Chartism, by Asa Briggs. One of eight volumes in the Sutton Pocket History series published by Sutton Publishing Limited, 260 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001, 800-758-3756, $9.95, paperback, 1998.
Call them the thinking person’s answer to the popular “Dummies” series of books. Just as the ubiquitous yellow-and-black-jacketed paperbacks distil the complex details of juggling or running software on your PC into a more user-friendly idiom, the Sutton Pocket History series, edited by Asa Briggs, condenses history into compact, easily digested volumes.
One of the most interesting books in the series, written by Briggs himself, is Chartism, a history of the labour movement in 19th-century England. Briggs, who dedicates his volume to “all the historians of Chartism Past, Present and Future” is himself one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject. His Chartist Studies, published in 1959, established the subject as a serious topic of modern historical study.
In a mere 107 pages, Briggs provides a succinct and fascinating summary of the history of the Chartist movement from the events leading up to the drafting of the People’s Charter in May 1838 to the decades of revolt and reform that followed. In his final chapter, “Interpretations,” Briggs provides his own thoughts regarding the movement’s place in history and reflects upon what it can teach us today.
Concluding “There may be no simple lessons in Chartism, but there is ample scope both for continuing study and reflection,” Briggs leads those whose interest he has piqued into a “Further Reading” list.
Other titles in the Pocket History series include The Norman Conquest, The Crusades, and The Civil Wars 1637-1653. World history volumes include Ancient Egypt, The Russian Revolution, and, the most contemporary title in the series, The European Union.
Each volume is written by an expert on the subject and provides an equally compelling survey of the topic.
For those who don’t have the time or patience to spend poring over history textbooks, the Sutton Pocket Series offers the perfect means to become conversant in events in world history.
Leigh Ann Berry