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The Victorians

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  884 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
The nineteenth century saw greater changes than any previous era: in the ways nations and societies were organized, in scientific knowledge, and in nonreligious intellectual development. The crucial players in this drama were the British, who invented both capitalism and imperialism and were incomparably the richest, most important investors in the developing world. In thi ...more
Paperback, 760 pages
Published February 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2002)
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Dec 17, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
It's quite difficult to know how to describe this book. It's non-fiction, it's history, of course it's history, but somehow...not quite history as one might expect it. And yet if you asked me to put my finger on why this isn't a typical history book I think I would struggle. It's about a particular time and place; it's written in a chronological fashion; the usual suspects of Victorian history make an appearance; it focuses on politics, the monarchy, war, culture, literature, fashion, commerce. ...more
Jun 15, 2013 Stenwjohnson rated it really liked it
Where do you begin if you want to read a broad, deep, erudite overview of a large historical topic? Usually, it requires looking to older scholarship; “big” histories are rarely attempted by academics these days. Next stop is the unfairly maligned genre of “popular” history, which relies on the synthesis of secondary sources and is unburdened by the need for complete academic originality.

That was my dilemma when I first picked up A.N.Wilson’s epic “The Victorians,” almost at random. Wilson is a
Sep 27, 2015 Maryanne rated it it was amazing
I decided to read this only one chapter per day so that I could really enjoy the wonderful writing and the bits that are not normally included in books about the Victorians .Glad to see my friend Dizzy came out well he was always my favourite, unlike the patronizing, sermonizing Gladstone.Nice to see the ladies of the time getting kudos too....Maryanne Evans still remains one of my favourite authors along with Oscar Wilde.Well worth reading and just enjoying.
Jan 01, 2016 Duncan rated it really liked it
A fascinating period of history. I like most of Wilson's work and this did not disappoint.
Christopher Sutch
Nov 19, 2009 Christopher Sutch rated it really liked it
This is a very good read, is very well-researched, and provides a wealth of information on the Victorians and their social context. It was very hard to put down, despite its massive length. One of the problems Wilson has, though, is his annoying tendency to either misread or misunderstand Marx. This is due, I think, in large part because of his sympathy for more British forms of socialism (based in Robert Owens). It's clear Wilson has read Marx, and not just the _Communist Manifesto_. But despit ...more
Dec 14, 2009 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I would of rated this higher, but the last third of the book was a chore to finish. It was like Wilson lost his focus (which, admittedly, is difficult given the broad subject), and started speculating more with various what-ifs. In a history book, a little bit of that can go a long way. In addition, the subject matter is so broad (the Victorians) that Wilson was obligated to cover areas I could care less about. As long as he was dealing with writers, artists, politicians, religion, military even ...more
Oct 20, 2013 Nick rated it really liked it
If you only ever read one book on the Victorians, this is the one to read. Wilson doesn't invent anything new; the categories are familiar. We start with the bad old England that Victoria inherited, work our way through the Chartists, Peel and the Corn Laws, the terrible 40s, the Italian influence, doubt, Mesmerism, Albert, the Great Exhibition, the Reform Bills, the Crimean War, Afghanistan, and on and on. Wilson is a wonderful storyteller, and he fills in the bare bones of history with lots of ...more
I didn’t finish this book although I did think it was decent. There is some really good information in here, but it was kind of slow going and I had a lot of other stuff going on. My main complaint is that Wilson assumes the reader already know a lot of the figures he’s talking about. This would probably be the case if I was raised and went to school in England, but as an ignorant US citizen, I kept going, “Who? What’s that??” And then I would have to consult Google and it was very disruptive to ...more
DeAnna Knippling
Nov 07, 2016 DeAnna Knippling rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Hmmmm....for the best book about the Victorians I've read, it's not the first I'd recommend or the highest I've rated. I'd start with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, unless you're already big into history.

This book is erudite, so much so that I missed a lot of things that the author assumed I knew, and the chapters jumped around in a way that I sometimes couldn't follow. Nevertheless, I feel like I have a good sense of who the Victorians were and how they changed over time: It's complicated.

If you
Jul 15, 2013 Webcowgirl rated it really liked it
An excellent overview of a historical era I had much to learn about. Good foundation for steampunk lit. A bit too fragmented, though.
Peter Ellwood
Jan 16, 2016 Peter Ellwood rated it liked it
An absorbing account of the Victorian era. I am so glad I resisted my quite strong inclination in the early part of the book – to abandon it as a load of grump. So much so that I wish he would go back and rewrite those early chapters. If you are like me – persist, it does eventually repay the effort!

