Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 07/11/2011 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A travel guide written interestingly and ably by one well-versed in the history of the British parliament.
I think I can safely that this is a first for Discerning Reader: a review of a travel guide. But it isn't any old run-of-the-mill travel guide. Published by the hardworking folks at Day One Publications, a publisher that has broken into the North American market in a big way in just the past few years, this little volume was an easy sell because of my British heritage. Despite having visited the UK numerous times, and having lived and worked there a few times in the early 2000s, I've never set foot inside the Houses of Parliament. Thanks to Andrew Atherstone's book, now I almost feel like I have.
Travel Through the Houses of Parliament: Cradle of Democracy is one of a series of travel guides usually centered around a historical figure (John Bunyan, William Booth, even Billy Graham!) and sometimes a geographical location (Oxford, Cambridge, even Egypt!). The publisher obviously put a lot of effort into creating an actual travel guide, and the result is no mere wannabe. Its pages are glossy and full of photos, both its front and back cover feature foldout panels with maps of Westminster (front) and Parliament (back) for easy bookmarking, and the historical information it provides is meaty and interesting.
Author Atherstone is a theology lecturer at Oxford and is an author or contributor of many books. His interest in the topic and his ability to communicate well on the topic are on full display in these pages. Why write about Parliament? Besides the historical and architectural import, these chambers were the stages upon which the social history of Britain - and by extension through geopolitical influence - was played out.
A few comments about some notable particularities of the book. Firstly, Atherstone's own voice comes through the narration, and this is a good thing. Every few pages he inserts details or trivia which help to bring the book back down to earth. Any historical overview can suffer from too much of a bird's eye-view, but Atherstone ably manages to overcome this tendency. Secondly, Oliver Cromwell's presence on the cover does not indicate the theological perspective of the author. Rather, his narration of the conflict between the Royalists and the Roundheads is balanced and civil, even though the events of the time were anything but. Thirdly and finally, women are fairly well-represented: the eighth and final chapter chronicles in detail the agitations and results of the universal Suffrage movement.
One quote, penned at the time of Suffrage by activist Christabel Pankhurst, provides a wise perspective on the abilities and limitations of any government, and is worth reproducing here: "Whether it be a Lloyd George or a Macdonald, a government violently Red or ultra-conservative or moderate or liberal, or a government of women, and you know we may some time have a government of women even - any British government in these days will have a burden upon its shoulder which can only be borne by the Son of God." And is this not true of every earthly government?
Of course there's no substitute for actually trekking through Parliament itself, but for me this worthy little volume will act as the next best thing until I can visit it in person.
As Amazon does not seem to carry this title, you might try to locate a copy by searching Day One's own listing of dealers. I have dealt with CVBBS in the past and been very satisfied with their service.