All about our life of grime

Making Sense of the Industrial Revolution
February 24, 2006

Historians are spoilt for choice in assigning student textbooks on the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Pat Hudson's The Industrial Revolution (1992) is a stimulating thematic overview. Peter Mathias's classic The First Industrial Nation: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1914 (second edition, 1983) has stood the test of time. Eric J. Evans's The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783-1870 (second edition, 1995) combines economic, social and political history effectively. For more in-depth reading, students can consult Martin Daunton's Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850 (1995). Other general books on the Industrial Revolution, too many to name, also have their virtues.

Steven King and Geoffrey Timmins, in Making Sense of the Industrial Revolution , offer a distinctive approach in a crowded market. Rather than trying to cover every possible important issue and debate connected with industrialisation, they focus on selected themes that underscore structural changes in the economy and their impact on English society at a time of relatively steady economic growth. They confine their attention to England, arguing sensibly that Scotland and Wales have different trajectories of industrialisation that merit separate treatment. They focus on the regional strengths of English industrialisation and enliven their text with illustrations from individual lives and sources gleaned from their own scholarly research.

Making Sense of the Industrial Revolution is a clear and coherent textbook, pitched at the right level for undergraduates without much technical knowledge of economics, let alone econometrics. The human dimension provided by individual examples fits the book's overall framework without lapsing into antiquarianism. Given the decline of economic history in secondary and tertiary education, King and Timmins's book might interest undergraduates in the greatest watershed in British social and economic history more readily than classic economic history accounts.

Kenneth Morgan is professor of history, Brunel University.

Making Sense of the Industrial Revolution: English Economy and Society 1700-1850. First Edition

Author - Steven King and Geoffrey Timmins
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Pages - 402
Price - £17.99
ISBN - 0 7190 5022 7

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