A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume II: The New World
© 1956 Winston Churchill
Shortly before the eruption of the Second World War, Winston Churchill was busy at work authoring a history of the English and American people, of which this is volume II. Although one might think The New World is set in North America, the new world here is one of political culture, not geography. To be sure, this volume is set in in the Age of Discovery, and there is a section on the first few English colonies…but this work’s primary focus is charting the transformation of England from a strongman monarchy into a constitutional government largely run by Parliament. Not coincidentally, Churchill also tracks the effects of the reformation on English religion; here we witness the break from Rome, the birth of the Anglican church, the rising of Protestant sects like the Puritans, and the tension between all three that would lead to wars, a dictatorship, and the happy departure of the Pilgrims to America, where they could ruin a whole new continent with their raging dislike for life. As mentioned prior, Churchill is a traditional historian, completely focused on the king and the leaders of Parliament. Most people exist to do the ruler’s bidding (the soldiers of the New Model Army) or to be put down by a good ruler (the Chartists, Levellers, and Diggers). Despite this, it’s fairly entertaining because Churchill so unabashedly throws in his own opinions, never missing a chance to commend his ancestor Winston Churchill or to get in a few digs at the dig-worthy Oliver Cromwell.
I may read another volume of this series eventually; I’m curious as to how he handled the American Revolution, and I’m told his coverage of the American Civil War is commendable. Besides that, reading the work in his voice amuses me to no end.