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Edwardian Britain is the quintessential age of nostalgia, often seen as the last long summer before the cataclysmic changes of the twentieth century began to take form. The habits and sports of the aristocracy were an everyday indulgence. But it was an age of invention as well as tradition. It saw the first widespread use of the motor car, the first aeroplane and the first Edwardian Britain is the quintessential age of nostalgia, often seen as the last long summer before the cataclysmic changes of the twentieth century began to take form. The habits and sports of the aristocracy were an everyday indulgence. But it was an age of invention as well as tradition. It saw the first widespread use of the motor car, the first aeroplane and the first use of the telegraph. It was also a time of vastly improved education and the public appetite for authors such as Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and E. M. Forster was increased by greater literacy. There were signs too, of the corner history was soon to turn, with the problematic Boer War hinting at a new British weakness overseas and the rise of the Suffragette movement pushing the boundaries of the social and political landscape. In this major work of history, Roy Hattersley has been given exclusive access to many new documents to produce a magisterial appraisal of a legendary age.


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Edwardian Britain is the quintessential age of nostalgia, often seen as the last long summer before the cataclysmic changes of the twentieth century began to take form. The habits and sports of the aristocracy were an everyday indulgence. But it was an age of invention as well as tradition. It saw the first widespread use of the motor car, the first aeroplane and the first Edwardian Britain is the quintessential age of nostalgia, often seen as the last long summer before the cataclysmic changes of the twentieth century began to take form. The habits and sports of the aristocracy were an everyday indulgence. But it was an age of invention as well as tradition. It saw the first widespread use of the motor car, the first aeroplane and the first use of the telegraph. It was also a time of vastly improved education and the public appetite for authors such as Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and E. M. Forster was increased by greater literacy. There were signs too, of the corner history was soon to turn, with the problematic Boer War hinting at a new British weakness overseas and the rise of the Suffragette movement pushing the boundaries of the social and political landscape. In this major work of history, Roy Hattersley has been given exclusive access to many new documents to produce a magisterial appraisal of a legendary age.

30 review for The Edwardians: Biography of the Edwardian Age

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Any older Brits reading this review will undoubtedly recognise Roy Hattersley’s name, but for those not in that category, in his day he was a well-known UK politician, who was Deputy Leader of the Labour Party during the 1980s. I wondered whether his political views might colour this history to some extent, but those fears were unfounded. In my opinion, he gives a very fair assessment of the politics and the political leaders of the period. In the UK the Edwardian period is generally seen as a hi Any older Brits reading this review will undoubtedly recognise Roy Hattersley’s name, but for those not in that category, in his day he was a well-known UK politician, who was Deputy Leader of the Labour Party during the 1980s. I wondered whether his political views might colour this history to some extent, but those fears were unfounded. In my opinion, he gives a very fair assessment of the politics and the political leaders of the period. In the UK the Edwardian period is generally seen as a hiatus between the restless energy of Victorian Britain and the First World War, a sort of lazy Sunday afternoon that ended when 1914 arrived as the worst Monday morning ever. Hattersley argues that this impression is misleading and that in the UK, the period was one of intense political, social, cultural and technological change. On the whole I agree with his assessment. The Liberal Government’s “People’s Budget” of 1909 introduced a huge range of social welfare measures for the first time in Britain. Hattersley argues that this level of Government intervention was a decisive move away from the Victorian philosophy that the business of Government was limited to protecting the country from foreign invasion and maintaining law and order within its own borders. The People’s Budget resulted in a major constitutional crisis when the unelected House of Lords sought to block it. The issue of Irish Home Rule brought to the UK to the brink of civil war in 1913-14, whilst female suffrage was another massive controversy. I found the chapter on the Suffragettes one of the most interesting, both in terms of why female suffrage was resisted for so long, and from a gossipy angle, in the way it described the characters of some of the leading figures. I hadn’t known for example, that the 20-something Sylvia Pankhurst had a passionate affair with the 50-something Keir Hardie, who was a married man with 4 children. Hattersley reckons Hardie had a weakness for “the company of lively young women” and notes that his “susceptibilities have not been included in the miasma of myth and legend which surround him as the first Labour Member of Parliament and first Leader of the Party…” In terms of technology, the era saw the attainment of the long-cherished dream of powered flight, and was the first period in which the motor car had a significant impact. Hattersley devotes a chapter to nearly every aspect of Edwardian society in Britain, although in some of these I didn’t feel his argument was as strong in terms of the era being a period of revolutionary change. I found the chapter on religion quite good. He argued that in Victorian times the priority of the Churches was to encourage adherence to the will of God, whilst in the Edwardian era there was a philosophical shift towards the Churches serving humanity and campaigning against social evils. There are chapters covering drama and poetry/literature, of obvious interest to this reader as a GR member. Of the books he discusses though, I have only read one, Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Despite the book’s comprehensive scope, I found that much of it was written in a dry and encyclopaedic style. There were occasional flashes that I liked – for example, Liberal PM Henry Campbell-Bannerman was described as “always dangerously susceptible to rational argument,” but much of the book was a struggle to get through. The appeal of this book is limited strictly to those with an interest in British history, but I’m not sure I would entirely recommend it even to that audience.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brianne Moore

