Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review: Sweden in the Seventeenth Century

Dear Reader,

Interested in Swedish history, but don't speak Swedish? Want a look into how a relatively backwater country made a comet-like rise to great power status? Then Paul Lockhart's Sweden in the Seventeenth Century is the book for you.  This book examines the Stormaktid, or "great power period" of Swedish history. Lockhart is traditionally a Danish historian, and as his CV will tell you, has written numerous books on the geo-political role of Denmark in the early modern world. In more recent years, he has written a couple of wonderful books on the American War of Independence.

However, in this work, he takes a break from Danish history, (although his Danish viewpoint occasionally reasserts itself), and examines the role of Denmark's neighbor, Sweden. Lockhart eloquently argues that Sweden asserted its position as a great power by use of military force, and that Sweden lagged behind other European powers in terms of, "literary, artistic, scholarly, or commercial sophistication." The book shows that the Swedish state was build around the use of military force, specifically, the use of limited resources to conduct lengthy wars.

The book is more of a survey than a monograph, covering a roughly 120 (Lockhart begins in the 16th century and ends in the 18th) years of history in 177 pages. Lockhart gives time to Swedish military organization and reform, administrative reforms, and the lives of the men and women who made up the Swedish state in this period. In addition, Lockhart shows a great command of the relevant historiography of Sweden in both the English and Swedish languages, and as a result, this book will be very useful for younger scholars, and as a textbook for upper level undergraduate courses on the early modern world.

All in all: 5 Stars. I highly recommend that anyone interested in this period, or Swedish history as a whole, purchase this book.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

1 comment:

  1. That reminds me of a book I read as an undergrad in the early 80s, and recently re-read last year. Sweden's Age of Greatness (1632-1718), a collection of essays edited by Michael Roberts. I enjoyed it much more recently than I did 30 years ago! I guess that was because I wasn't having to read it, take notes and weave what I'd read into an essay.

    I don't know how well the historiography stands up (it was published over 40 years ago) but it seems a good introduction.

    I was struck by the parallels with Frederician Prussia. I believe Old Fritz was a student of Charles XII and tried to learn from what went wrong for Sweden as a former great power.