Dominion: The History of England from the Battle of Waterloo to Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Peter Ackroyd. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $29.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-00365-2
This fast-paced fifth volume of a popular history of England by Ackroyd—a novelist, broadcaster, biographer, and poet—covers 1815–1901, a time dominated by the long reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), characterized by the growth of the British Empire, and marked by such socioeconomically transformative inventions as the steam engine, railroad, and telegraph. The industrial revolution brought to England both economic dominance and brutal factory life—children as young as nine were allowed to work 12 hours a day in cotton factories, for example. The period also saw three reform acts expanding the franchise for British men to about 60% of the male population. Ackroyd devotes much of his best chapter to the one major English war in Europe during this period, that in Crimea against Russia in the 1850s. He sometimes captures the zeitgeist by quoting literary works, as when he notes that Oscar Wilde’s 1891 essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” railed against what Wilde called the “stupidity, and hypocrisy, and Philistinism” of fin de siècle English life. However, with the exception of a passage on the pioneering geologist and paleontologist Mary Anning, Ackroyd largely ignores the lives and achievements of non-royal English women and how the Irish potato famine of the 1840s affected English life. These omissions aside, this is an informative and lively look at early modern England. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/10/2018
Release date: 10/09/2018
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