1688: A Global History by John Wills (2011 books #4)

The events around the Glorious Revolution and the replacement of James II with William III as King of England is an area of history I find fascinating. Perhaps because of my interest in alternate history, it always appears to be as one of those key eras in history where things could have gone off in wildly different directions and completely changed the world we live in now. So, a book that takes a snapshot of the world in 1688 was always going to be of interest to me.

1688: A Global History isn’t an in depth study of the year, but instead is composed of a number of vignettes, looking for contemporary sources to describe what life was like in a number of places during that year. Obviously, it features the important events in Amsterdam and London as William gathers his Navy, James’ son is born and England prepares for something to happen, but it looks at events all over the world, from the shores of Northern Australia to the Sonora Desert and from the trading posts of West Africa to Edo and Nagasaki.

It’s an interesting book, and Wills has found some interesting stories of life in those times, but it never quite rises above being a series of anecdotes of life in that year with only sporadic attempts at linking them together. The histories here are great illustrations of parts of life in 1688, but it’s only skimming the surface, and many times I wanted more depth, only to find the book zipping on elsewhere.