Arcadia : England and the Dream of Perfection, Paperback

Arcadia : England and the Dream of Perfection Paperback

3 out of 5 (1 rating)


A fascinating depiction from award-winning author, Adam Nicolson, of a family and a country on the hinge of modernisation.

Was our country once a better place? Has modernisation destroyed as much as it has improved? And can we see in an earlier Britain a way of living, an Arcadia, which now seems both ideal and remote?

Through 16th- and 17th-century England, the changes of an approaching modernity accelerated.

With the growing power of the state, the disruption of the traditional bonds of society, the breaking of communities and the marginalisation of the great families who had once balanced the power of the crown, the new mercantile, individualist world increasingly clashed with the communal and chivalric ideals of the old.

To tell this story from the 1520s to the 1640s, Adam Nicolson takes a single great family, the Earls of Pembroke, their wives, children, estates, tenants and allies, and follows their high and glamorous trajectory across three generations of change, nostalgia, ambition, resistance and war. 'Arcadia' is a rich and detailed evocation of England on the hinge of medieval and modern, and in this wide-ranging book Adam Nicolson explores a world in transition, moving from the intrigues, alliances and vendettas of the court to the intricate, everyday business of rural communities managing their affairs in times of stress.

It was an England caught up in its first taste of modernity, yet divided over how to react to it, split between the old and the new, the moment at which the world we have lost turned into the world it has now become.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages, Illustrations (some col.), maps, ports. (chiefly col.)
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780007240531



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Fascinating book, let down by three things. First, the author strains too hard to link everything about Wilton and the Herberts into his thesis on the impact of the 'Arcadia' concept on the people and events of the period. Second, although much of the writing is fine, there are two many lapses into complex and elaborate sentence and paragraph structure, possibly a side effect to the need to make everything relate to 'Arcadia'. Third - at least in my copy - the dire monochrome reproduction of the many portraits - these are so bad that I'd have preferred to do without them altogether.

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