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New Left Review I/207, September-October 1994

Ian Gentles

A New Social Interpretation

In this coherent, sophisticated and intellectually compelling book, Robert Brenner provides an important reformulation of the Marxist interpretation of the English Revolution of the mid seventeenth century. [*] Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550–1653, Cambridge University Press, 1993, £40. Few scholars will fail to be impressed by his mastery of the vast secondary literature on this subject, as well as his penetration of the extensive archival sources on the great trading companies and the interloping adventurers in the Mediterranean, the Far East and the New World. It is worth noting that the volume is an enormously expanded and rewritten version of the Princeton PhD thesis which Brenner completed at the end of the 1960s. In a sense we can be glad that Brenner encountered so many frustrations in getting it published, because the result is a work of much greater authority than the original thesis. Merchants and Revolution will command attention for many years to come. This is not to say that it will win assent in all quarters, and as I shall attempt to show, Brenner’s account is open to criticism on both factual and interpretive grounds.

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Ian Gentles, ‘A New Social Interpretation’, NLR I/207: £3

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