For me, the part dealing with the first ten years or so is in quite marked contrast to the remainder. Perhaps it is the actual content: perhaps the 1840s were a boring period, or perhaps they are so
Daniel Kukwa
Mar 04, 2017 Daniel Kukwa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
No single book will ever manage to cover every single aspect of the 19th century or the Victorian age...but this book comes as close as humanly possible. It's a near-perfect snapshot -- it manages to give a taste of the politics, the attitudes, the conflicts, and the society without ever outstaying its welcome. In fact, using many short chapters, dancing from topic to topic before the reader becomes bored, and a simple chronological order all results in a volume that is both broad yet satisfying ...more
Antonio Nunez
Jul 12, 2013 Antonio Nunez rated it liked it
Wilson's book is best taken in small doses, rather like his articles in London's Daily Telegraph. The book is a huge panoramic survey of the years of Victoria's reign (1837-1901). It is mainly chronological and organized around large themes such as art, novelists, poetry, the Empire, politics, social mores. It is a bit of curate's egg (partly good, partly bad). The actual curate's egg cartoon was published in Punch on 9 November 1895, and so the reference is also apposite. The good part is the f ...more
Todd Stockslager
May 31, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: When the World changed
Imagine one of the Victorians described by Wilson born in 1850 and living to 1945, a plausible scenario echoing some of the historical characters described by Wilson. He (as Wilson documents, public characters of the era were almost exclusively male) would have witnessed in his living memory the American Civil War, the European revolutions of 1870, the Boer War, the Spanish-American War, the Russo-Japanese War, the two World Wars of the 20th century, the Russ
May 24, 2012 Lucinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“People, not abstract ideas, make history.” This historical book peels back the layers to reveal the truth of this poignant moment within time, in all its realism from ‘the horse’s mouth’ (the people who made the era). Opening this book you are transported back in time to a real world, which ignites all senses so as you are able to touch, smell, hear and see the environment before you in full vivid color and authenticity. The stunning and personal photographs that adorn the pages bring to life m ...more
Nov 24, 2014 Owen rated it really liked it
A one-volume history of Victorian Britain, which looks at it through people and personalities as much as through a narrative of events. A humorous book, graced with an intelligence and humanity. I really enjoyed it.

Some might, slightly snobbishly or with a desire to damn with faint praise, call this a ‘popular history’. It is that, but is much the better for it. The reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901, was a time of unbelievably rapid social change, throughout the world as well as in the
Jun 22, 2010 Marianne rated it liked it
I wasn't able to finish "The Victorians" but was sufficiently intrigued by much of the information to slog through a fourth of the book. The author's style of writing doesn't lend itself to easy reading. Long, convoluted sentences were a challenge to understand. I don't consider myself lacking when it comes to having a good vocabulary but I had to look up many, many words when context didn't give a clue to their meaning. I say this with all humility and am determined to expand my vocabulary now! ...more
Apr 08, 2016 Jon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is as long, as rich and as expansive as the Victorian age itself. Although broadly narrative in structure it is more like an extended biography of cameos held together by the thread of the ‘tiny, round-faced’ Queen Victoria. As a portrait of an age it is marvellous - huge transitions, cheerful hypocrisy, brutal capitalism and ingrained racism run through it. So does energy, optimism, adaptability and recognition of fault. Wilson is love with the Victorians but not blindly. His descript ...more
Candy Wood
While this book recounts the major events of 1837-1901 like the many historical works listed in the lengthy bibliography, Wilson’s approach emphasizes the people, the Victorians themselves. Opening with the presence of Mrs. Wright, the housekeeper, and Mrs. Mullencamp, the doorkeeper’s wife, at the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834 is typical – we don’t hear of those witnesses again, but the event leads to mentions of Turner, who painted it; Lord Melbourne, who was prime minister; and ...more
May 13, 2011 Amy rated it liked it
I was so excited to read this book. I dove into the first few chapters, reading deeply, then I realised I couldn't remember what Benthamism was or how Malthusiam was different. I practically needed a cheat sheet to keep up with all the names. It was like reading A Song of Ice and Fire, there are 1000 characters and terrible things kept happening.

I felt that significant events could have been more clearly explained. I don't know how the Irish recovered, post-famine and I'm still not sure why the
Mar 11, 2012 Tammy rated it liked it
I found this book somewhat unsatisfying, due mostly to the fact that the scope is quite large (the Victorian era ran for more than 60 years) but the book provided only the briefest of overviews of people and events of the period. This would not have been a problem if the book were an introduction to the era, but many topics are presented as though the reader were presumed to have the rudimentary knowledge. I found myself having to stop repeatedly and check Wikipedia. Given the amount of informat ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Jul 08, 2013 Jill Hutchinson rated it liked it
Shelves: world-history
I can't quite decide about this book. There were sections that were fascinating and others that were dry as dust. Be had better know your British history because the author throws names around with no explanation as to who they are/were. Granted it is difficult to cover all issues and events that happened during the long reign of Queen Victoria but some of the chapters cover subjects that seemed incidental to the larger picture. So much happened in the Empire during those 60 year ...more
Polly Rosenstein
Apr 21, 2012 Polly Rosenstein rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Although not all of the segues were smooth to me and sometimes the author spoke of people and events that he assumed the reader was familiar with, I found this book to be a fascinating depiction of Victorian life in Britain. Wilson gives a good description of the upper class as well as the abject poverty of the lower class, the scientific, intellectual, religious and philosophical developments, the move from an agrarian economy to an urban one, the political arena, and the spr ...more
Jul 28, 2013 Tony rated it really liked it
This book covers many facets of Victorian times of which I suspect many people are unfamiliar. so in that respect I found it enlightening. However, it was hard going and could only be tackled in small doses. A major contribution to the Victorian era was the emergence of engineering on a grand scale. Granted much of it occurred before Victorian times in the early 19th century but to omit any mention at all of the greatest engineer of the times, Brunel, seems to me a sacrilege. His greatest accomp ...more
Heather Tomlinson
Nov 04, 2013 Heather Tomlinson rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, history

It's quite a feat to get through the entire Victorian age in one book, and this is certainly a weighty volume. It's an interesting read about a very interesting era. Wilson's way of flowing from one topic to another, one key figure to another, is engaging and interesting.
The problem is it's a bit too light on each subject, while also assuming a lot of knowledge about the times. If you're coming at the subject as a novice you'll find it hard going.
There's also not enough about the lives of the
Nov 26, 2016 Ian rated it liked it
Shelves: own
A broad overview of the Victorian age it crams so much into one volume I was at times lost in the attempt to follow the connections the author was trying to make. It leapt from seemingly unconnected events, ideas or personages to others without a clear through-line. The one recurring theme which would make an interesting study (perhaps there already is one) is the question of why was there no revolution or attempted one in Victorian England when there were several on the Continent? What was it a ...more
May 26, 2015 Diane rated it liked it
This book goes through the Victorian era decade by decade. The author's main focus is on providing short biographies of individuals, mostly from Victorian Britain. On the positive side, the author writes about many artists, writers, and other individuals in the arts who are not as well known these days, and brings their experiences to life. On the negative side, I thought the author was very condescending towards his subjects overall, and the book was uneven. For example, he would start talking ...more
James The
Jun 11, 2012 James The is currently reading it
Wilson is such a wonderfully human author--a book I'd recommend reading the dedication/thank you section and the introduction. He's so thoughtfully curious about everything, and the book reads somewhat like having a conversation with a bright, interesting person. A fun historical read too, centered on characters/people rather than chronology. Helps a bit if you know a little about general trends of Victorian era and a bit about politics--Wilson assumes at times an English audience who had the bi ...more
May 09, 2007 Grania rated it it was amazing
Shelves: loved-it
A.N Wilson has erased my fear of reading history. It starts with the houses of Parliament burning down in 1834 and traces connections between fascinating people. Charles Dickens, Darwin and Malthus are namechacked on the first page.

It skpis and slithers between connections with glee, so that it's not a comprehensive anthology of every place and every year, but a collected biography of Victorians.
Jun 09, 2013 Zan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an incredibly readable narrative history of the Victorian era. A.N. Wilson generally dedicates sections to each decade of the era, focusing within those sections on thematic developments of that decade.

My random take-away tidbit from the 1850s section was that being a baker in London was so physically exhausting that they generally did not live long past their 40s. I always thought that would have been a comfortable job.
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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.
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