John Bew

Empire & State Building

Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800–1906

By

Allen Lane 602pp £30 order from our bookshop

As historical units, centuries can be cumbersome and unruly beasts. As series editor of the Penguin History of Britain, David Cannadine probably knows that better than most. He was raised in Birmingham – a city shaped by the mayoral legacy of Joseph Chamberlain – in the 1950s, a time when Britain still had not given up its pretentions of being an empire. His four grandparents, all born in the 1880s, still dressed in Victorian black; Cannadine even goes so far as to suggest that the immediate post-Second World War years might be considered the last phase of the ‘long’ 19th century. Mercifully, he is more disciplined than that, starting his elegant volume with the 1800 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland – a measure prompted by raison d’état in time of war that is not always given the attention it deserves by British historians – and drawing his account to a close in 1906, when the Liberal landslide of that year gave birth to the 20th century’s first great reforming government.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,