I can't improve on David Frum's thoughts on J. H. Elliott's Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830. It is indeed a brilliant and thought-provoking book by a scholar of the highest quality. I would emphasize just this: Elliott makes the point several times (Pages 364, 375, 387, 398, 407, 411) that the British North American colonies were much better prepared for independence and self-government because they had representative assemblies, while the Spanish colonies did not. Had the British colonies not had representative assemblies, the history of the United States might resemble much more than it does the melancholy history of postcolonial Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, etc. Yet at one point, the existence of the representative assemblies was in doubt. King James II (1685-88) seemed to be on a course of systematically abolishing the representative assemblies. The New England colonies and New York were consolidated into a New England Confederation, with no representative assembly. James was more interested in the North American colonies than any other 17th-century English king; as Duke of York and Lord High Admiral in 1664 he had ordered the military takeover of Nieuw Amsterdam, which was renamed New York in his honor. Had he not been overthrown by the Dutch invasion led by William of Orange, stadholder of the Netherlands and from February 1689 King William III, James might have abolished the representative assemblies of the colonies further south. William's invasion and success, usually referred to as the Glorious Revolution, were extremely unlikely events, with enormous and continuing reverberations, and they are–shameless plug–the subject of my forthcoming book, Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers. Unfortunately, I read Elliott's book too late to cite it in my text or footnotes, though I did note that James's overthrow resulted in the reconstitution of the colonial assemblies.
Empires of the Atlantic World is largely based on a thorough reading of secondary sources. An earlier Elliott work, Count-Duke Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline, is based on primary sources. Olivares was the chief minister of Spain's King Philip IV in the 1620s and 1630s and was the great rival of France's Cardinal Richelieu. Olivares's papers were destroyed in the early-19th-century Peninsular War, but Elliott's thorough research in existing archives enabled him to write this superb scholarly biography. It is beautifully written, as well. Historians for many years have assumed that Olivares's Spain was doomed to fail in its struggle with Richelieu's France. Elliott's narrative shows that the outcome was a much closer thing than that. As I recall, it all hinged on Olivares's response to the War of Mantuan Succession–the control of the Italian city of Mantova on the Po River. You may not think you have any interest in Olivares or the War of Mantuan Succession. But Elliott's book is one of the great narrative histories of the 20th century, and if you force yourself to read the first 30 pages, I think you will be hooked.
Last Wednesday about 11:30 a.m., a note appeared on the screen of my laptop saying that my temporary subscription to Microsoft Office had expired. I found that I suddenly could not create new Word files or work on any existing Word files. And I was about to go on a four-hour car trip to deliver a speech at Roanoke College. On returning to Washington, I had to go over to Best Buy, where I'd bought the laptop in October, wait in line at the Geek Squad desk, buy a permanent edition of Microsoft Word, and pay to have it installed (some $299). That took more than an hour; it was impossible to register it with Microsoft because Microsoft.com was down (!). Finally, I managed to register it over the telephone and was able after more than 24 hours to do some work again.
I suppose that the very helpful Best Buy employee who sold me the laptop told me that the installed Microsoft Office was only temporary and would expire. But if so, I hadn't remembered it, and I was completely surprised when suddenly Word was no longer accessible. Other employees told me that all Best Buy laptops were sold with only temporary Microsoft Office. This seems like a foolish policy to me, but there it is. I guess it makes laptop prices cheaper, and then Best Buy can sting you for $299 later. Anyway, let me make some suggestions.
To Best Buy: Please explain to computer buyers, in terms sufficiently strong and clear so that they penetrate the minds of buyers as dense about these things as I am, that the Microsoft Office on the machine is only temporary. You might want to offer to sell them the permanent version then and there.
To Microsoft: Please have your software give laptop buyers a few days' notice of when the temporary Microsoft Word is going to expire. Then they'll have time to renew it without losing the use of their Word files. I note that when I went onto the Microsoft website to try to buy it there, it specified that there were different shipping times. If I'd had to wait for shipping, that would have meant being deprived of my Word files for several days. Can't anybody at Microsoft understand how things work for consumers?
And while I'm at it, a suggestion to Norton: Every day I get a notice on my machine that my Norton Antivirus has expired. I follow the prompts to resubscribe, only to get a screen that says this screen cannot be displayed. I can't give you my money unless you send a link that works.