Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Review: "A Gambling Man"

Jenny Uglow's A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009) is a fast-paced, expertly-crafted biography of Charles II during the first ten years of his reign (1660-1670), with brief telescopic looks at the periods before and after that decade. With the same writerly touch she brought to the life of Thomas Bewick in her last major biography, Uglow delves deeply into the gambles of the king during the early years of the Restoration.

Capturing the scale of the difficulties Charles faced when he returned to England in 1670 to mount the throne is a task and a half, but Uglow does so with ease, deftly explaining the delicate balance beam the new king was forced to walk as he sought to bring stability back to his kingdom. Religion, finance, military power, government power structure and responsibilities: all these and more had to be negotiated, discussed, ironed out. And then there were the advisors, and the women, and the relatives, all to be dealt with.

But this is much more than a biography of Charles II's first decade on the throne. As in her other works, Uglow pulls in the atmosphere of the time - significant space is devoted here to the founding and early years of the Royal Society, the Great Fire and rebuilding of London, the theater scene, the plague, &c. And the politics, oh the politics! An in-depth but well-explained primer on the machinations of Charles' court, too.

A fine read. Highly recommended.

No comments: