Sunday, June 07, 2009

Books read in June 2009 (3)

1, Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century by David Underdown

Dorchester was rated as the most godly community in seventeen century England. This book tells you what that meant. If you did not go to your parish church every Sunday or if you went and fell asleep, you risked a fine. That was the law of the land, not the locality. The commonest offences brought to law were drunkenness and swearing. The law was applied to rich and poor alike to the concern of some of the gentry. A hospital and schools were built. There was extraordinary generosity in collections for many needy causes. Most strange to modern Christians would be that a major source of funds were the profits of the brewery the town opened. Drunkenness was sin but beer was wholesome drink. We are taken through the town's reformation by two godly ministers, the turmoil of civil war, the ejection of the Puritan clergy, the start of nonconformity and the decline of Puritan ethics. There was regulation of market prices at times and staples sold to the poor were subsidised in times of scarcity. A fascinating and well written account which includes the founding of another Dorchester across the ocean, another godly community. My one criticism is the paucity of information about the liturgical reforms of the Puritans and detail as to why they would not conform in 1662.

2. The Bible - NIV Study

Once again I have kept to my schedule and completed reading in one year. If fact it is the Old Testament which takes the year at two chapters a day as daily reading of New Testament and Psalms is quicker.

3. Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade by Sian Rees

Having recently commemorated the bicentenary of Britain abolishing its slave trade one rarely hears more of the story except for the later banning of slavery in the Empire. But how was the trade stopped? By the Royal Navy capturing slave ships. The problem was that international law gave them no authority over ships flying the flags of other nations. This is the clearest case of law promoting injustice. When the conditions of the slaves are described it makes for very unpleasant reading. It took decades for other nations to abandon the trade, the last being Brazil. But the most difficulty was in dissuading the Africans to stop the trade. Slaves were their most lucrative export.So we are also told of the exploration of West Africa to find the Niger and expeditions to stop the trade which was the start of colonisation by Britain. Colonialism is universally decried today but it stopped slavery.So a comprehensive history but sometimes rather repetitive and so it can be a bit dull.

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