Coming to this book wishing to learn more about the 19th century, I leave it with a sense of bewilderment. For all the sweeping scope of the book, ranging from the 1834 burning of the Palace of Westminster through the Boer War, there is little cohesion, with many important milestones going unexplained.
The Corn Laws are undefined; the Crimean War is handled without giving its causes or delineating the sequence of events; there is insufficient context of British rule in India given for the account of the 1857 Indian mutiny and the term "sepoy" is not defined.
Yet the range of material is tempting - Marx, pre-Raphaelites, Darwin, Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, etc.), Peel, Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli (but without identifying who stood for what). What a shame that Wilson did not infuse his learning with a touch of popular writing so that more readers could understand and benefit from it.
In a book awash with detail and minute political analysis, Wilson occasionally pulls out some surprises, as in the lovely couple of paragraphs about early photography. He also draws some interesting connections, e.g., that Local Government in England occurred simultaneously with the Siege of Paris (1871). But without a firmly mapped foundation these nuggets do not hold the book together.
A worthy book for those in the know, but not an accessible one for people seeking to increase their knowledge of the Victorians.