This book is faithful to its title and gives a clear if somewhat passionless account of Puritanism on both sides of the Atlantic. It is part of a major series by OUP of short introductions. The series is very eclectic and in some cases bizarre. For example one title is ‘A very short introduction to nothing’, which, presumably, is very short! However, this should not deter the curious reader.
Written by an American scholar, this title is divided into seven parts, each detailing an essential aspect of Puritanism. After a brief introduction, the first chapter gives an historical overview of the beginnings of the movement from the English Reformation.
Chapter two moves the focus to the New World. The third chapter attempts to deal with Puritan theology. The next three chapters focus on the lifestyle of the Puritans and its influence on society. Chapter seven concludes with a summing up of Puritanism and its legacy.
Considering its limitations, the author achieves what he sets out to do, but leaves the reader somewhat unmoved. It is this reviewer’s contention that Puritanism is anything but a dry account of a bygone period of history.
The narrative seems to lack dynamism and passion. Whether this was due to editorial restraints or the author’s concern to remain totally objective is unclear. To be fair, there are some excellent passages, but overall, I found this work patchy in quality.
Although preaching is referred to, it is not given the pride of place it deserves for a work on Puritanism. The constant hopping from one side of the Atlantic to the other also interrupted the flow of the narrative.
Also, the book’s presentation in a clumsy format, with a dull brown cover, will only enhance many people’s mistaken view of the Puritans as sombre, misguided and irrelevant.
Having said all that, this does give a reliable overview of the subject from both sides of the Atlantic. The references are up to date and the last chapter helpful. It’s a useful work to have, but there are better introductions available.