Friday 14 October 2016

Book Review: A Fiery and Furious People - A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe

Title: A Fiery and Furious People
Author: James Sharpe
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publication Date: September 2016
Pages: 710
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Non-Fiction/History
Source: ARC via NetGalley

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From the tragic tale of Mary Clifford, whose death at the hands of her employer scandalised Georgian London, to an account of the violent activities of Victorian Manchester's scuttling gangs, via a character portrait of the duel-obsessed Cavalier Sir John Reresby, A Fiery & Furious People explores the brutal underside of our national life in all its variety. And as it considers the litany of assaults, murders and riots that pepper our history, it also traces the subtle shifts that have taken place both in the nature of violence and in people's attitudes to it. Why was it, for example, that wife-beating could at once be simultaneously legal and so frowned upon that persistent offenders might well end up being ducked in the village pond? When did the serial killer first make an appearance in the annals of English crime? How could football be regarded at one moment as a raucous pastime that should be banned, and the next as a respectable sport that should be encouraged? What gave rise to particular types of violent criminal – medieval outlaws, Georgian highwaymen, Victorian garroters – and what made them dwindle and then vanish?

A Fiery and Furious People was an interesting read. Some chapters caught my attention more than others, and I preferred the information about historical events to that of the more recent past; however, overall it was a very engaging work that considered different elements of violence in their social and historical context. With its clear, readable prose, coupled with excellent detail and notes, this is a work that will appeal to both the casual non-fiction reader and those students of either English history or the history of violence, whether that encompasses criminal law and justice or areas such as highwayman and Victorian crime.

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