Tuesday, 13 November 2012

History in 2013: is the 19th century out of fashion?

Book publishing is a notoriously lengthy process. So a browse through Amazon’s “hot new releases” actually stretches not backwards but forwards in time to give an idea of book releases coming up a year or more into the future.

Doing this recently, I was struck not so much by the total absence of anything on Chartism but by the real dearth of new writing on the 19th century as a whole.

I quite like the look of The State of Freedom: A Social History of the British State since 1800 due for publication 31 March 2013), in which Patrick Joyce, emeritus professor of history at Manchester University, promises a new approach examining exactly what the state did and how it worked.

We can also look forward to Antonia Fraser’s Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 (due out 9 May 2013), which offers a “character-driven” account of events. It is of course hard to tell from the publisher’s blurb, but its emphasis on prime minister Earl Grey and the Act’s supporter’s as heroes of democracy suggests a far-from-radical take on the Whig ideology of the time. Easy to forget, perhaps, that this was the same government whose Poor Law legislation engrained the workhouse system in the life of Victorian Britain.

Even more conservative (and on this occasion Conservative), I suspect will be Disraeli: or, The Two Lives by The Rt Hon Lord Douglas Hurd of Westwell CH CBE PC (due out 11 April 2013).

 If you have not yet read the hardback, then Kate Summerscale’s much admired Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady will be out in paperback in the spring (14 March 2013).

And for the romantic revolutionaries there will be the paperback edition of Mary Gabriel’s Love And Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution (due out 29 November 2012). Actually, I must admit I do like the look of this one.

Finally, although substantially falling outside the 19th century, Labour's Lost Leader: The Life and Politics of Will Crooks by Paul Tyler (due out 30 January 2013) deserves its place in this list given Crooks’ place in late Victorian trade unionism.

There will, I am confident, be far more than this as the year progresses. But my first impression from the Amazon hot new releases list is that there is rather more on those ever popular topics of the Tudors and the second world war, so if those are your thing you should not go short next year.

Or you could always give in entirely and throw yourself into the immensely conservative guilty pleasure of The Chronicles of Downton Abbey (Official Series 3 TV tie-in), which is apparently Number One in Amazon’s list of “most wished for” history books.

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