Purkiss’ history of the ECW was something of a slog for me to get through. The general idea as given is admirable: to look at the English Civil War as something that involved people, and see how various people were impacted by it.

In general, the technique for this is good. She’s gone through a lot of primary sources, and found ones with fairly consistent records for an extended period of time, and used them to generate narratives at the personal level, with lots of extensive quotes. There’s a lot of contextualization around this, and it pays off.

However, outside of that, the results aren’t nearly as good. I suspected that Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause rested too much on ‘everybody knows’ facts about the American Revolution, and I’m sure that Purkiss has done this here. She’s English and writing for an English audience, so I can’t say how on-target she is on her assumptions, but I found her brushing by statements as if they were self-evident, and they were not for me. The trained bands of the early fighting are mentioned but not described. I know generally what they are because I’ve read Haythornwaite’s book on the ECW, which goes into them. Here, they’re a blank spot.

And that’s a symptom of the larger issues of the book. It’s roughly chronological in format, but has extended breaks to talk about particular social issues at length, which breaks up the chronology enough to make it difficult to keep track off. Some of the major battles get very good treatment, using descriptions from participants to at least show how the action felt for some of the non-commanders (actually quite valuable). Certain areas get similarly good treatment, as one of her sources has a bunch of letters showing what was happening around a manor in hostile country. But there’s not a lot of consistency or solid presentation here.

At best, this is a good second or third book to read about the ECW. Find a good regular general history first, then turn to this to start filling in some of what was going on away from the most dramatic parts.