The late Raymond Carr was a hunting man. Unfashionable as this hobby now is, it offered some scope for analogy and metaphor. One particular passage expressed his approach to history in the form of a warning to those who make large claims about the past:
Of course without generalizations – about the class struggle, imperialism, dependency, etc. – provided by the terrible simplifiers, poor foxes like myself would be condemned to intellectual petit point devoid of pattern. Moreover we would be deprived of a satisfying experience, something to get our teeth into: snap go our foxes’ jaws, the back of the generalization is broken, and, licking our lips, we trot home to the kennel, the vixen, and the cubs.
As the title of his book indicates, Ben Wilson has no inhibition about making the sort of claim that would set Carr’s fox sniffing the wind. It is simply that the modern world had its roots in the crucial decade of the 1850s. His argument rests heavily on the belief that steam power and telegraphic communication shrank time and space so dramatically that nearly every aspect of life was transformed. If armies could be transported easily from one end of the earth to the other and armed with Enfield rifles, empires could expand,