Leo McKinstry

Pioneers at Work

The Industrial Revolutionaries: The Creation of the Modern World 1776–1914

By

Atlantic Books 400pp £20 order from our bookshop

In modern historiography it has become common to see the process of industrialisation as a vast, all-powerful economic force, transforming the Western world with a ruthless inevitability. In this analysis, which owes much to Marxist determinism, the role of the individual is continually downplayed. But the historian and broadcaster Gavin Weightman has adopted a far less sweeping and impersonal approach to the Industrial Revolution. His latest book is refreshingly old-fashioned, focusing on the lives of some of the men whose work led to such dramatic changes in our society. In this lively study, there is little room for the dry academic prose that so often makes economic histories a painful reading experience. Instead, we have a wealth of vivid portraits of figures from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, featuring such characters as the pioneer of the electric telegraph Samuel Morse, whose eagerness for publicity was matched by his gift for engaging in feuds with rival inventors, and Hiram Maxim, developer of the machine gun and, according to the author, a bigamist with a penchant for young girls.

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

    • Tarantino's latest film is 'a fairy tale about Hollywood, where fantasy is an industrial product and the boulevards… ,
    • 'I don’t think we’re here on Earth to be Happy. I think we’re here on Earth to help God. I am a messianic writer'.… ,
    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,