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on 11 September 2003
The nineteenth century is a hideously complex period of British history. It has an incredibly wide-ranging scope of political, social, industrial and imperial dimensions. Colin Matthew does his best to provide a snapshot of the most salient features of each. It is no surprise that this is one of the longest of the VSI, and at times it is painfully clear that a very great amount of detail has been omitted in order to create a manageable volume. I cannot criticise Matthew for doing this, after all, these are supposed to be Very Short Introductions. Nevertheless, I felt that some issues - particularly electoral reform and the imperial dimension - were covered so briefly as to be almost useless. Major political study is also beyond the capacity of such a short book, and titanic figures such as Disraeli get very brief coverage. Again, this is not so much a failing of Matthew, but rather a revelation of the remarkable complexity of 19th century British history.
I am an advocate of the VSI series, and believe that they provide an essential narrative overview which is invaluable to a student embarking for the first time on an new area of study. In this regard, I would endorse Matthew's effort as a useful work. Yet with all the VSI's, it is important to be very aware that they are only the very beginnings of knowledge of the field. I was particularly aware of this in the case of Matthew's introduction to 19th century Britain, and would caution all readers that some of the (necessarily) truncated narrative is so deficient that it practically constitutes a half truth. However, if the reader bears this in mind, the book can still provide a useful overview of the major events and issues in the 19th century, and will be a useful backdrop for further study.
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on 27 December 2005
This is a useful summary of Britain in the twentieth century. Many authors would be tempted to narrow the study, and focus on political history alone. Kenneth Morgan, however, covers social history as well. Every chapter has a section on the arts, for example. In the hands of most authors this would mean that the book touches everything and explains nothing, but Morgan gets the balance just right.
There are things Morgan misses out that some readers would complain about. A good example is that the affair of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson is mentioned in a single sentence, while many other books give a great deal of attention to it. It certainly was of great interest to the public at the time, and to this day. It seems, however, that Morgan merely touches on it because it has ahd little influence in the long term. Morgan also resists the temptation to chase irrelevant topics out of personal interest.
This little volume will be very useful for students of 20th century Britain. Students would do well to begin with a careful study of this book, using it as a touchstone to compare other sources. If Morgan does not mention a subject, theme or event, it is probably not very important.
Finally, the book is a good read. Morgan kept me interested from start to finish. He not only covers the most important events, but he gets behind them to an understanding of the spirit of the times.
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on 2 May 2010
This book does exactly what it says on the tin. It (very briefly) discusses how Britain was on the inside during the last 100 years or so, organising itself into chapters that are mostly by decade (sometimes by topic e.g. WW2). Its topics range from politics (which is the most covered, mainly describing the past leaders and leaders of the opposition and, of course, what they did), economics and production, society (again, a large portion of the book covering issues of class, the sex revolution, equality and immigration), World War 1 and World War 2 (as seen by the government and by the layman), and everything worth mentioning (for example, science, technology, music and art of the decade) in between. Crucially, it not only discusses each topic as a separate concept but also how they're all intertwined with each other.

Overall, it's a fairly simple, easy to read book which doesn't assume any prior knowledge of Britain. It's a bit light on the ground but that's the idea; it should be a starting point to deeper reading of a specific area.
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on 14 April 2014
The text of this book was first published in The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain (1984) and it is a moot point as to whether it deserved a second exposure. It is self-evident that a “very short introduction” must be selective in both width and depth. In this volume, however, the handling of topics is far too selective and shallow: if I had a good knowledge of the introduction and impact of the Corn Laws, for example, I would not need to read this book; if I did not have that knowledge, I would not gain it here.

The book contains a number of illustrations, but they are generally too small to be of great use; the maps, in particular, are quite awful – apart from their wholly inadequate size (which is particularly marked in relation to the maps of the British Empire), it is simply not possible to distinguish the different levels of information given on the (separate) maps of the canal and railway networks or the map showing urban population growth.

This Very Short Introduction was, without question, a Very Big Disappointment.
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on 24 January 2011
This is a good general introduction to the subject matter and it helps you get a genuine feel for Britain in this period. That said it has a passive voice that sometimes doesn't bring your attention to the facts that much, however this is easily cured by reading the book a chapter at a time as a collection of essays. Out of the `Very Short Introductions` that I have read the Medieval Britain one was by far the best ... if you want something more specialised about the period read Brigg's Victorian Cities. However if your approaching this subject from an academic standpoint it is always good to start with one of these introductions
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on 25 November 2014
A good short review of the major events of the century, presented with no discernible political bias. A longer book would be very welcome too.
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on 25 April 2016
I have always found the Very Short Introductions to be beautifully and clearly written and to present interesting and sometimes provocative arguments, despite being Very Short. Unfortunately the grammar and syntax in this book makes it almost unreadable. Within most sentences the chronology of the idea being considered and the supporting anecdote flips back on themselves until everything is back to front and upside down. Each sentence has to be deciphered for the main action and the subsidiary action. Really horrible to read.
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on 21 August 2012
... but not during the Miner's strike, so it is curious to read of a recent part of British History of which I have no personal experience. Inevitably one is tempted to take issue with the latter events, along the lines of 'yes, but, what about...' but broadly it accurately portrays it as it was. My largest criticism is that Morgan seems to have great difficulty with words when attempting to discuss The Arts, and resorts to such adjectives as 'vigorous', followed by name dropping. No comprehension thereof is shown.

It is also the case that when discussing recent history it is easy to fail to see the bigger picture, and some of the horrors of the present millenium already very much in evidence in the latter part of the last get passed over. I now, however, look back on the 80s as a golden age - less stuffy than the fifties but not PC-daft like the present. At the time I never voted for the Tories, yet now the idea of a Liberal or Labour government then seems by far the worst option.
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on 27 April 2015
a good top down overview of 19th C Britain. Good on the politics but very brief on other topics such as education, social history and transport.
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on 20 September 2016
All VSI books are really useful as a starting point for further reading - I found out how much I have forgotten
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