Book Review: Magna Carta — The Birth of Liberty

Most of you who know me know that I did my undergrad degree in history and Classical languages. However, I don’t think I’ve ever done a book review of one of the history books or biographies I’ve read (and I have more than a few in my library). That’s going to change this week. Just recently, I read Dan Jones’s Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty. If you’re interested in British or American history, this book is a good one to add to your list. It does a great job of covering the problems that King John created with his misrule of England and his off-and-on wars to try to win back territories his brother Richard held on the continent. The focus of the book is on King John and, in many ways, it could be considered more a history of his reign than a treatise on the Magna Carta itself.

That said, Jones does a great job of explaining the history and the attitudes of the English nobility that gave rise to the creation of the Magna Carta. Where most other European countries had less liberty accorded to the nobles, the English had a lengthy history of certain prerogatives among the nobles and restrictions on what the king could do. Jones does a good job of explaining what those were and why the nobility were so upset over John transgressing the boundaries of “acceptable” behavior for a king.

Overall, if you’re interested in learning more about the last of the Plantagenet kings and the first major document drawn up to place checks on the sovereign — a concept that would later be expanded upon both in the United Kingdom and the United States — this book is a great place to start. It earns a solid four out of five rainbow-farting zebricorns for its comprehensive coverage of the topic and its approachability for the non-historian.

— G.K.

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