44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
A long and leisurely afternoon?,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Edwardians: Biography of the Edwardian Age (Hardcover)
'The Edwardians' brings the period blazing to life. Roy Hattersley forcefully argues that this was a time of radical reform and brewing change, and his writing makes it a pleasure to read and learn. The combination of a clear, authoritative style and an impressive level of detail means you can dip in and out of the period at will. The chapters can be read in order, but equally they can stand alone as well-researched explorations of specific subjects. I found myself going back and rereading sections, watching the development of key figures such as Churchill as they emerge in different chapters.
Like all the best non-fiction, this book made me reconsider even areas which I thought I knew well. For example, the characterisation of the Pankhursts showed me another side to the one which is usually portrayed. So successful is 'The Edwardians' in depicting these very human characters that I almost lost sympathy for their cause. Like their opponents I became frustrated with their side-stepping tactics and off-putting behaviour, but in the end the honesty about their shortcomings serves to put their successes in relief.
The well-known stories of Scott and Shackleton are also made fresh by an emphasis on the flawed preparation and feelings of animosity that preceded their expeditions. My respect for Scott was not diminished when I read about how bitter he was at Shackleton's success. These character flaws are outweighed by his determination and the motives behind his decisions. Before reading 'The Edwardians' I was not aware that Scott's determination not to use dogs to aid the expedition was based on his desire to celebrate human capabilities. My increased understanding of his aims only made the failure to reach the pole, or to survive at all, seem more moving and more dignified.
As a graduate in English literature, I was particularly looking out for material bringing to life the writers of the day. I was not disappointed. The mention of Maude Gonne's conviction that she would give birth to a reincarnated version of her deceased child made me want to take Yeats down from the shelf. The discussion of the theatre of ideas, exposing me to playwrights I now intend to seek out, is greatly enhanced by a fascinating discussion of the censorship of the period.
If you have any interest in pre-war history, feminism, literature or the forces of progress that shaped modern Britain, you cannot miss this book. It will challenge the way you look at an entire period which, as Hattersley writes, is often dismissed as 'a long and leisurely afternoon'.