Free books and media – days 10 to 13

A long hiatus because a lot of distractions prevented me from reading very much, and watching any films at all. It still goes well, just a bit slowly.

The only books I read completely were Genellan: Planetfall by Scott Geir (yet more SF) and Chesterton’s A Short History of England. I did spend a lot of time reading software documentation, which is free, but not really of interest in the current context!

I also dipped into two books, both of which I want to read later, but which I do not really feel inclined to read now. They are Walden and an anthology called The Best American Humorous Short Stories. I have not read enough of the former to comment on it. The latter is promising, not just as an enjoyable book, but because many of the stories are by authors I have not heard of, or who I only associated with a different type of writing (Poe funny!).

A Short History of England is the first non-fiction I have finished as part of this experiment. The latter chapters make too many references to WW1 and are clearly influenced by being written at that time — something that Chesterton’s closing comments show he was clearly aware of.

It is a great corrective to the contemporary tendency to think of the 19th and 20th centuries as a time of growing liberty, by pointing out the loss of medieval liberties that preceeded it (in passing I might add that we ignore many losses of liberty because we are accustomed to them). I do not have the knowledge of history to judge how accurate his picture of medieval life is, but it is certainly true that many movements for liberty and equality have been crushed, even that times that seemed promising: the Peasants Revolt, the Levellers and the Chartists, and, no doubt, many more that are much less well known because they failed. Chesterton makes many telling points, such as the inability of Mary to reverse her father’s dissolution of the monastaries: she was allowed to persecute the poor, but not to make the rich return what they had stolen. She, fatally to her aims, could restore the worst of Catholic England, but not its best.

I may return later to the politics of Chesterton, and the correctness of his history, but in the context of this series of posts what matters is that an out of copyright work of popular history retains the power to inform and to challenge. Its ideas remain controversial and relevant.

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