'Excellent . . . This is narrative history of the highest quality' Andrew Lycett, Sunday Telegraph
'Wonderfully engrossing and intelligent . . . clever and entertaining' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
HEYDAY brings to life one of the most extraordinary periods in modern history. The 1850s was a decade of breathtaking transformation, with striking parallels for our own times. The world was reshaped by technology, trade, mass migration and war. The global economy expanded fivefold, millions of families emigrated to the ends of the earth to carve out new lives, technology revolutionised communications, while steamships and railways cut across vast continents and oceans, shrinking the world and creating the first global age.
In a fast-paced, kaleidoscopic narrative, the acclaimed historian Ben Wilson recreates this time of explosive energy and dizzying change, a rollercoaster ride of booms and bust, focusing on the lives of the men and women reshaping its frontiers. At the centre stands Great Britain. The country was the peak of its power as it attempted to determine the destinies of hundreds of millions of people. A dazzling history of a tumultuous decade, HEYDAY reclaims an often overlooked period that was fundamental not only in in the making of Britain but of the modern world.
Wilson, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award for What Price Liberty!, turns his considerable talents as a historian and raconteur to the turbulent 1850s, a decade riven by the forces of technological change, wide-scale migration, commodity booms, and, above all, an unquenchable belief in the "unstoppable force of progress." From the gold fields of Victoria, South Africa, to the wharves of San Francisco, Wilson's vertiginous narrative takes in vast swaths of time and space, describing nothing less than "the birth of the modern world." The optimism Wilson argues for as characteristic of the age is perhaps best captured by the tale of a Minnesota real estate agent who walks his speculator client through the site of a proposed town, confidently pointing out trees and bogs as the spots of future neighborhoods, and a patch of dense forest as "the fashionable quarter." Wilson doesn't gloss over the dark side of all this energy and expansion colonial expropriation, ecological collapse, forced labor and the narration is lively and breakneck. The book's conclusion hints at the parallels between the 1850s and the current age of information flows and global connectivity, making a persuasive case for the decade as both precursor and crucible of today's world.