Andrew Murphy’s scholarly and pleasurable biography is extensively researched in the two continents and is at home in both. In Pennsylvania it is the tensions between the high aims and the constraining realities of the colonial enterprise, and the consequent conflicts between the Quaker core and the remaining population, that animate his account. Penn brought great energy and drive to the undertaking, but the formidable problems of political organisation and land distribution were compounded by his prolonged absences, which he was always meaning to end.
It all adds up to a challenging and instructive story and we have been waiting a long time for a rounded portrait of Penn. Murphy has provided one and it is an outstanding achievement. The usual caricatures of Penn are banished and we are offered as much biographical detail as anyone could desire. The reader will learn all about the well-heeled youth with a naval hero for a father who got into trouble at Oxford for his flirtations with unorthodox religious beliefs.
It’s probably fair to say the book is not really aimed at the general reader. It doesn’t attempt to convey the nature of Quaker worship but concentrates on the Friends’ disputes between themselves and with society at large.... Murphy gives us a meticulously researched account of the nuances of Penn’s dealings with the varied issues and groups he confronted during his extraordinary life, providing an invaluable resource for anyone with a serious interest in the history of Quakerism, the development of governmental theory, or the vexed politics of Penn’s ‘holy experiment’.