This is the book I needed to read before Stone’s. If you’re looking for a clear, readable, narrative overview of seventeenth-century history, I’d definitely recommend this one. It starts with a pair of chapters on the social and political world throughout the period, then begins moving chronologically, separating the century into reasonably distinct segments for James I and VI, the Duke of Buckingham, Charles I, the start of the Civil War, the conclusion of the Civil War, the Commonwealth/Protectorate, and the Restoration. (It goes on from there, but I stopped in 1667; I might well come back and read the later chapters after this novel is done.) A few of Kishlansky’s break-points seem oddly chosen — why 1644 as a dividing line in the Civil War? — but divisions like that are always going to be a little arbitrary.
The political perspective seems, if anything, excessively moderate. I’m not sure if the contrast with Stone comes from the different times at which the authors were writing, their political inclinations, their theory backgrounds, or what, but Kishlansky appears reluctant to paint anybody in a noticeably negative light. Charles I doesn’t seem unreasonable, Cromwell seems like a patriot — hell, even Strafford comes across as not all that awful, when Stone made it sound like he was practically eating Irish babies with tartar sauce. Granted, Stone’s purpose was to trace the causes of the conflict, so he’s more likely to highlight the negatives, but still — Kishlansky might be a bit too forgiving.
But that’s okay. I came to this book hoping to understand what happened, and now I do. The result is that I finally have a tentative outline for which time periods And Ashes Lie will be covering. I call that a win.