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A bold author's broad sweep of the history of freedom

MARCUS FERRAR - The Fight for Freedom - Crux Publishing - 2016

The heyday of books on freedom was in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with the most influential authors Locke, Mill, Voltaire and Rousseau. There have not been many authors writing on freedom since then. The reason is that it is a difficult subject with a forbidding mass of definitions and interpretations. 

(On Voltaire in this book we are given the fascinating nugget that after Islamic fundamentalists launched a lethal attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015, Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance, first published in 1763, returned to France’s bestseller lists.) 

It has taken a bold author to attempt a summary of the history of freedom in under 300 pages. This book takes in the broad sweep of history with few lacunae. Of the important colonial powers, only the Netherlands are omitted and, of the colonised countries, Sri Lanka.

One of the most valuable features of this important book is its ability to surprise, either because the author reminds the reader of something he had forgotten, or tells him something he never knew. This former correspondent for Reuters has not omitted to indulge his readers with colour, of which there is plenty. 

The most daring assertion is the selection of the highpoint in the whole history of the fight for freedom. Ferrar chooses the fall of the Berlin Wall. That is a good subject for debate. Contenders would surely include Magna Carta in 1215, Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle church in 1517 and the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Ferrar’s masterly work has made a great contribution to the literature of freedom. ■