The World Hegemon: The British Isles 1832-1914

Written by William D. Rubinstein
Review by Claire Thurlow

During Queen Victoria’s reign, and the period leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, Britain enjoyed a ‘golden age’ of expansion, invention and innovation. Unlike many of its European neighbours, it did not experience a revolution, and social change was largely peaceful. Such political stability encouraged vast economic growth, not just in manufacturing and heavy industry, but also in services such as insurance and banking. For those dissatisfied with conditions at home, including a great many Irish, there were opportunities across the Empire and beyond. An incredible one per cent of the population emigrated from Britain in 1853 alone.

Professor Rubinstein provides a comprehensive analysis of the identity of the country at this time, evaluating factors such as politics, religion, class and gender. He considers how widespread advances in science and technology contributed to the evolution of a nation, as well as the role of the arts and education. It is a well-balanced account, examining the failures, as well as the successes, of a Victorian superpower, and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in British history.