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The Victorians

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,058 ratings  ·  88 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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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  1,058 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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Dec 17, 2014 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
Oct 20, 2013 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
Jun 15, 2013 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
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
Athan Tolis
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is very clearly a book the author had inside him for a long time.

It’s everything A.N. Wilson knows about the Victorian era’s literature, politics, arts and historical events and the main actors in each of those fields, with a strong overlay of personal opinion, often viewed through the eye of religion. The royals do not really star, as the author seems to believe Queen Victoria was largely incidental to everything that happened during her reign, rather than instrumental.

It is unlikely you w
Sep 27, 2015 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 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 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 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
DeAnna Knippling
Nov 07, 2016 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
Aaron Eames
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An astoundingly comprehensive audit of the era; sprawling, expansive and imperial, touching all bases, cause célèbre (Chartism) to celebrated cause (The Boer War), succès de scandale (On the Origin of Species, perhaps) to successful scandal (The Fall of Parnell, perhaps). Wilson, elsewhere biographer of Darwin and Queen Victoria, emphasises personalities, those individuals whose lives, words and works mediate their period. His pen-portraits of key figures read like rigorously-researched private ...more
Jul 15, 2013 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.
May 19, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christmas-2019
I feel kind of bad rating so lowly because this really is a phenomenally researched book, but I just wasn't vibing with it. There were parts of it that were interesting, but I mean they were single paragraphs in whole chapters -- I found the rest of the book unbelievably dry and a little disorganised. There were chapters, and I know this because every so often there would be a number and a title, but it felt like the events within those chapters weren't adequately separated -- with the exception ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Dawn of history of western tradition do you recall that series of video’s that was done by UCLA professor Eugen Weber? I barely do but I do recall the PBS series. Sonorous and comprehensive, Professorial and pettifogging in nature that series is called to mind while I read A.N. Wilson “The Victorians” it seemed a similar presentation of difficult material with one important exception in that the author’s presentation often strays into a Robin Leach sort of journalism of the lifestyles of the Ric ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Since a young age I’ve had a deep fascination with Victorian history, and after receiving this book for Christmas I was looking forward to learning so much more about the era. However I quickly realised that the best way to read this book is to let it passively wash over you. To try and absorb every detail is hard work. Though after completing the book I confess I would struggle to recall any specific facts, the book has given me a broader understanding of the context of the time.
I like the chro
Charlotte Langstroth
“𝐼𝓉 𝒾𝓈 𝒶𝓁𝓌𝒶𝓎𝓈 𝒸𝒽𝑒𝒶𝓅𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝑜 𝓅𝒶𝓎 𝓁𝒶𝒷𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝒾𝓃 𝒾𝓉𝓈 𝒻𝓊𝓁𝓁 𝓋𝒶𝓁𝓊𝑒. 𝐿𝒶𝒷𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝓈𝒽𝑜𝓊𝓁𝒹 𝒷𝑒 𝓂𝒶𝒹𝑒 𝓉𝑜 𝓅𝒶𝓎 𝒷𝑒𝓉𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒶𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝑒𝓋𝒾𝓃𝑔. 𝒜𝓉 𝓅𝓇𝑒𝓈𝑒𝓃𝓉 𝒾𝓉 𝓅𝒶𝓎𝓈 𝓌𝑜𝓇𝓈𝑒.” ~ Florence Nightingale
I haven’t been reading in lockdown much, and I started this book way before it started - its NOT light reading! It’s written chronologically through decades but with smaller chapters on more “easier reading specifics”* woven in. The main focus in bulk on 1840-70s and it’s very politics heavy and quite dependant on existing knowledge - if you
Sandra Strange
I really like Wilson's wide ranging and comprehensive histories. He captures this very long period of history in a very long book. He treats so much history besides the politics, arts, culture, philosophy and technological progress. He gives short biographical sketches of each individual who influences this age in England, and also details how people lived--from aristocrats to the poorest homeless--during this important slice of English history. The book will appeal to history lovers. I do have ...more
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
A really good read apart from the politics not at all what I expected. More a social history of the period 1837 to 1901, the author covers many aspects of Victorian life. Far from the prudes popular television drama portrays they were a nation coming to terms with profound change in a short period of time. They had their scandals (Wilde and W T Stead) stand out but there were other less than wholesome episodes. The South African concentration camps where tens of thousands of children and women d ...more
Alan Driscoll
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Impossibly charming for a mammoth history book, Wilson brings his biographical talent to the fore here. Ever focusing on people over movements or events, he brings out the unique character of the 19th Century; dashing some myths and leaping headlong into others. Readable, comprehensive, and one of the best history books I've ever read.
Peter Ellwood
Jan 16, 2016 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
Eric Pape
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and worth the time but I would have liked a little more about the lot of the common folk.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very enjoyable thematic account of the Victorian age, which required work to master but was enormously rewarding once completed.
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I didn't actually finish this book, although it was very interesting and well written I just wasn't in the mood for a factual book.
Daniel Kukwa
Mar 04, 2017 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 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 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 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
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Witty and sloppy synopsis. It is neither materialist nor idealist: he locates power in single people. Or, in anecdotes about people really. (Is that still materialism? Funny kind if so.)

He has such a huge throbbing agenda - e.g. his caricature of Bentham, his bizarre claim that capitalism suppresses individuality, rather than being totally, totally dependent on it - but I didn't resent it because he is so patent about it and because he is funny:

If the [genetic guesses] about both Victoria and
Nov 24, 2014 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 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
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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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