A Few Reviews

Reviews of the book have been very interesting.

Max Hastings in the Sunday Times.

Niall Ferguson in the FT

Conor Gearty in the Guardian

Jonathan Derbyshire in the Literary Review

Dan Jones in the Spectator

Peter Wilby in the New Statesman

Boyd Tonkin in the Independent

Terry Eagleton’s review in the LRB is restricted to subscribers. But here is a flavour:

What Price Liberty? is an erudite, eminently readable account of British liberties from Stuart monarchy to multiculturalism, written in the conviction that as a society we have ‘lost the means to talk about liberty’ and urgently need to rediscover it. One of the most admirable aspects of What Price Liberty? is it’s refusal to play the Whiggish game. It is this which sets it apart from Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and A.C.Grayling’s Towards the Light. As this book demonstrates, liberties wax and wane, one person’s freedom is another’s restraint, political rights might be cancelled by economic ones, what you see as an inalienable right, I view as outrageous licence , and civilisation and barbarism march hand in hand’.


I was very keen in the book to show that liberties are won and maintained by constant negotiations within politics and society. I am glad that reviewers have picked up on this. Here is an example from Peter Wilby’s review:

This book is a brilliant, subtle and erudite account (astonishingly, its author is not yet 30) of how, from the 17th century onwards, we developed our liberties, and how we lost them. There is nothing starry-eyed, romantic or Whiggish about it; Ben Wilson is well aware that Britain was always stronger on rhetoric than reality, that protestations of liberty often allowed the propertied classes to maintain privilege and control, and that modern threats to freedom come as much from corporate interests as from the state, and that the two frequently act in concert … Liberty, as Wilson points out, cannot be bottled for all time. There is “no such thing as liberty in an absolute sense”, he writes. It needs continual rethinking and renegotiation, and means different things in different times and places.


I’m just as glad that Dan Jones has brought to light an incident involving me, a Cambridge courtyard and a ton of turf hitherto veiled in mystery. And his review was generous and thoughtful as well.


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