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1688: A Global History, by John E. Wills

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Sir:
I do not know what sort of people you are. We are Frenchmen. We are among the savages. We would like very much to be among the Christians, such as we are. We know well that you are Spaniards. We do not know if you will attack us. We are very vexed to be among beasts like these who believe neither in God or in anything. Sirs, if you are willing to take to away you have only to send something in writing. Since we have little or nothing to do, as soon as we see the note we will come to you.
Sir, I am your very humble and obedient servant,
Jean l'Archeveque of Bayonne.
This is an interesting concept - looking at a single year and the political events of the entire world that happened in that year, casting the net as widely as possible to capture every continent. Of course in the home archipelago this is the year of the so-called Glorious Revolution, in which the Catholic James II of England and VII of Scotland was overthrown by a suspicious Protestant elite; in the eastern Mediterranean, the Venetians and Austrians were fighting the Ottomans; up north near St Petersburg, 1500 Old Believers burned to death rather than submit to Russian rule.

However, I confess I'm writing this up some months after I read it, and I remember very little about it. The best bit is an exploration of Japanese poetry and sexual customs of the period. There are also good bits about Australia, science and the Dutch East India Company. But it doesn't hang together as one might have wished.

The problem with taking a snapshot like this is that you necessarily get a static rather than dynamic picture. Stories in history depend on capturing long-term trends to illustrate why particular moments are so important. If you have picked your moments for chronology rather than story, you throw away your advantage.

This was the non-fiction book which had lingered longest unread on my shelves. Next in that list is Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden's Concordance Unwrote the Bible, by Julia Keay; but I can't find it, so I'll go on to What Made Now in Northern Ireland, a book of essays edited by the late great Maurna Crozier.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
steepholm
Oct. 5th, 2017 05:26 am (UTC)
Does the author explain his choice of year? It seems that any year might have done more or less as well. (Of course it's easy to think of years that were significant for several countries, but not so much for every country.)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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