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In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon's Wars, 1793–1815
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In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon's Wars, 1793–1815

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  165 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A beautifully observed history of the British home front during the Napoleonic Wars by a celebrated historian

We know the thrilling, terrible stories of the battles of the Napoleonic Wars—but what of those left behind? The people on a Norfolk farm, in a Yorkshire mill, a Welsh iron foundry, an Irish village, a London bank, a Scottish mountain? The aristocrats and paupers, o
Hardcover, 752 pages
Published January 27th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2014)
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Dec 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.

Uglow’s book is a comprehensive social history of Britain during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. She makes extensive use of letters, journals and diaries from different social strata; we are given a first hand account of life in early 19th century Britian from clergymen, farmers, bankers, soldiers, mill owners and aristocratic women. The only class from which we do not directly hear are obviously the illiterate poor. But that
Abigail Bok
Aug 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book’s narrative being written chronologically, I confess to having read it only through the chapter that covers through 1801 (because the stories I’m working on take place in 1800). But what I did read (nearly 300 pages) was extraordinary. For someone like me, who was craving details on the political and social contexts of an era, it was a gold mine, not just of data but also of enlightenment.

In a multitude of brief chapters that focus on specific aspects of the topic (particular military
Lauren Albert
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-british
A wonderful look at life in Britain throughout the Napoleonic wars. Uglow weaves personal narratives seamlessly throughout using excerpts from letters and diaries. We also see poets, novelists and painters. She shows how peoples' focus was often not on war but the day-to-day realities of children and jobs and getting sufficient food. Yet of course war played a role if sometimes unspoken in all of these things. Uglow writes of the political protests and riots such as those over the corn laws, pea ...more
Only Jenny Uglow could write a 700 page book about England during 1793-1815 using mostly primary sources--many of them personal, like letters and journals--and make it look effortless. It took me a long time to finish this book, mainly because I didn't want to. I wanted it to keep going. My copy is more highlighted and tabbed than any law school casebook was when I was school.

Anyone interested in the Regency should read this, as should military history buffs. It's not that it's the ultimate in
Aug 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this because it sounded like it would be an interesting look at Jane Austen's time. Jane is quoted, but so are her brothers. And so are an astonishing number of others. I lost track of this or that person, but their individual stories aren't so important as getting a feel for the zietgest of the times. Uglow's retelling of a botched French "invasion" and the general paranoia of impending invasion reminded me of scenes in Hardy's The Trumpet Major. I appreciated learning about how much mon ...more
Nov 26, 2014 rated it liked it
I was drawn to this book by admiration for Jenny Uglow's excellent biography of Charles ll and my fascination with the Napoleonic period. The author has set out to write a social history from the viewpoint of a wide range of people living in Britain at a time when, in addition to the threat of a remarkably successful military opponent, they had to contend with the throes of the Industrial Revolution and a growing demand for democracy.

Using a framework of themed chapters, each ending with an impr
Nicky Penttila
May 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reference, history
Whirligig tour of UK during wartime; great range, less depth (on purpose). Good basic review of the period. I like that even with a cast of thousands we return to certain families as the years pass and observe events as they affect people all along the social strata. It does get to feel breathless at times; I'd recommend you take short breaks between sections if your memory is good enough to keep the central families in mind through the break.

Huge respect for how many memoirs, diaries, letters,
Stephen Goldenberg
Jul 11, 2018 rated it liked it
You can’t help but admire the depth and breadth of Jenny Uglow’s research but I found this social history of Britain during the Napoleonic Wars a heavy read. Lots of fascinating information but some of the more interesting stuff is drowned out by more tedious sections, for example far too much detail on banking and finance. Most interesting was the tensions in the country during such a long period of warfare between those demanding more democracy in the wake of the French Revolution (such as uni ...more
Alex Marshall
I was lucky enough to pick this up as an uncorrected proof for $2.50, as opposed to $40.00 on publication. A good deal by anyone's standards; especially as it's a wonderful ramble through British life, high and low, urban, rural and overseas, in the Napoleonic wars. I read it at the same time as The Age of Wonder, which overlaps it in time, before and after. Jenny Uglow doesn't really have much to say about the great scientists, or the great poets for that matter, in all her big book; nor does A ...more
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, research
A comprehensive look at life in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. Recommended to authors doing books set during the period. It's also a good choice for readers who enjoy stories of the Regency era, especially military fiction from the early 19th century (Hornblower, Sharpe, Aubrey & Maturin), etc.

