The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jürgen Osterhammel (Translated by Patrick Camiller) - review by Timothy Brook

Timothy Brook

Bird’s-Eye View

The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century

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Princeton University Press 1,167pp £27.95 order from our bookshop
 

The ancient Chinese classic of philosophical whimsy and platitude-busting, the Zhuangzi, includes an Aesopian fable about a peng – a sort of cosmic super-albatross that glides across the face of the earth at an impossible height – and a quail. While the tiny quail flutters busily about in the brambles, never getting more than ten yards off the ground, the giant albatross passes high above, in majestic indifference to the swirl of events beneath its wings. The quail, insensible of its limits, can only respond to the high-flying albatross with a laugh: ‘Where does he think he’s going?’ 

Writers in the current wave of global history are doing their utmost to avoid taking sides in the argument between the albatross and the quail. In this exhaustive survey of a most exhausting century, Jürgen Osterhammel is steadfastly neither. Rather than soar at the most commanding of heights or bury

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