If you read the publisher’s description of this book you will be inclined to say three cheers for the modern world and all of the freedom of expression it has brought us. We are, after all, enlightened now having relegated God to the back seat and allowing science and prosperity to drive – more like hubris and greed but there isn’t room to recognize the inconvenient truths like darwinianism leads to eugenics leads to genocide here. This left winger who started out as Churchill’s literary toady – a position which he parlayed into a desk job in intelligence during the war which he in turn parlayed into a job reviewing books for the BBC – is presented as an authority when in reality the closest he comes to Gibbon is being a gibbon who is able to fit pre-cut pieces into a manufactured puzzle.
The golden century : Europe 1598-1715 Maurice Ashley London : Phoenix, 2002, c 1969 Europe, History, 17th century Softcover. Originally published: [London] : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969. 255 p.,  p. of plates : ill., maps, ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG
In political terms the seventeenth century was one of continuous wars and revolutions. But the achievements in the arts and sciences made it for Europe a golden age. Its span reached from the last thirty years of Spanish predominance – the Spain of Cervantes and Valazquez – to what Voltaire called the golden age of Louis XIV. In it flourished the Amsterdam of Hals and Rembrandt, the London of Milton and Shakespeare, the Antwerp of Rubens and the Paris of Moliere. It was the supreme age of English poetry and of Dutch painting, and it saw the dawn of modern philosophy and science.
But above all, this period was a golden age because it witnessed the emergence of toleration, especially in the Protestant countries. At the beginning of the century the Spanish Inquisition still flourished: Bruno was burned to death for believing that the earth moved around the sun. By the end of it witches had virtually ceased to be burned and pantheism was becoming respectable. Maurice Ashley traces these vast material, artistic, scientific and spiritual changes within their political framework and intertwines narrative with modern historical analysis.