There's nothing like first person accounts for entertaining anecdotes and reports of day-to-day life during wartime. The author's research and organization makes the book highly readable as well a
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
As monumental as the research was, the book was a slog. Unless you love and are skilled at reading old English vernacular, often facing words long ago discarded, reading In These Times will make you feel like your rowing across the Atlantic or climbing Everest. I've labored through 1/7th so far. I rarely give up on books, even challenging ones, but if the direction and thrust of this one doesn't evolve soon, I may have to donate this a library and have it collect dust there.
This simply isn't my kind of book. The focus is incredibly wide: men, women, people of all classes and walks of life, as long as they were alive during the Napoleonic wars this book will talk about them. And that makes it somewhat jumbled, jumping back and forth between so many different people with different views and problems. For others, this book might give a great overview but I simply prefer a narrower focus.
Nov 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-british
The book is well laid out and easy to navigate and has a wealth of information on the time period. I've read so many books about this era that it's difficult to find new information that I haven't come across before and this one had quite a bit that was new to me. It's a bit dry, but I think it's good for anyone wishing to more about the Napoleonic wars.
Jul 25, 2015 marked it as set-aside
Such a promising topic, but I found that the level of detail and thematic (i.e. non-chronological, anti-story-like) organization sapped all forward momentum.
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘In the year of the Helpston enclosures Turner exhibited an oil in his private gallery, Ploughing up Turnips, near Slough. Men plough and women follow, bent double to grub up the roots, one stopping to nurse her baby in the field. A man mends a broken plough and cows munch the turnips spilling from a pannier on the ground. In the background, rising above the woods in a morning mist, is Windsor Castle. Is this a version of digging for victory, a celebration of progressive agriculture, watched ove ...more
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This took a long time to read. The last two hundred pages took the longest. The last hundred of those two hundred must've taken the absolute longest. Still, I persevered and overall enjoyed myself. I learned a great deal about British history, the Napoleonic wars, and Jenny Uglow's perspective on many social, cultural, political, and general aspects of the history of the time.
I came to this book having just read Uoglow's bio on Elizabeth Gaskell and Gaskell's bio of Charlotte Bronte. I wanted t
Jul 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
3.5 stars, really. The book consists of 60 chapters alternating among people and their families in different geographic areas and circumstances. By the time we saw people for a second time, so much had intervened, I couldn’t remember much about them. Perhaps that says more about my attention span than about the book. Still, I liked learning about daily life in Britain during this period, since I like to read novels set then. It’s also interesting to learn about the differences between a peacetim ...more
Ken Punter
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
At just shy of 650 pages (of small print) In These Times is a potentially challenging read. However Jenny Uglow has managed to create an utterly compelling and readable social history of Britain during the late 1700s/early 1800s.

I've previously read a bit of military history during the period (Mark Urban, Sam Willis, Richard Holmes), but this account of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars takes the understanding of the era to a completely new level for me.

As you'd expect we hear from the giant
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, solidly researched and pulling together stories and information from a wide variety of primary sources. But despite its solid historical basis it never feels dry as it looks from a variety of perspectives at British Life during the Napoleonic wars. Despite its frame being the Napoleonic wars, the stories and snippets are largely from the middling sort and the labouring classes. Government and its key figures; Pitt, Perceval, etc. featuring more as backdrop than anything else. I ...more
Des Pemberton
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not exactly an edge-of-a-seat read; however, a very interesting profile of life in Britain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, including the bit of peace in between. This book certainly confirms that the past is a foreign place: 1793 - 1815 was a violent and sickly place, with a very high infant mortality rate; no wonder they had families that would make the average rabbit appear celibate. Then, when a family was in poverty and with no support it was evicted and starved to death ...more
John  Bellamy
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There aren’t many 641-page, profoundly researched social histories that I wish were longer—but this is one of that uncommon breed. I’ve been reading about Britain during the Napoleonic era for some fifty years, and I think this is the best and most moving chronicle of that tumultuous and agonized age since the appearance of E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class more than a half-century ago. A first-class historian, Uglow has many gifts, among them an impressive familiarity with th ...more
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-english
It took me a while to get into this book, as there are so many characters, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. I have read Sir Arthur Bryant's 3 vol magisterial account of the Napoleonic Wars. He came at it from a Whiggish perspective, so it was interesting to contrast it with this account from the opposite side of the political spectrum. I was surprised that Uglow does not mention Bryant in her extensive bibliography. Is he that on the nose in these times (pun intended)?. Perhaps post brexit h ...more
This book is a tour de force of research and Jenny Uglow is to be commended for that. But I found it heavy-going. I think the problem for me is that, while the book progresses chronologically, it does not have a strong narrative. I was often overwhelmed by too much detail and too many people. I was motivated to read In These Times because I've been bingeing on film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels and wanted to know more about the historical context of her life and characters. While I learnt ...more
Alex Marshall
Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was lucky enough to pick this up as an uncorrected proof for $2.50, as opposed to $40.00 on publication. A good deal by anyone's standards; especially as it's a wonderful ramble through British life, high and low, urban, rural and overseas, in the Napoleonic wars. I read it at the same time as The Age of Wonder, which overlaps it in time, before and after. Jenny Uglow doesn't really have much to say about the great scientists, or the great poets for that matter, in all her big book; nor does A ...more
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Sub-title: Living in Britain Through Napoleon's Wars. For many, the period will be very familiar, but in this book Jenny Uglow , through researches into many ordinary citizens' letters, journals, diaries etc., gives us a fresh and original insight into what these devastating wars meant for the British people - albeit, chiefly through the eyes and experiences of the literate, middle class, though not entirely. As with all Jenny Uglow's books, very finely written with some superb pictorial images. ...more
Jun 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Really enjoyed this -and in retrospect its kind of a 'down home' version of Hobsbawn's 'Age of Revolutions' since it links the Industrial and the French revolutions. Particularly strong on the growth of the financial sector, necessary to support the war, and through the use of satirical cartoons (a high point of British visual culture). Unfortunately we seem to have kept the former and lost the latter.
Mark Walker
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Seventy short chapters means this is a bit disconnected. Readers will be interested in different chapters. For example, I was less interested in the chapters covering financial events. An interesting glimpse into the pre-occupations of time - not all of which were to do with the war. It was a period in history when the country was going through the earlier stages of the Industrial Revolution and was moving very slowly away from being ruled at the whim of the monarch.
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
World at War

In an era not unlike our own the Napoleonic wars went on for more than two decades, generations overlapping, one into the next. This is a great panorama of everyone in England involved or touched by it, and we can see in this era echoes of tyranny common on all sides in war, whether genuine or false. It's a splendid work and makes the ideal complement to Andrew Roberts great biography of Napoleon.
David Bird
Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Five stars for concept, and selection of sources. But I found the writing choppy and awkward (e.g., use of pronouns with very unclear antecedants), and just simple, straight factual errors (50 ships in the combined fleet at Trafalgar?) that undermine one's confidence in matters less easily confirmed.
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Jennifer Sheila Uglow OBE (née Crowther, born 1947) is a British biographer, critic and publisher. The editorial director of Chatto & Windus, she has written critically acclaimed biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth, Thomas Bewick and the Lunar Society, among others, and has also compiled a women's biographical dictionary.
“Amabel Hume-Campbell came from a stalwart Whig family. She was the daughter of Philip Yorke, second Earl of Hardwicke (whose brother Charles was made Lord Chancellor just before his death in 1770). Prodigiously clever, frustrated that she could not enter politics herself, Amabel wrote two studies of the French Revolution, and of French ambitions, in 1792 and 1796.1 As she went through life she garnered a bevy of titles, her husband’s and her own – Baroness Lucas, Lady Polwarth, Countess de Grey – but she always felt stoutly a Yorke. Her husband Lord Polwarth died when he was thirty, and by now, in her mid-forties, she had been almost fifteen years a widow, sturdily independent and a diligent letter-writer, as her scholarly, bluestocking mother Jemima had been.” 0 likes
“When John’s wife died in 1792, he had entrusted his eleven children to his oldest daughter, seventeen-year-old Kitty, unconcerned that they wore bright clothes, were rude to neighbours or joined hands across the road to hold up the Norwich coach. While the boys went away to school the girls studied at home at Earlham Hall, reading Rousseau, Voltaire and Paine, and sketching with the Norwich artist John Crome. Clever and forceful, they drank in the radical ideas of the Norwich Unitarian James Alderson and his daughter Amelia, who was a friend of Thomas Holcroft, John Horne Tooke and the Godwin circle, and would marry the painter John Opie in 1798. The Gurneys were well-known figures, not least because of their support for reform. But their political opinions made no difference to their careful, clever banking. One of the Gurneys’ regular East Anglian clients was James Oakes of Bury St Edmunds.” 0 likes
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