    Painfully dull. This book started off all right, but it quickly slid into the trap of so many historical non-fiction: it became incredibly dry very quickly. There was little to liven it up; it lacked those interesting details that make history come alive and convince the reader that this was life as lived by real people, not just an endless recitation of facts. Some things were massively oversimplified--the chapter on women's suffrage was particularly disappointing. He's clearly a fan of Cristobe Painfully dull. This book started off all right, but it quickly slid into the trap of so many historical non-fiction: it became incredibly dry very quickly. There was little to liven it up; it lacked those interesting details that make history come alive and convince the reader that this was life as lived by real people, not just an endless recitation of facts. Some things were massively oversimplified--the chapter on women's suffrage was particularly disappointing. He's clearly a fan of Cristobel Pankhurst, because she's pretty much the only suffragette he focused on. Even her mother, Emmaline, who was very important in her own right, was barely mentioned. Hattersley also seems to assume that the reader is coming to the book with a fairly wide-ranging knowledge of some pretty random subjects, like early 20th century theatre and architecture, because he glosses over a lot of things in those chapters that could use a bit more explanation.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Well-written, entertaining and full of information and analysis. I believe it justifies the author's contention that the Edwardian period was not a dull interlude, but in fact was the genesis of Modern Britain. Well-written, entertaining and full of information and analysis. I believe it justifies the author's contention that the Edwardian period was not a dull interlude, but in fact was the genesis of Modern Britain.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    I found the first 2/3 of the book a bit tedious. It was all politics and much of it was newer to me than Hattersley probably expected from his readers. It was very detailed. The last 1/3 of the book dealt with the more social side of Edwardian life. The rising professionalism of sports, journalism, exploration--these were of more interest to me and I found them more readable in general. I wouldn't recommend the book to someone without a strong interest in (and knowledge of) British politics. I found the first 2/3 of the book a bit tedious. It was all politics and much of it was newer to me than Hattersley probably expected from his readers. It was very detailed. The last 1/3 of the book dealt with the more social side of Edwardian life. The rising professionalism of sports, journalism, exploration--these were of more interest to me and I found them more readable in general. I wouldn't recommend the book to someone without a strong interest in (and knowledge of) British politics.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    I will probably not finish this, but I am enjoying it so far. Nice little tidbits of what one could call gossip. I have read quite a bit about the Boer War but Roy Hattersley is giving me a fresh insight into it, writing as he does from a British political perspective. I do find the different Prime Ministers a little confusing. As he says, popular myth has this period as one of halcyon sun-drenched days whereas it was a period of great change which set the agenda for the next half century.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Leanne

    This is a thoroughly researched, well written historical account. A pleasure to read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    A good immensely readable survey of a fascinating decade by Roy Hattersley. He adds perspective from his life as a Labour politician which perhaps differentiates his account from many of the others.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lezley

    This book was a slow read but absolutely fascinating. Hattersley, takes the reader and places him/her in the society of the Edwardian era. He examines so many aspects of that pre-war time: political, religious, social mores, inventions, sports and the list goes on. He captures the spirit and introduces the reader to all the key players and events in Great Britain at this time, all under the reign of Edward VII.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    An excellent look into the Edwardian era, covering mainly the political and socio-economic development of the time. Hattersley does this in a objective, readable way. Many aspects of Edwardian life are covered including but not limited to transport, education, religion and exploration. Through this book I learnt many things I had not know before. An excellent book which I would recommend to anyone interested in the Edwardian era.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Slater

    If you are looking for a good social history of the Edwardian era you will find that at least half the book is about politics and what happened in the House of Commons. The first chapter about the end of the Victorianm era and the sections on the arts, the poor, votes for women etc are well worth reading but unless you are really interested in politics, and one would expect Hattersley to be enthusiastic about this, I would skip p;ages 85-197 of this 500 page book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Fleurdelys21

    Some interesting chapters - the sort of book where it's best to dip in and out of chapters. I found that overall it was a bit too focused on politics (and I generally am very interested in politics) and didn't give great insight into people's daily lives. That said, it's well researched and detailed and useful in my own research. Some interesting chapters - the sort of book where it's best to dip in and out of chapters. I found that overall it was a bit too focused on politics (and I generally am very interested in politics) and didn't give great insight into people's daily lives. That said, it's well researched and detailed and useful in my own research.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mervyn Whyte

