Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty

The Magna Carta is generally seen as the impetus for a chain of events that led to the Declaration of Independence and other modern-day democratic achievements. Dan Jones (The Plantagenets) shows that although the Magna Carta initially had little importance--its power lasted a few scant weeks before war broke out again--it became "a historical palimpsest onto which almost any dream can be written."

Jones starts out by placing the Magna Carta in historical context--beginning with King John's parents, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine--and traces the history of Plantagenet family dominance and overtaxation. The chapters that deal with John's violent, mercenary years on the throne make for fascinating, if at times disturbing, reading. His avarice had almost no bounds, and it becomes clear why his barons had had enough when they forced him to meet them on the plains of Runnymede.

The subsequent failure of the charter, the war and turmoil that broke out, and the larger politics at play (as John sought to establish himself in a world dominated by Pope Innocent III and the Crusades) unfold in an irresistibly entertaining drama. Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty is action-packed, giving the reader a well-researched and exciting glimpse of the tumultuous year of 1215, and the many differing agendas that were temporarily aligned in the Magna Carta.

Published on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, this book looks back at the foundations of a legendary document, and is sure to appeal to readers of English history or political science aficionados. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

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