cover image Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty

Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty

Dan Jones. Viking, $27.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-525-42829-9

In this richly detailed history, Jones (The Plantagenets) explores the origins and rationale of the Magna Carta by looking at the cultural and social landscape of the era in which it was created. By studying the years leading up to 1215, Jones is able to show how England was changing and growing, in part due to the absentee reign of King Richard I (the Lionheart) and the subsequent excesses and unpopularity of King John. The Magna Carta, created as a peace treaty designed to rein in the king by making him answerable to his barons, was both a success and failure in its time. "Dry, technical, difficult to decipher, and constitutionally obsolete," it was supposed to "pin down a king who had been greatly vexing a small number of his wealthy and violent subjects." Instead, it survived and gained a legendary status far out of line with its original scope and intent. Jones claims that this is because of its symbolism%E2%80%94a cry for freedom, in opposition to tyranny%E2%80%94and by showing the full context in which it became necessary, he demonstrates that the Magna Carta served its purpose well enough during a time of chaos. The writing style is accessible, if dry, and the text will serve as a useful academic resource. Agent: Georgina Capel, Georgina Capel Associates (U.K.). (Nov.)