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The book is an exercise in excellence
on 4 May 2014
The book traces the transformation of the world between 1789 and 1848 in so far as it was due to what is called in the book the 'dual revolution' - The French Revolution of 1789 and the slightly preceding it (British) Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial revolution in Britain which initially concerned the steam and the cotton industry is well acknowledged for transforming the economy of the nineteenth century. I shall consequently touch a little more on the French Revolution which transformed its politics and ideology. France provided the codes of law, the model of scientific and technical organization, and the metric system of measurement. The French Revolution ended the European middle age and ushered in the characteristic modern state which is a territorially coherent and unbroken area with sharply defined frontiers, governed by a single sovereign authority and according to a single fundamental system of administration and law.
The book is organized into two parts. The first deals broadly with the main developments of the period, while the second sketches the kind of society produced by the dual revolution.
Certain English words were invented, or gained their modern meanings, during this sixty year period. They include 'industry', 'industrialist', 'factory', 'middle class', 'working class', 'capitalism' and 'socialism'. They include 'railway', 'liberal' and 'conservative' as political terms, 'nationality', 'scientist' and 'engineer', 'proletariat' and (economic) 'crisis'. 'Utilitarian' and 'statistics', 'sociology', 'journalism' and 'ideology', are all coinages or adaptations of this period. So is 'strike' and 'pauperism'.
To imagine the modern world without these words is to measure the profundity of the revolution which broke out between 1789 and 1848, and forms the greatest transformation in human history since the invention of agriculture. The great revolution of 1789-1848 was not the triumph of 'industry' as such, but of capitalist industry, not of liberty and equality in general but of middle class or 'bourgeois' liberal society, not of 'the modern economy' or 'the modern state', but of the economics and states in a particular region of the world whose center was the neighboring and rival states of Great Britain and France. The transformation of 1789-1848 is essentially the twin upheaval which took place in those two countries and propagated across the entire world. For the period they represent the triumph of a bourgeois - liberal capitalism.
The author wisely advises that so profound a transformation cannot be understood without going back very much in history than 1789, or even in the decades which immediately preceded it and clearly reflect the crisis of the 'ancien regimes' of the North-Western world, which the dual revolution was to sweep away.
The author examines in the part on results issues like land, industrialization, the laboring poor, religious ideology, secular ideology the Arts and Science.
I shall touch on Arts: the first thing which strikes anyone who attempts to survey the development of the Arts in this period identified with 'Romanticism' is their extraordinary flourishing state. A half-century which includes Beethoven and Schubert, the mature and old Goethe, the young Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Verdi and Wagner, the last of Mozart and all or most of Goya, Puskin and Balzac.
In going through the preceding part of the review, I realized that I have failed to describe the appalling poverty of urban labor and the enormous wealth inequality emanating from industrial capitalism in mid-nineteenth century Britain. To remedy this, I shall conclude the review by citing a couple of examples:
'The average expectation of life at birth in the 1840s was twice as high for the laborers of rural Wiltshire and Rutland (hardly a pampered class) than for those of Manchester and Liverpool.'
'The time when Baroness Rothschild wore one and a half million francs worth of jwellery at the Duke of Orleans masked ball (1842) was the time when John Bright described the women of Rochdale: 2,000 women and girls passed through the streets singing hymns-it was a very singular and striking spectacle - approaching the sublime-they are dreadfully hungry-a loaf is devoured with greediness indescribable and if the bread is nearly covered with mud it is eagerly devoured.