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Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  140 ratings  ·  13 reviews
This powerful interpretation of English history provides a completely new framework for understanding how Britain emerged in the eighteenth century as a major international power.

John Brewer's brilliant analysis makes clear that the drastic increase in Britain's military involvement (and success) in Europe and the expansion of her commercial and imperial interests would no
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 1st 1990 by Harvard University Press (first published January 1st 1989)
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Simon Wood
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Many are the books on British history that cite John Brewers 1989 classic "The Sinews of Power" not infrequently in glowing terms, but the fact that it has been out of print since 1994, absent without leave from my local library, and hideously expensive second hand has meant that it is not until now (thanks to Oxfam) that I have been able to read this seminal work. It was definitely worth the wait.

"The Sinews of Power" charts the develpment of Britain
Short version: Constant war with France and Spain made the British state mushroom (constant war = big military = hefty taxes and borrowing = lots of bookkeepers and tax collectors) even as the British people congratulated themselves on liberty and limited government. In fact, Brewer argues, the British "fiscal-military state" became all the more powerful for existing within a parliamentary and constitutional system. Because of this setting, the state had greater popular legitimacy and support.

Anthony Zupancic
Sep 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Really quite good history. Looks at the minutia of finance, taxes and administration to understand the growth of British power and the empire; to expose the hidden sinews that animated the British body politic: money, logistics, and administration. Breaks the book into 5 parts:

1. State prior to 1688

2. military org, money raising, and admin after Glorious Revolution

3. political crisis that gave birth to fiscal-military state

4. effects of the state on both material circumstances and attitudes
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is probably the book on my bookshelf most cited by other books on my bookshelf.

(Well, except the Bible, obv. And excepting the law books, which are an incestuous mess of self-citation. But other than that).
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
It illuminates the development in England of the fiscal state after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and how the machinery of finance developed, was staffed, and evolved over this period. It also touches upon some of the relative advantages Britain enjoyed over the principal rival France in terms of a more centralized taxation, a gradually more professional administration, and the greater legitimacy provided by Parliament. Worth a read if you're interested in the financial underpinnings of state ...more
Tom Buitelaar
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Boone Ayala
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brewer seeks to explain an apparent paradox of 18th century Britain. At the same time that Britain became a militarily-renowned world power, it became a society famous for its love of liberty and the rights of the subject. He thus asks "why Britain was able to enjoy the fruits of military prowess without the misfortunes of a dirigiste or despotic regime" (xviii). He argues that 18th century Britain was strong in infrastructural power - the practical capability to successfully accomplish objectiv ...more
Nic Barilar
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Well-researched. Strong argument. But, if the British Empire depended upon its financial system, its tax system, etc. to fund its imperial projects that emerged after the Glorious Revolution and into the eighteenth century... where is the slave trade?
Michael Taylor
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: english-history
Why did Great Britain become the financial superpower of her time? This book sought to answer that question by examining the development and growth of the modern beaucratic state. His heroes are the paper pushers of the age. In the end, Britain became great because of the statistics and reports generated by beaucrats which allowed policymakers to make informed decisions on hard data. Not a book for everyone, but if you are interested in British and American colonial history, then it is worth you ...more
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
While a bit of a slow read about taxes/economic policy/finance at times, Brewer is a wonderful writer and argues a strong case for how the British fiscal-military state arose after 1688 and why it worked so well compared to other European nations.
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Read this for a research paper about monetary and fiscal policy in Enlightenment Europe, was very helpful.
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