The Birth of Liberty
Viking Press, New York, 2015, 288 pages
Book Review published on: May 5, 2017
On the fields of Runnymede in June 1215, a fight between a king and the landholders whose support was necessary to maintain the kingdom ended with signatures on a piece of parchment that would change the world. Sixteen years after John ascended to the throne of England, the landscape for all future leaders in the West would change as John conceded some of his power to the people.
Dan Jones, an expert on the lives of the Plantagenet Kings of England, provides an easy-to-read tale of the foundations of Western democracy in the Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty. The style of Jones writing provides the reader a gripping narrative of how a foundational document came to be. From the first sentence of the book to the last, the tale of the state of affairs in England in the last half of the twelfth century and the personalities of the people who would change the ideas of freedom and equality are vibrant and captivating.
Jones describes the numerous issues associated with tyrannical rule in England under a leader who is more concerned with his own net worth than improving the lives of his people. John, as prince and King, was not a popular member of the Plantagenet family. Jones simply states, “People loathed John”; his description of John leaves little to the imagination. He presents a leader who inherited primarily the bad aspects of ruling from his father with the exception of being a good administrator, an important trait for someone planning on taking as much as possible from his people. John’s reign was characterized by conflict, much of which was not on the battlefield. Jones’s description of the influence of the Catholic Church at the time is essential to understanding the conditions under which ordinary people lived. Through the pages Jones lays out a case for the rebellion of the barons against John’s rule and describes the results in vivid detail.
Jones closes his book with a short but valuable discussion of the affect the charter has had throughout history on the development of democratic ideals. Jones points out the substantial influence the document had on the U.S. Constitution, even to the point of word-for-word inclusions of some elements. For anyone desiring to understand more about a specific point in British history or about the political conditions in thirteenth-century England, this book may fill a void while providing some entertainment too. This book is an excellent source to gain an appreciation for what the Founders thought of tyranny and oppression if you have a desire to understand the foundations of liberty in Western thought and particularly in the forming of the United States.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Kevin E. Gentzler, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas