A History of Britain 3: 1776-2000 - Simon Schama

The book starts off with some stuff on the Empire, but quickly moves onto the Victorian era (and its associated Empire). For a couple of hundred pages, the problems of the Empire are laid out, with good intentions being distacted into high-mindedness and letting millions starve in Ireland and India, and all the rest. There's a fair amount on Victoria, and a fair amount on the politics of the time.

Then, there's the twentieth century. There are the patterns of how modernity and the idea of Britain interact. The turn of the century all the way through to World War II is somehow all covered with the triumvirate of Churchill, Wells and Blair (er, Orwell (*)). The idea of focusing on a couple of people remembered as sci-fi authors is really quite interesting - the history of the future! Schama seems unimpressed with Churchill's choice to switch to the oil for the Navy, with how that then embroiled us in the Middle East, but it seems an historic inevitability, so I'm not quite sure what the issue was.

(*) I so wish he'd kept his name. Everyone describing a totalitarian surveillance state as "Blairite" would be much more fun.

The reminder that Churchill was fundamentally Victorian is good for me. When I think of the rate of technological change nowadays, I have to remind myself that we had people from the horse-drawn era live to see the atom bomb. Shocking technological change is not new.

The latter half of the twentieth century is glossed over - perhaps it's not history enough yet.

I think the main thing I've learnt from all this is that history is not for me. Look at this review. Look at the lack of detail! Patterns and ideas, I can cope with, but the details just disappear far too quickly. I can't remember much of this volume, let alone the others. Here I am, a thousand and a half pages later, remember having pretty much been happy enough to read it, but remembering little else.

Posted 2016-02-21.