That is the new book by Nicholas McDowell, and it is one of my favorite non-fiction works this year. Milton is today more relevant than he has been in a long time, excerpt:
Milton’s political development is shaped by his evolving understanding of the ways in which ‘tyranny’ — defined initially in ecclesiastical and clerical terms but which grows to encompass political organization — retards the intellectual and cultural progress of a nation. This understanding was shaped not only by historical experience of the unprecedented political turbulence of mid-seventeenth-century Britain, but by the interaction between that experience and his intellectula life. Milton’s period of intensive and almost entirely orthodox reading in political and religious history in the mid-1630s, the record of some of which survives in the notebook that was rediscovered in 1874, revealed to him how clerical censorship and heresy-hunting had suppressed intellectual and literary life in other countries. Milton regarded the cultural decline of Italy under the Counter-Reformation and Inquisition from the glory days of Dante and Petrarch, two of his pre-eminent post-classical models of the poetic career, as the starkest instance of this process. His tour of Italy in 1638-9 confirmed the lessons of his reading: that in nations where ‘this kind of inquisition tyrannizes,’ as he put it in Areopagitica, learning is brought into a ‘servil condition’ and the ‘glory ‘ of ‘wits’ is ‘dampt.’
Recommended! Every page is enjoyable, and you can profit from this book no matter your prior knowledge of Milton may be. A sure thing for the year end’s “best of” list.
You can pre-order here.