The Distinguished Historian AN Wilson Has Charted, In Vivid Detail, Britain S Rise To World Dominance, A Tale Of How One Small Island Nation Came To Be The Mightiest, Richest Country On Earth, Reigning Over Much Of The Globe Now In His Much Anticipated Sequel To The Classic The Victorians, He Describes How In Little Than A Generation Britain S Power And Influence In The World Would Virtually DissolveIn After The Victorians, Wilson Presents A Panoramic View Of An Era, Stretching From The Death Of Queen Victoria In To The Dawn Of The Cold War In The Early S He Offers Riveting Accounts Of The Savagery Of World War I And The World Altering Upheaval Of The Communist Revolution He Explains Britain S Role In Shaping The Destiny Of The Middle East And He Casts A Bright New Light On The World War II Years Britain Played A Central Role In Defeating Germany But At A Severe Cost The Nation Would Emerge From The War Bankrupt And Fatally Weakened, Sidelined From World Politics, While America Would Assume The Mantle Of Dominant World Power, Facing Off Against The Soviet Union In The Cold War Wilson S Perspective Is Not Confined To The Trenches Of The Battlefield And The Halls Of Parliament He Also Examines The Parallel Story Of The Beginnings Of Modernism He Visits The Novelists, Philosophers, Poets, And Painters To See What They Reveal About The Activities Of The Politicians, Scientists, And GeneralsBlending Military, Political, Social, And Cultural History Of The Most Dramatic Kind, AN Wilson Offers An Absorbing Portrait Of The Decline Of One Of The World S Great Powers The Result Is A Fresh Account Of The Birth Pangs Of The Modern World, As Well As A Timely Analysis Of Imperialism And Its Discontents A welcome history of the first 50 years of the 20th centuryA bit of an eye opener for me, born in 1944 of the years that I actually lived through At the time you just observe without questioning the things going on round you So this book gives the background and context of why things happened as they did At times it wanders down literary themes to gain evidence or context to public mood or perception which can be distracting when you just want the bones of the history A good read and perhaps keeping as a reference. This book looks at the history of Britain from the turn of the 20th century until the 1950s through the eyes of famous people who lived through this period The book is well written, and well researched, and covers periods of time not usually looked at in the same publication However, the author never makes a persuasive case as to why he has covered this period He says in the subtitle that he will be looking at Britain s decline and loss of empire, but this story doesn t seem integral to the book His most interesting conclusion is that while empires embraced diversity, always imperfectly, but they found ways to accommodate it, nationalist nation states usually ended up denying basic rights to people who were not part of the majority population While this is interesting and probably true, Britain isn t the most stunning example of this phenomenon, so I was a little confused as to where he was going with the argument. The decline of Britain and loss of empire is a well covered topic in Britain at least This outing might have a desultory or depressive air, but again Wilson brings an acute perception to a range of political and social issues and opens up new ways to interpret the record The social dynamic is particularly well done and should make the book available to readers who could be uninterested in major political or strategic histories. I found this sequel to The Victorians not quite as good as its predecessor This is perhaps because I m bothered by Wilson s political stance and willingness to overlook established facts or to get them wrong in the greater service of his allegiance to a constitutional monarchy as the best form of government The areas where this is most clear for me because I am a specialist in these areas of history is Wilson s acceptance of Younghusband s figures for the number of Tibetans massacred by his troops in 1904 severely underestimated, if not deliberately misleading his assertion that Younghusband was hurt by the encounter perhaps this is stated in his official correspondence, but anyone reading his numerous later works would come to a far different conclusion and his interpretation of Tenzing s and Hillary s co ascent of Everest Wilson s reading is very traditional and ignores the anti imperial, radical message attempted by these two at least at first when they refused to say which man, the white Commonwealth climber or his Sherpa climbing partner, reached the summit first Wilson also several times states a belief that communism as performed in the Soviet Union was Marxist and a fundamentally different economic system that Britian s or the the United States s, a personal pet peeve of mine the USSR in its early days was certainly Leninist, but was not socialist in any way Lenin quashed true worker s soviets early on and the country s