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What the Victorians did for us

Price: £18.99

The Victorian era was a time of extraordinary prosperity and development in Britain. Britain was a world leader in steam engines, iron and steel production, cotton and woollen mills and international trade; an explosion of power and pride that was celebrated in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Adam Hart-Davis, who presented 'What the Victorians Did for Us' in a highly acclaimed television series, is a renaissance man - brilliant at elucidating and explaining. This is a celebration of Victorian achievements and a reflection of the fact that we still live in a Victorian world.

Publisher and industry reviews

Closely linked to Hart-Davis's 2001 BBC television series, this is a beautifully illustrated tour through the energetic and progressive era of Queen Victoria. Hart-Davis starts from the premise that we are all still Victorians: many things we take for granted, like photography, railways, policemen and the rules of association football, were Victorian developments. The vivid stories of invention which follow are imbued with real enthusiasm for technological advances and the pioneers who made them. Steam power, electricity, telecommunications and astonishing feats of engineering are all described in witty, sparky prose that never flags. Hart-Davis always offers enough scientific detail, but never so much that the non-specialist gets lost. Ice-cream, mackintoshes and the invention of the seaside holiday get a look in, too, as do ground-breaking businessmen such as W H Smith, who first set up bookstalls in railway stations. The book is particularly strong in drawing attention to the connections between seemingly disparate developments - how, for example, the railways led to the need for standardized time across the country; and how the lawn-mower, allowing the new middle-classes to have tidy gardens, meant that new games could be invented, such as tennis and croquet. Other social novelties, like Mrs Beeton's cult cookbooks, jostle for attention alongside more serious matters, like anaesthetics, antiseptics and the radical new idea called 'evolution'. There's so much detail here that some subjects are dealt with very rapidly, but there are lots of suggestions for further reading and helpful details of places to visit. It's a perfect, colourful introduction to the vitality and breathtaking excitement of an era too often seen as stifling and irrelevant. (Kirkus UK)