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In Pursuit of Civility
Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England
Keith Thomas

The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures

2018 • 424 pp. 6 1/8 x 9 1/4"
British History / Social History

$45.00 Paperback, 978-1-5126-0281-4
$95.00 Hardcover, 978-1-5126-0280-7

$44.99 Ebook, 978-1-5126-0282-1

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

(Hardcover is un-jacketed.
Cover illustration is for paperback edition only)

Not for sale in the British Commonwealth except Canada

“[Thomas] traces the history of civility back to antiquity but argues that this “social glue” binding our culturally divided society together has never been more important or so subject to debate. . . . [A] fascinating study.”
Wall Street Journal

Civility in a changing world

Keith Thomas’s earlier studies in the ethnography of early modern England, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Man and the Natural World, and The Ends of Life, were all attempts to explore beliefs, values, and social practices in the centuries from 1500 to 1800. In Pursuit of Civility continues this quest by examining what English people thought it meant to be “civilized” and how that condition differed from being “barbarous” or “savage.” Thomas shows that the upper ranks of society sought to distinguish themselves from their social inferiors by distinctive ways of moving, speaking, and comporting themselves, and that the common people developed their own form of civility. The belief of the English in their superior civility shaped their relations with the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish, and was fundamental to their dealings with the native peoples of North America, India, and Australia. Yet not everyone shared this belief in the superiority of Western civilization; the book sheds light on the origins of both anticolonialism and cultural relativism. Thomas has written an accessible history based on wide reading, abounding in fresh insights, and illustrated by many striking quotations and anecdotes from contemporary sources.

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Reviews / Endorsements

“In examining both the narrow meanings of “manners” and “civility” and their wider ones, the author seeks to capture what the English considered “distinctive and superior” about them themselves and their culture.”

The New Criterion

“A thought-provoking study from a prominent, early modern historian. . . . Recommended.”


SIR KEITH THOMAS is a highly regarded historian of early modern Britain. His classic works include Religion and the Decline of Magic and Man and the Natural World.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:08:32 -0500