economic system was capitalist after 1920 and perhaps as early as 1918 it had to be in order to continue trade with the world for food and needed supplies It was a totalitarian capitalism, in which the state owned the means of production, but it was capitalist not Marxian socialist All in all I m a little disappointed in this book, but perhaps it s just an example of how difficult it is to write histories of the recent past. This could have been called The Decline and Fall of the British Empire and it must have been tempting to do so.Wilson provides a very detailed, sometimes surprising and often wry telling of the history of the first half of the twentieth century It s a familiar story, but this books fills a lot of gaps. I generally dislike discursive writing, but that is because it is so hard to pull off Sliding from this topic to that usually leads to flab, unclear argumentation and getting lost in sidebars But when it works Wilson wonderfully blends high and low culture, politics and economics into a narrative of Britain s decline from the death of Victoria to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II Not many authors could use the Laurel and Hardy films as a mirror of the Anglo American Special Relationship nor the decline of the British novelist and the rise of the crossword as reflections of Imperial weariness.The book benefits from Wilson s strong point of view and willingness to tell it like he sees it His asides will alternatively delight and dismay, perhaps on the same page, but they create a rollicking read I ve been wary of nonfiction after putting this down This is among my favorite approaches to historical writing Much else will pale by comparison. An extremely interesting book history as anecdote, told personally and with opinions I know enough about British history to know when I was reading opinion, which was gratifying Wilson s first rate mind and wide range of knowledge is apparent, but not over bearing Reading his take on English history in the 20th century was very much like listening to a professor emeritus hold forth over a long, boozy dinner I found his views on the atrocities committed by the Allies during WW2 interesting Also found the parallelshe drew between now and then eroding civil liberties, right wing radio, etc alternately heartening and disheartening It s true that history repeats itself, but one wishes that humankind occasionally learned something from our history. After the Victorians is a wonderfully entertaining book Wilson is an excellent writer and is able to bring to life the myriad figures and dramatic events of British history in the first part of the 21st century.That being said the book does have it s flaws It s fairly unforgivable that Wilson refers to President Harry Truman as lawyer, when in fact he was the only 20th century President NOT to earn a college degree Missing this detail could be seen as a minor mistake, but it belies the general lack of research Wilson appears to have undertaken on the other great powers of World War Two He admits that he basis his entire account of the decision to drop the atomic bomb on just one source, and casually condemns the act as a war crime While doing this he glosses over the very complex issue of whether an ultimatum was really given to the Japanese, or whether their was any reason to believe that Hirohito would have surrendered under any other circumstances other than the ones he surrendered underI m not trying to argue for or against the argument he is making, it just seems that he could have put research into these areas, and given credence to other viewpoints That being said this is a book about Britain, and the issue of the atomic bomb is peripheral to his subject.This is an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone interested in British or 20th century history. Extremely biased, but an interesting and informative read Few books on English history during this period would include a chapter on the birth of the Times crossword puzzle An example of his bias I found his accusations of homosexuality distasteful I understand many in that period did cover up their sexual preference, but to accuse someone of being gay with no evidence and then go on to decribe the long, happy, faithful and consumate marriage he had with his wife is extremely strange It gets to the point where he describes Dietrich Bonhoeffer as heterosexual with a tone of surprise Although I understand his motive in correcting individual histories, A.N Wilson overcorrects in this regard.
Andrew Norman Wilson is an English writer and newspaper columnist, known for his critical biographies, novels, works of popular history and religious views He is an occasional columnist for the Daily Mail and former columnist for the London Evening Standard, and has been an occasional contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman, The Spectator and The Observer.
- 624 pages
- After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World
- A.N. Wilson
- 10 January 2019 A.N. Wilson