Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: "A Reforming People"

David D. Hall's latest is A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England (Knopf, 2011). Hall argues for a rethinking of how Puritan thought and culture shaped and were shaped by circumstances in early New England, and suggests that the early colonists could be seen as carrying out the most intense (or advanced) reform program in the English-speaking world. "Not in England itself but in New England," he argues, "did the possibilities for change opened up by the English Revolution ... have such consequences" (p. xi-xii).

In four initial chapters, Hall explores the development of colony-wide and town governments, the putting of "godly" rule into practice, and the concept of "equity" as it was seen by the Puritan settlers. A fifth chapter, framed as a case study of early Cambridge, completes the package.

This is a dense book, not one to be taken up lightly. But Hall's drawn on a wealth of recent scholarship, and his careful examination of the Puritans on their own terms is well worth a close read.