David Mytton

Book Review (3/5) – Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800–1906 (David Cannadine)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

It took me quite some time to finish this partially because it is quite a long book but the writing style is also quite dense. For the most part, each chapter spans a decade and focuses on the political history of the period. Most time is spent discussing Prime Ministers, their cabinets and the key events that shaped the governments as the century progressed.

It is interesting to compare the events of the 1800s with what is happening in the UK today. It was a very different style of government with minimal state involvement in daily life at the beginning of the century, increasing somewhat as it gets closer to 1900. But despite that, the political scuffles seem quite familiar! Prime Ministers resigning was much more in fashion in those days and the effects of the Corn Laws on the country, the idea of free trade and the political philosophy of the Tory party is important to understand. 

There was certainly significant progress in all areas of life but along with the expansion of the British Empire, I was surprised to learn just how unplanned it all was. There were true reforms but much of the time, politics was about fighting each other and responding to external events (often not very well). 

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Victorian period, not least about the British Empire itself. This is a good, all round account of the 1800s, not getting bogged down into any one major event. However, it was a difficult read and I was distracted by other, more appealing books which made me put this to one side at times. I would have appreciated more concise chapters which I think would’ve made progress easier.