Reading Revolutions


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The Politics of Reading in Early Modern England

Kevin Sharpe

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This fascinating book—the first comprehensive study of reading and politics in early modern England—examines how texts of that period were produced and disseminated and how readers interpreted and were influenced by them. Based on the voluminous reading notes of one gentleman, Sir William Drake, the book shows how readers formed radical social values and political ideas as they experienced civil war, revolution, republic, and restoration.

By analyzing the strategies of Drake’s reading practices, as well as those of several key contemporaries (including Jonson, Milton, and Clarendon), Kevin Sharpe demonstrates how reading in the rhetorical culture of Renaissance England was a political act. He explains how Drake, for example, by reading and rereading classical and humanist works of Tacitus, Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and Bacon, became the advocate of dissimulation, intrigue, and realpolitik. Authority, Sharpe argues, was experienced, reviewed, and criticized not only in the public forum but in the study, on the page, and in the imagination of early modern readers.

Kevin Sharpe is professor of history at the University of Southampton and the author of The Personal Rule of Charles I, published by Yale University Press.

“Kevin Sharpe’s resurrection of the life, reading, and opinions of Sir William Drake is undoubtedly a pioneering and important contribution to early-modern studies. It is also elegantly written and highly persuasive in its insistence upon the continuing interaction of historical studies with other disciplines; and, no less importantly, it merits recognition for firmly reminding academic practitioners that the study of the ‘history of reading’ is an important and viable discipline in itself.”—Michael G. Brennan, Notes & Queries

“[Sharpe] offers great insight into the mental world of an age in which the wisdom of the past spoke livingly to the present.”—Jonathan Bate, Sunday Telegraph

“Lucidly written and stimulating.”—Choice

“A tour de force. . . . Sharpe begins his book with a discourse on method and a survey of historiography. He goes over the great debates that have divided historians of seventeenth-century Britain for the last fifty years.”—Robert Darnton, New York Review of Books

“A spirited overview of a huge range of issues in the study of early modern reading, surveying recent scholarship and proposing new areas that remain to be explored. This is a book that will open many windows.”—David Norbrook, Times Literary Supplement

“This is an erudite book, rich with implications for early modern scholarship, and a study that emphasizes the intellectual sophistication of the period. It should be no surprise to us that Drake and his contemporaries read and responded to texts in the same way that we do today. But Kevin Sharpe has done us a service in showing us that this was the case and in giving us a new way to look at the transmission and formulation of ideas.”—History: Reviews of New Books

“Because of its reflective, extensive treatment of disciplinary questions posed by the study of reading, and because of its careful analysis and emphases of Drake’s reading process, Reading Revolutions should be read by anyone who studies the early modern period or the field of book history.”—Genelle Gertz-Robinson, SHARP News

“A pioneering study. It’s greatest strength, for the book historian, is in what it contributes to our knowledge of the ways in which a man of that time and place did his reading. Sharpe’s energy, and the forceful and effective way he demonstrates to his fellow historians the case for book history, will surely begin to attract to the field historians who will richly profit from it.”—Germaine Warkentin, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Winner of the 2001 SHARP Award given by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing for the best new book in Book History
ISBN: 9780300187182
Publication Date: March 1, 2000
374 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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