Review published on November 4, 2017.
Professor David Cannadine has written one of the best overviews of nineteenth century history from the British perspective. The nineteenth century saw such astonishing changes that at the time had no precedent; it was an exciting time to be alive juxtaposed by also being awful if you were not one of the successful people.
Victorious Century is not the only history published recently on the nineteenth century, and many more will be published in years to come. What we get, as the prologue tells us, is something different from the other histories that are available. The scholarship in this book shows why Professor Cannadine is one of the world’s top academics specialising this period of history. This book tells us Britain’s history in comprehensive detail and that is what makes it so good.
What Cannadine does is look at different dates to help define the century rather than the age-old chronology that other books deliver. It starts and ends with domestic history, and while the Napoleonic Wars are there, they are not subject to detailed study, as he begins his intensive detailed explanation of the events from 1815. There are plenty of facts in this book, so much I learned or reinforced facts I had forgotten, but they are dealt with in such a way that the general reader will enjoy this book. For students, this is excellent background reading for ideas and questions for further study concerning nineteenth century British history.
This book reminds you that historical events do not happen in glorious isolation, and their effects sometimes can still be felt today. Beginning with the Act of Union with Ireland through to the General Election of 1906, we see some of the massive changes Britain underwent. It must also be remembered that after 1945 when, correctly, the dismantling of the Empire began, the nationalist movements started in the later nineteenth century, when agitators were denounced or simply disregarded.
It is without doubt that between 1800 and the 1900 Britain was witness to so many extraordinary and traumatic changes, and these were expressed in many different ways, through art, poetry and prose. Cannadine takes the reader through this in a fascinating and illuminating way; this book has been written with passion and knowledge. Cannadine has brought out how extraordinary the British were, how industrious, creative and vigorous, while at the same time flawed and fallible.
This really is a masterpiece of nineteenth century British history.
Paul Diggett 5/5
Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800–1906 by David Cannadine
Allen Lane 9780713998146 hbk Sep 2017
Harry Parker wins the 2016-2017 Waverton Good Read Award