A panorama of Europe, 1900-1914, describing the cultural, economic and political life before the First World War.
Europe, early in the twentieth century: a world adrift, a pulsating era of creativity and contradictions. But did this era vanish in the trenches of the Somme, of Ypres, and of Passchendaele? Look closer and the more this world seems like ours: feminism, democratisation, commercial branding, genetics, consumerism and racism, radioactivity and psychoanalysis are all terms first used during this period.
This was a time in which old certainties broke down and many people lost their bearings. At the heart of this vibrant Europe, was a contradiction that would cause its collapse: the new, modern world of mass production, urban life, technological warfare and a rapidly growing working class that was still ruled by men who preferred the image of dashing cavalry officers to the prosaic slaughter of the machine gun, and national mythology to political cohesion and democracy.
The eventual scope of the catastrophe often obscures the fact that the great cultural divide in Europe's history lies before 1914. This book brings to life the immediacy of the lives and issues of this fascinating and flawed period.
Virginia Woolf famously declared that human character changed in the year 1910; this dizzying survey of European history and culture before WWI elaborates. Historian Blom (Enlightening the World) examines every innovation of the turbulent period that, in his estimate, gave birth to modernity and its discontents. Automobiles, airplanes and electricity gave humans unprecedented speed and power; the explosive growth of industry, cities and consumerism shattered and rebuilt communities; women, moving into schools and workplaces, demanded new rights; mass politics and mass media challenged traditional authority; psychoanalysis and the theory of relativity challenged ideas about humans and about time and space. The panorama is almost too much to take in, especially since Blom rightly complicates the picture by exploring the diverse ways in which different countries experienced these upheavals. His stab at a unifying theme a perceived crisis of masculinity that panicked everyone from Proust to proto-Nazi racists as sex roles changed and a machine-driven, bureaucratic economy made muscle-power and martial virtues obsolete is fruitful, but it only partially illuminates the times. This is a stylish, erudite guide to an age of exhilaration and anxiety that in many ways invented our own. Photos.