The Industrial Revolutionaries: The Creators of the Modern World 1776 - 1914 Hardcover – 9 Aug 2007
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`Ambitious... clear-sighted... fascinating... Instead of simply replacing one set of triumphalist myths with an alternative one, Weightman practises real history.' -- Brian Morton, Sunday Herald
`In this lively study we have a wealth of vivid portraits of figures from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries... Excellent.'
-- Leo McKinstry, Literary Review
`Subtle and varied.' -- Kathryn Hughes, Guardian
International in its sweep, vivid in its execution and original in its argument, this is a thrilling account of the worldwide industrial revolution.See all Product description
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After about the Great Exhibition the author discerns a fundamental shift, where instead of a source of innovation (Britain) an archipelago of science and engineering produces innovation. He keeps with the biographical format, and follows various themes in the development of chemical, mechanical and electrical advances through the lives of the inventors. These lives were not easy. For every Bessemer or Nobel who made fortunes, there were a dozen who ended in the poor house.
Weightman is agreeably opinionated and avoids that awful historian's twitch "he she must have felt.." and gives a good kicking to some of his subjects, Watt, Morse and Edison in particular. His choice of people should not be questioned, perhaps, but some omissions are a bit odd. No mention of the man who allowed Brunel to build his bridges by inventing concrete? No mention of reinforced concrete (invented by a gardener; par for the course among this rogues' gallery)? The machine age needed machines to be repaired. Cue some standards so that parts (initially just nuts and bolts) could be exchanged: Joseph Whitworth gets a one line mention on another subject.
If you had Workshop of the World as a set text you may feel you know enough about the period. If you've slogged through the statistical tables of more academic texts you may feel you know more than enough. But this is an entertaining complement, good for the student and the amateur. The author has a knack for concise technical explanation which makes the limited illustrations superfluous.
Probably not a classic but highly recommended.
There is an extensive bibliography for those who want to delve deeper into individual aspects of this subject, as it has to be admitted this is a sketch of what is obviously a much wider subject. Still it is a very good, interesting and thought provoking sketch which should appeal to anyone interested in this era of history.
One caveat would have to be that there are numerous typographical errors, stray hyphens and commas in my paperback edition which suggests that the proofs were just spell checked rather than read, but this is a minor quibble.