A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe

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A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A compelling and endlessly fascinating book examining the history of violence in England, A Fiery and Furious People is, like the best history books, one that contrasts our history to our present with startling effect – making this an immediate and gripping read, that one can read through fairly quickly despite the tome-like nature of the book itself.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? yes
Pages: 768 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Random House Books
ISBN: 9781847945136

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From the tragic tale of Mary Clifford, whose death at the hands of her employer scandalised Georgian London, to Victorian Manchester's scuttling gangs, to a duel obsessed cavalier, author James Sharpe explores the brutal underside of our national life. As it considers the litany of assaults, murders and riots that pepper our history, it also traces the shifts that have taken place in the nature of violence and in people's attitudes to it. Why was it, for example, that wife-beating could at once be simultaneously legal and so frowned upon that persistent offenders might well end up ducking in the village pond? How could foot ball be regarded at one moment as a raucous pastime that should be banned, and next as a respectable sport that should be encouraged? Professor James Sharpe draws on an astonishingly wide range of material to paint vivid pictures of the nation's criminals and criminal system from medieval times to the present day. He gives a strong sense of what it was like to be caught up in a street brawl in medieval Oxford one minute, and a battle during the English Civil War the next. Looking at a country that has experienced not only constant aggression on an individual scale, but also the Peasants' Revolt, the Gordon Riots, the Poll Tax protests and the urban unrest of summer 2011, this book asks – are we becoming a gentler nation?

Violence on the streets is something that can't be shied away from - anyone who turns on the news or picks up the newspaper will be aware that something horrible happens on our streets every single day. It's a grim truth, and as the darker nights set in, a truth that one has more cause to think about, as we hurry home from dark train stations and try to avoid the shadows we pass. How has the violence changed in our country though? And how has our social and personal perception of violence changed as the years have gone on? It's an interesting topic, but not one I can say that I've given much thought to over the years, despite being eager to jump into history books or historical fiction novels, which are often crammed full of casual violence.

James Sharpe takes the reader on a fascinating journey in his book. Sometimes grim but always hugely detailed and informative, Sharpe has trawled sermons, court records, novels, films, songs, plays - it's all in here, and it's all endlessly entertaining. Travelling from the Middle Ages right up to the Modern day, hugely interesting cases are encountered along the way. Some are truly horrific, some darkly funny, and others shine a light across the centuries and highlight just how our attitudes to violence have changed. When I hear people talking about how awful today's world is, I do have to wonder how they would have survived in years past - when public executions were an enjoyable diversion, crimes could be punished with the removal of limbs, and the threat of war, brutal robberies and rioting on the streets was an almost daily panic. The rather nice upshoot of following violence from the Middle Ages until today is that one actually leaves this book relatively uplifted - a reminder that we live in a time that is, in our part of the world at least, relatively safe and secure, and free from an overwhelming threat of violence.

A weighty tome of a book, A Fiery & Furious People is not a light undertaking in any sense of the word. Thankfully though, James Sharpe combines his skilled research with a knack for seeking out good stories and linking common themes across vast time periods - making this quite the joy to read, one that can be read as a whole or picked up from time to time. Educational, entertaining and enlightening, A Fiery & Furious People is an easy read on a difficult topic. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I would recommend For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England 1066-1500 by Nigel Saul - a fantastic study of a topic that covers several centuries and examines it's subject with an eye on the changing social attitudes and political situation at the time - making it, much like A Fiery & Furious People much more than you may think at first glance - and a cracking read.

Buy A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe at Amazon.co.uk


Buy A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe at Amazon.com.

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