Adam Hart-Davis has a knack for bringing the historical past to life through books and television programmes, and in What the Tudors and Stuarts Did For Us he repeats this formula to explain the legacy of England's Tudor and Stuart monarchies, and the inventions and new ideas they bequeathed to later generations.
Lavishly illustrated and full of practical, hands-on exploration of Tudor developments ranging from the printing press to the flushing toilet, Hart-Davis is good at explaining how necessity was the mother of most Tudor inventions, and his scientific background is particularly useful in explaining the rather obscure progress in astronomy, navigation and natural history in 16th-century England. As well as explaining the importance of apparently inconsequential inventions such as pendulum clocks, knitting machines and stagecoach suspension, Hart-Davis explores the great scientific and architectural innovations that took place under the Stuarts in the 17th century, from Francis Bacon's experiments in freezing food to Christopher Wren's building of St. Paul's Cathedral.
What the Tudors and Stuarts Did For Us is an entertaining popular romp through popular science and history, but its main problem is that the historical reality is that the Tudors and the Stuarts actually contributed relatively little by way of useful inventions to the modern world. As a result Hart-Davis often struggles to convince that 16 and 17th-century Englishmen invented new ideas, when in most cases they were just developing innovations learned from Italy and Germany. As a result, the book tends to perpetuate the myth of the greatness of Elizabethan England; let's hope that the same author's planned book and programme on 18th-century England are more convincing. --Jerry Brotton [via]