Wednesday, 26 August 1998

J.F. Plumb: England in the Eighteenth Century (1950)

Edition: Penguin, 1968
Review number: 111

This book, covering the reigns of the first three Georges (1714-1820), is perhaps the least successful in the Pelican History of England. The brevity of its coverage (imposed as a series restriction) is the main cause of this. There were many important developments during the eighteenth century involving - and frequently commencing in - Britain, not just in the social and economic spheres (the events collectively referred to as the Industrial Revolution) but in the political arena as well (the French and American revolutions and the development of British rule in India spring to mind).

The century saw so many developments important to the way we live now that they can only be sketched in brief in a book of this length. To try and get round this, Plumb assumes that his readers will have at least some sort of basic familiarity with the political history of the period, if not the social and economic. Thus, one section of the book is entitled "The Age of Chatham", yet he omits to mention that Pitt and Chatham are one and the same; so one who did not know this, it would not become obvious until the paragraph in a later section detailing the rise of his grandson, Pitt the Younger.

As the background to English affairs becomes more complex and more international, short paragraphs explaining the European situation are not enough to put its influence on them into context. This book cannot, like the earlier members of the series, be read as an introduction to a period; it is more a useful summary and a reminder to those who have already read more on the eighteenth century.

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