cover image London 1900: The Imperial Metropolis

London 1900: The Imperial Metropolis

Jonathan Schneer. Yale University Press, $45 (350pp) ISBN 978-0-300-07625-7

The throb and hum of 1900 London reverberates in this superbly researched and richly detailed work of cultural history. Enormous, diverse London was the imperial capital of the day, surpassing Paris, Vienna, Rome, New York and Peking in importance. On the docks of the Thames, thousands of workmen unloaded the riches of the globe--spices, herbs, furs, jute, hemp--while in the Square Mile of the financial district, thousands of lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, stockbrokers, importers and exporters made their fortunes. Historian Schneer of the Georgia Institute of Technology illustrates how imperial symbols permeated the architecture, culture and institutions of this colossal money-making machine. Zoo elephants evoked the exotic reaches of British dominion; the city's revamped streets provided an imposing backdrop for parades of ""sunburned heroes returning from the veldt""; and the white man's burden echoed as a theme in cigarette advertisements, school textbooks and music hall songs. Nor does this fine study neglect the dialectical contradictions of an empire of 400 million people. Schneer identifies racial stereotypes in the Sherlock Holmes stories but also shows how Irish, Indian and African nationalists applied liberal ideologies born and honed in Britain to their own nascent independence movements. Finally, he analyzes imperialist and anti-imperialist sentiments articulated by politicians in the general election of 1900, called the Khaki Election for the color of the uniforms during the Boer War. Schneer's writing occasionally loses its fluidity when he gets bogged down in too much minutiae. But he offers a lively portrait of a city that was not just the capital of a country but the capital of the world in a way that perhaps no other city has ever been. (Sept.)