Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Victorians

Having grown rather fond of A. N. Wilson's highly entertaining writing in "Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II" and in the book mentioned immediately below, I read what is probably his best-reviewed book, "The Victorians." It's not a standard history of the Victorian era (1837-1901), but rather visits into particular people and issues from the time arranged more-or-less chronologically. I appreciated how one of Wilson's primary aims is to point out the differences between Victorian society and culture and our 21st century culture. This is effective and most appreciated since most people lack the historical knowledge to appreciate the differences between then and now. This 760 page book covers Darwin, Marx, the zenith of the age of aristocracy, Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone, colonialism, and seemingly everything that happened in Britain during Victoria's reign. In graduate school, I took a readings course in 19th century Britain, and in spite of that, I had trouble putting certain events in context. For example, Wilson never effectively places the Crimean War in context of why it happened and what the consequences were for Britain and Europe. Yet overall the book is a fascinating look into the people and events that Wilson has selected as the most interesting to write about during the period. While he clearly admires some of the politicians, particularly Disraeli, he's also candid about the terrible conditions faced by the working class. Wilson is most effective in putting you in the time and place with memorable anecdotes, and that's probably why I enjoy reading his books since that anecdotal aspect of history has always been my favorite. 8 of 10.


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