Details fall into place

24th May 1996 at 01:00
ACCESS TO HISTORY The Wars of the Roses and the Yorkist Kings. By John Warren. Pounds 5.50. The Civil Wars 1640-9. By Angela Anderson Pounds 5.50. Charles II and James II. By Nicholas Fellows. Pounds 5.50. Whigs, Radicals and Liberals. By Duncan Watts Pounds 5.99. Great Britain and the Irish Question 1800-1922. By Paul Adelman Pounds 5.99. From Bismarck to Hitler. By Geoff Layton Pounds 5.99.

PERSONALITIES AND POWERS: Hitler - Germany's Fate or Germany's Misfortune? By John Laver Pounds 4.99 Hodder Stoughton Age range 16 plus

Sean Lang welcomes additions to a popular series of A-level study guides. Hodder Stoughton's Access to History series has now established itself as a market leader in the increasingly competitive field of resourcing A-level and modular degree courses.

Its strengths are well established: examination in depth of an identifiable topic, with the emphasis on clear explanation and structured guidance on making notes from the text. The books are now widely used by A-level students struggling to make sense of the detail of one or other of the topics they have to deal with: what they may not realise is that many an A-level teacher faced with mugging up on a subject quickly will resort to them as well.

The series has so far concentrated heavily on the popular topics of the 16th and 20th centuries, and is now filling the gaps in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Nicholas Fellows begins his survey of the reigns of Charles II and James II with a consideration of why such an important period should have suffered so much neglect. I remember being asked by a Labour councillor what had happened in 1688 because the local party did not know and needed to have a policy on its tercentenary!

This timely discussion guides the reader through the complexities of Restoration politics and religion, and ends by putting events in England into their European context. Similarly, Angela Anderson's detailed account of the Civil Wars puts them firmly in the context of the latest debates on their British dimension (notice the absence of "English" from the title), as well as of the older Marxist and Whig arguments.

Those who prefer Tudors to Stuarts tend to start at the traditional point of departure, with Henry Tudor triumphing over Richard III at Bosworth. Historians have long pleaded for a wider perspective, to put the Tudors in the context of the Yorkist monarchy, but not until now have teachers had an adequate guide to help them do this. John Warren's account of the Wars of the Roses is simply terrific, engagingly written, with a nice touch of humour but a firm guide to what can be a confusing period. He makes a good case for taking a much longer run-up to the Henrys and their marital and religious problems.

Marital and religious problems dogged Parnell and Gladstone too, three centuries on. Gladstone was one of the few politicians able to take on the tone of an Old Testament prophet when introducing a budget, and Duncan Watts rightly places the Grand Old Man at the heart of his helpful and clear description of the development of the Liberals from opposition Whigs in 1815 to their days of triumph before the First World War. This thematic approach, in line with the new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority regulations for history A-level, is evident in Paul Adelman's volume on the Irish Question, which begins with a pocket sized survey from the first English conquest through to the 1922 treaty and goes on to examine the 19th century in detail. He points to the historical debate between revisionists, who point out that by no means all of Ireland's ills came from across the Irish Sea, and the passionate denunciation of such "pseudo-scientific objectivity" by more recent nationalist historians.

Geoff Layton looks at a similiar continuum in German history, from unification to the fall of Weimar. This is a very necessary book for A-level students, who all too often treat the different phases of German history covered here as if they were totally separate: appropriately, Hindenburg, who served the Empire and the Republic and appointed Hitler, graces the cover in unfamiliar civilian dress. Layton is perhaps a bit too harsh on Weimar: there is a better case for Weimar's strength to be made than he allows for, though Hitler would not have seen it.

John Laver's mini-biography of the Fuehrer for the Personalities and Powers series takes us through some familiar territory in a condensed and easy format, with short sub-sections and handy timelines. Although the book is essentially a biography, Laver gives consideration to some of the debates surrounding the nature of Nazi Germany: how far was Hitler actually in control of events? Was he, as David Irving alleges, a "weak" dictator? And, inevitably, did he order the Holocaust? The conclusion is surely right: whether he did or not, he remains responsible.

Sean Lang is head of history at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge

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