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In Pursuit of Civility: Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England

by Keith Thomas Yale University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 480 pages
AU$62.99 NZ$66.08
Product Status: In Stock Now
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Civility in a changing world


The renowned historian Keith Thomas has written a peerless study of the place of civility in the shaping of English society between the early sixteenth and the late eighteenth centuries. Dramatic changes in court fashion and manners took place, but equally important was the emergence of an urban trading and manufacturing class with new values and standards of behavior. Traditional notions of class, gender, social custom, and “Englishness” would all be affected by the upheavals of the period. Civility emerged in contrast to barbarism, as England took its first steps towards global domination. Displaying a true master’s grasp of the period, Thomas offers a compelling and wide-ranging analysis of the connections between changing notions of civility, the justification of colonial expansion, and the invention of race.
“The author of the classic Religion and the Decline of Magic, Thomas is a national treasure who should be cloned so that future generations can benefit from his intelligence and urbane sensibility. . . His research is impressive, but even more so is his ability to bring the past alive by letting people such as Defoe and Swift tell their stories. This is a very civilised book.”—Gerard DeGroot, The Times

“Thomas is one of Britain’s greatest living historians. . . In the final pages of his hugely rich and impressive book, [he] makes a strong case for the defence. What civility boiled down to, he says, was kindness, decency and cleanliness. And in some ways we have a lot to learn from our forebears.”—Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

Sir Keith Thomas is honorary fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and a historian of early modern Britain. His classic works include Religion and the Decline of Magic and Man and the Natural World.