    Not the most riveting of books. A bit too dry and academic. Not what I expected after the introduction, which was lighter and more anecdotal. Still, it covers all the basics and as a single volume account of an age it is perfectly adequate. I guess I was more educated than entertained. The best books do both.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alastair Savin

    Really enjoyed the chapters on Sport, Newspapers and invention! The Edwardian world feels so near and so far! I can imagine some people getting a bit lost in the political stuff, there were quite a few prime ministers in a short period of time. Fortunately for me I’m in the middle of a podcast series on all of the prime ministers which really helped me with this.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Toby Bond

    Absolutely fascinating: the Edwardian age encompasses flight, the motor car, the suffragete movement, the build up to WW1, the advent of the turbine engine and dreadnought, the race to the south pole, the changing communications & media and a multiplicity of absorbing events engagingly illustrated.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Bisset

    Good survey but sometimes rather laboured As you would expect political developments are covered in considerable depth, but other matters are not neglected such as the Church and the Arts rather well, but politics take pride of place. Roy Hattersley writes well.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan Grimshaw

    Well written and informative, but I struggled to get through it and found much of it very dry. I was disappointed that there were not many of the original diary entries, I had hoped for far more of Rowland Evans' diary. Well written and informative, but I struggled to get through it and found much of it very dry. I was disappointed that there were not many of the original diary entries, I had hoped for far more of Rowland Evans' diary.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Hurst

    At points an interesting and informative book about a period often forgotten and there is much to interest the reader. However on occasions the subject or subject matter can become dry. Still I recommend a read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    MadgeUK

    The Edwardian era has often been seen as a 'golden age' but this potted history tells a more turbulent tale about a time when literature, science and politics were turned on their heads and the strait-laced Victorian era ended. Hattersley draws upon previously unpublished diaries and letters so it is a useful addition to any bookshelf dedicated to politics and British social history. Amongst other interesting trivia we learn about Mrs Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII, ancestress of the late The Edwardian era has often been seen as a 'golden age' but this potted history tells a more turbulent tale about a time when literature, science and politics were turned on their heads and the strait-laced Victorian era ended. Hattersley draws upon previously unpublished diaries and letters so it is a useful addition to any bookshelf dedicated to politics and British social history. Amongst other interesting trivia we learn about Mrs Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII, ancestress of the late Princess Diana. (Lord) Roy Hattersley, former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, is a respected British politician and writer who knew a number of the leading politicians he writes about (Lloyd George, Churchill). As A C Grayling commented in The Independenton Sunday it is: 'A handsome book...written with style, grace and wit.'

  19. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    A very well written, rather high-brow history of the Edwardian period. As could be expected from this author, the writing leans heavily on the political events of the period; these sections (at least half the book) are detailed and contain fascinating titbits about the major personalities. Some of the sections on the cultural life of the period do seem to be a little weaker, and there is a tendancy to bring these back around to political aspects of censorship etc, rather than focusing on artisti A very well written, rather high-brow history of the Edwardian period. As could be expected from this author, the writing leans heavily on the political events of the period; these sections (at least half the book) are detailed and contain fascinating titbits about the major personalities. Some of the sections on the cultural life of the period do seem to be a little weaker, and there is a tendancy to bring these back around to political aspects of censorship etc, rather than focusing on artistic aspects of the subjects. The writing is stylish and highly enjoyable to read, and provides insight into a period of transition.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    From the synopsis of this book, I thought it was going to be right up my street. I'm really interested by the Edwardian period, particularly the social history of the time. Unfortunately (and somewhat unexpectedly) this book focused much more on the political history, and in a really dry way. I skipped a lot of this, and even the bits I read I didn't enjoy. From the synopsis of this book, I thought it was going to be right up my street. I'm really interested by the Edwardian period, particularly the social history of the time. Unfortunately (and somewhat unexpectedly) this book focused much more on the political history, and in a really dry way. I skipped a lot of this, and even the bits I read I didn't enjoy.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kazimiera pendrey

    This book was about a period of history which i know very little about. Parts of the book were very interesting but I felt that too much of the book was dedicated to royalty and politics but it was still worth reading.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Could have been more readable, very politically focused, but that shouldn't have been a surprise really! Could have been more readable, very politically focused, but that shouldn't have been a surprise really!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    More political and less domestic than I like in a history - but what else should I expect from Hattersley? Gave me a new view of the neo-cons second favourite Brit, Churchill too

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura Noakes

    Great, informative, very interesting book

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Titter

    This book is good if you are looking for a political history of the Edwardian Age.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Hayward

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark Burstow

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rosie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ian Petrie

  30. 4 out of 5

    james looney

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