that he was right in regard to the interconnectedness of the four nations. Can so little space hold so much history? The second criteria for Kearney's books is can he practicably present nearly 2000 years of history in 216 pages? Here I would answer a more qualified Necessarily, in such a compressed form, many things are sacrificed. The personalities who inhabit history, seeming to either ride or direct the currents of their time, get short shrift before the necessity to describe over-arching movements. [...]


[...] ] The talk about ?natural rights,? ?immutable laws of nature,? and similar phrases fed the slaves' bone-deep conviction that freedom was everyone's natural birthright.[6] Nash describes how this contradiction, inherent in the situation of colonists clamoring for a liberty they concurrently denied to others within their own households, played out in the ?glorious mess? of the revolution. Many slaves adopted the dreams of liberty of their masters to the degree that they fought and died for that ideal?but the eventual new nation demonstrated the unsubstantial nature of that original ideal. [...]

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