I enjoyed this book a great deal more than I expected to – my hackles rise at thick volumes entitled Age of this or Pursuit of that. And the dedication to Eric Hobsbawm is hardly encouraging. But Richard Evans has given us a monumental, fascinating and often scintillating overview of 19th-century Europe that is both highly readable and stimulating. It does not, like Hobsbawm’s work, argue a case, though Marxist undertones are detectable in some areas. It is more of a reflective summary, covering not just the political, economic and sociopolitical ground, but also the cultural aspects of such processes as the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of new elites, or the effects of industrialisation on the development of cities, on the lives of the lower classes, on birth, death, abortion, prostitution, women’s rights, crime and a good many other areas besides. He makes generous use of anecdotes, vignettes and snappy quotes, which bring subjects to life.
Each chapter opens with a life story that encapsulates the hopes and fears of people living in the period covered and touches on most of the important political, economic, social and cultural issues that dominated it. My favourite is the one from the chapter on the decline of