'An illuminating work of massive insight' Alan Moore
'A sensational book. Heartily recommended' Rufus Hound
It is the century about which we know too much, yet understand too little. With disorientating ideas such as relativity, cubism, the id, existentialism, chaos mathematics and postmodernism to contend with, the twentieth century, John Higgs argues, cannot fit easily into a traditional historical narrative. Time, then, for a new perspective.
Higgs takes us on a refreshingly eclectic journey through the knotty history of the strangest of centuries. In the company of radical artists, scientists, geniuses and eccentrics, he shows us how the elegant, clockwork universe of the Victorians became increasingly woozy and uncertain; and how in the twentieth century we discovered that our world is not just stranger than we imagine, but 'stranger than we can imagine'.
Marshaling an impressive array of subjects into a brisk and surprisingly cohesive cultural history of the "dark woods" of the 20th century, Higgs (KLF: Chaos, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds) explains what happened after the world lost its "omphalos" the ancient concept of the center of the universe. The 20th century's early milestones smashed many of the traditional frames of reference humans had: Einstein's theory of relativity demonstrated that time was not absolute, the decline of monarchies and the rise of democracy ended an age of absolute authority, and artistic Modernism embraced the limitations of relativist perspective and the freedom of nontraditional narrative. What arose, for better or worse, was a cult of the individual that began with occultist Aleister Crowley's imperative to "do what thou wilt," and eventually gave birth to totalitarianism and youth culture alike. Higgs affects a witty and casual tone, but his indictment of individualism, which he sees as a path to vapidness, nihilism, and commercialism, is rather severe. He does, however, find hope at the dawn of the 21st century, the age of the network, when multiple-model atheism and the Internet's quest for transparency can perhaps lead humanity out of the wreckage of the 20th century.