After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World

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9780312425159: After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World

The distinguished historian A.N. Wilson has charted, in vivid detail, Britain's rise to world dominance, a tale of how one small island nation came to be the mightiest, richest country on earth, reigning over much of the globe. Now in his much anticipated sequel to the classic The Victorians, he describes how in little more than a generation Britain's power and influence in the world would virtually dissolve.

In After the Victorians, Wilson presents a panoramic view of an era, stretching from the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 to the dawn of the cold war in the early 1950s. He offers riveting accounts of the savagery of World War I and the world-altering upheaval of the Communist Revolution. He explains Britain's role in shaping the destiny of the Middle East. And he casts a bright new light on the World War II years: Britain played a central role in defeating Germany but at a severe cost. The nation would emerge from the war bankrupt and fatally weakened, sidelined from world politics, while America would assume the mantle of dominant world power, facing off against the Soviet Union in the cold war. Wilson's perspective is not confined to the trenches of the battlefield and the halls of parliament: he also examines the parallel story of the beginnings of Modernism-he visits the novelists, philosophers, poets, and painters to see what they reveal about the activities of the politicians, scientists, and generals.

Blending military, political, social, and cultural history of the most dramatic kind, A.N. Wilson offers an absorbing portrait of the decline of one of the world's great powers. The result is a fresh account of the birth pangs of the modern world, as well as a timely analysis of imperialism and its discontents.

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Review:

In 1924, the British Empire Exhibition--"a huge propaganda exercise"--opened in Wembley to celebrate the stability and permanence of the British Empire, which was at its maximum size at that time. Within 25 years, the British would lose their empire and their place in the world, and be reduced to fighting for their economic survival following World War II. After the Victorians covers the years 1901 through 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In this absorbing work, A.N. Wilson tells the tale of his parents' generation, who witnessed the rapid, bewildering transformation from supreme world power to broken nation within their lifetimes. In doing so, he explores a wide variety of topics, including cultural changes, the population shift from rural to urban areas, the changing role of the aristocracy, imperialism (especially in India), the Asiatic roots of World War I, the rise of the suffragists, and the complex relationship between Britain and the U.S., which Wilson describes as being "like a lot of outwardly successful marriages, an abusive relationship, in which Britain was quite decidedly the junior partner."

After the Victorians is not a formal history. Rather than cover this era chronologically, Wilson shifts in time, moving smoothly from one subject to another, alternating between wide-angle views and extreme close-ups. He offers broad coverage of military, cultural, political, and economic themes, as well as revealing portraits of politicians, monarchs, generals, journalists, economists, painters, poets, and scientists. Filled with sharp observations and vivid anecdotes, this imaginative and crisply written "portrait of an age" successfully conveys the conflicted emotions of British subjects forced to deal with the loss of their once-mighty empire. --Shawn Carkonen

About the Author:

A. N. Wilson, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, holds a prominent position as a writer and journalist. He is the author of many critically acclaimed works, including The Victorians, Paul, and My Name is Legion.

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