Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
An unusual approach gives real insights into a vanished world
on 8 February 2014
We have an enduring fascination with the era just before the First Wold War. It is a vanished world, apparently full of people believing uncritically in human progress and how things could only continue getting better, and of course our knowledge of the catastrophe that was about to befall it makes its glitter and optimism so poignant. We can smile sadly at the views expressed in their media of how nations were coming together, that ties of trade and finance made war between the major nations unthinkable, and shake our heads at the conviction that the ideal of human brotherhood was becoming a reality. But we also know that there is no shortage of books covering this period, so is there really a need for another one? Is there something new to be said?
Well yes, and the newness here is in the approach taken: not a broad canvas but rather a collection of almost two dozen linked sketches. What the author does is tell us about key capital and major cities throughout the world, what they were like in 1913, the lives and hopes of the people living in them, the nature and activities of those governing them, where they seemed to fit into the order of things. And he does it very well. The research has been thorough and the information is there and in some detail, but it never threatens to overpower the reader or to make things dull. The style is very readable and there is a lightness of touch and an ability to take you to a place and immerse you in it. We get enough by way of regional overview and linking themes to stop the collection feeling disjointed but the cities are the main characters.
The combination of novel approach and readability make this a great read and also a very informative one. I certainly recommend it.