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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So what?
This is a worthy book, but ultimately a disappointing one. Simon Heffer's journalism is trenchant and stimulating; this is neither. It is an assiduous account of some important aspects of Victorian Britain with an emphasis on intellectual history but including much on social and political trends. Its heroes are the Arnolds, father and son, and Gladstone. But you never get...
Published 5 months ago by Stephen

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the general reader
No, it is not a must-read!
If you have a serious interest in Victorian history, it's certainly worth a go. But some of it is very heavy going indeed. Good chapters are those on the general condition of England and on Prince Albert, and his Memorial. And at last I understand the repeal of the Corn Laws. But 800 pages, in which the troubles of the mid-Victorian divines...
Published 16 months ago by F. M. Stockdale


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So what?, 13 Oct. 2014
This is a worthy book, but ultimately a disappointing one. Simon Heffer's journalism is trenchant and stimulating; this is neither. It is an assiduous account of some important aspects of Victorian Britain with an emphasis on intellectual history but including much on social and political trends. Its heroes are the Arnolds, father and son, and Gladstone. But you never get a clear account of the positions Gladstone held at different times (a chronology would have been very useful) or how influential Matthew Arnold was. Indeed all the thinkers whose work is here elaborated (with generous, or perhaps excessive, quotation) are left hanging - how influential were they? You can't tell from this.

Where he scores is in the account of the attitudes that had to be overcome in the interests of what seems now like natural progress, whether on the franchise, the rights of women, or the reform of the army and civil service. This is good stuff, and justifies the detailed account of some of the parliamentary battles.

This a very London-centric book. Heffer almost sounds embarrassed by his excursion to Yorkshire to describe Saltaire. Yet the provincial cities were crucial to the prosperity and development of the country during those years.

It kept my attention throughout, so just about gets four stars,. but I cannot offer a very enthusiastic recommendation.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the general reader, 27 Nov. 2013
This review is from: High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Hardcover)
No, it is not a must-read!
If you have a serious interest in Victorian history, it's certainly worth a go. But some of it is very heavy going indeed. Good chapters are those on the general condition of England and on Prince Albert, and his Memorial. And at last I understand the repeal of the Corn Laws. But 800 pages, in which the troubles of the mid-Victorian divines proliferate in one's brain, is a heavy price to pay for these informative gobbets.
I felt there was a fine concise chronological survey of 1830-1885 struggling to get out of this obese volume where every time I thought we were getting closer to 1880, I found myself suddenly flung back to 1850!
Thank Goodness I got it from the library, whither it returns.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Civilisation of a Nation, 5 Nov. 2013
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Simon Heffer is a journalist of some 30 years standing, writing regular columns for the Telegraph, Mail and Spectator. He has a Cambridge PhD in History. His previous books include ones on Enoch Powell, Carlyle, English and Power. Like all his writings this 900 page book is written in an elegant style, with verve and flair.

The author concentrates on the period 1838 to 1880. He examines within this period a number of intellectual, social and political themes, particularly the first two. On the social front he discusses how a nation of 'widespread inhumanity' was transformed into one of civilisation and democracy. He examines the work of intellectuals like Matthew Arnold, and the role of religion. Despite the rapid population growth and industrial change he argues that these massive challenges were, on the whole, embraced. The book does not include an analysis of the Empire or Foreign Affairs. Heffer deals with the crucial events of 1842, 1842 and 1866-7, events that threatened revolution. He is merciless in his examination of poverty, health, lack of proper sewage treatment, crime and the judicial system. He details the appalling living conditions of the poor and the equally dreadful treatment of the mentally ill. The ballot was corrupt, army commissions were bought and local government was almost non-existent. Educational provision was for the rich and males only. The position of women, including wives, was shameful.

Heffer discusses the abolition of the Corn Laws, the Chartist movement, the decline of religion and the rise of secularism, the legacy of the Great Exhibition, and the gradual transformation of all these ills by 1880.

The book covers much that others have but Heffer does so very skilfully, in more detail and very clearly. He explains how the foundations of modern Britain were laid in some 40 years. How philanthropists, thinkers and reformers helped to change the squalid into the acceptable. He shows how the gross disparity between the living standards of the poor and the wealthy were very slowly improved. He explains how this came about through the interface of religious and secular ideals. He says, for example, that Thomas Arnold with a zeal bordering on mania reshaped Rugby School from a 'haven for hooligans' to somewhere fit for gentleman.

The book is a tour de force about poets, scientists, writers, philosophers like Bentham and Mill, writer/reformers like Gaskell, and Dickens. Heffer does not forget the work of Booth or Thomas Barnardo. He shocks the reader with his accounts of the degradation in public schools (on one day the Headmaster of Eton flogged 32 boys), describing them as sinks of depravity, the diseases that rampaged through the towns, the appalling working conditions in mills and mines and the starvation wages paid out to the manual workers. The book has clearly been a labour of love, so immersed is the author in every page.

A lucid, balanced and authoritative account of an enormously important era of British History. The author demonstrates how the factors of discipline, ethics and morality were among the key reasons why we have our present society. It is disturbing to think that these same factors are said by many today to be no longer relevant.

A very highly recommended book.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must-read, 15 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Hardcover)
splendid history of Victorian England with many new anecdotes and some very droll observations. give it to someone you love for christmas or whatever excuse you will find suitable
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High Minds, 29 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Hardcover)
absolutely brilliant read.Very interesting and full of info.Things that you would never have thought that would have happened.Thank you.Prompt delivery
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5 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Never mind my aptitude, feel my application, 30 Nov. 2013
This review is from: High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Hardcover)
Heffer tells us the Victorians were disciplined and moral - this is news??? - and takes 896 pages to do so. Any book that long better have an idea lurking in there somewhere, or a more inspiring overarching theme. Sadly, the vaster a book's bulk, the easier it is to conceal the lack of the former, while the promise of the title materializes only in the sense that, well, yes, after the Victorians came us - and we are quite different! Now there's a subject for a book better than this tired old rehash

The national reviewers have been too kind, or just plain lazy. This book is fated to be given for Christmas and to join the Great Unread, except by those who share Heffer's right-wing agenda. Though Philip Hensher has quite a nice little mot in his Telegraph review: 'Darwin shocked the Victorians by pointing out that they were all descended from apes. You could probably shock a lot of 21st-century readers by pointing out the countless ways in which we are intellectually descended from the Victorians.' Yes and no, Philip
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 5 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Hardcover)
bought as a gift
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 10 July 2014
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This review is from: High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Hardcover)
Fantastic book, Wife really enjoyed it
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0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Purchased accidentally, cancellation not working!, 1 Aug. 2014
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I didn't want this, cancelled immediately, but it has still appeared on my orders as purchased. How do I remove it and get a refund? no-one is replying to my email
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0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High Minds. The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain, 31 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Hardcover)
I have not had time to read this book yet. I am sure I will enjoy when I do read it.
D Parkey
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High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain
High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain by Simon Heffer (Hardcover - 3 Oct. 2013)
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