To live in 19th-century Britain was to experience an astonishing series of changes, of a kind for which there was simply no precedent in the human experience. There were revolutions in transport, communication and work; cities grew vast; and scientific ideas made the intellectual landscape unrecognisable. This was an exhilarating time but also a horrifying one.
In his dazzling new book, David Cannadine has created a bold, fascinating new interpretation of the British 19th century in all its energy and dynamism, darkness and vice. This was a country which saw itself at the summit of the world. And yet it was a society also convulsed by doubt, fear and introspection. Repeatedly, politicians and writers felt themselves to be staring into the abyss - and what is seen sometimes seen as an era of irritating self-belief was in practice obsessed by a sense of its own fragility, whether as a great power or as a moral force.
Victorious Century is an extraordinarily enjoyable book - its author catches the relish, humour and theatricality of the age but also the dilemmas of a kind with which we remain familiar today. It reframes a time at once strangely familiar and yet wholly unlike our own.