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Water, Water

Asa Briggs, 9 November 1989

The Conquest of Water: The Advent of Health in the Industrial Age 
by Jean-Pierre Goubert.
Polity, 300 pp., £25, April 1989, 0 7456 0508 7
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... Water is news in Thatcherite Britain in a way that would have surprised politicians – or economists – a generation ago. In some parts of the world, like California or Colorado, water has always been politics – bitter, tough, even violent politics. On a global scale we divide the world into arid and non-arid zones and probe the oceans. Some of our greatest engineering projects in every generation, back to the ancient world, have been concerned with the movement and control of water ...

The point of it all

Asa Briggs, 25 April 1991

The Pencil: A History 
by Henry Petroski.
Faber, 434 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 16182 0
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... What in its fullest sense is the idea conveyed in the respective words Paper, Pen and Ink?’ asked George Wilson, a future Regius Professor of Technology at Edinburgh University. The subtitle of his article, ‘Paper, Pen and Ink’, published in Macmillans Magazine in 1859, was ‘an excursus in technology’, and he went on to survey all kinds of pens including, by a convenient extension of the word ‘pen’, ‘printer’s type, the pen of civilisation’, ‘the electric telegraph, the world’s shorthand pen’, and the chisel, ‘by which cathedrals and Sebastopols are written in granite, and gods and men in marble ...

Music as Message

Asa Briggs, 23 May 1991

The World of the Oratorio 
by Kurt Pahlen.
Scolar, 357 pp., £27.50, February 1991, 0 85967 866 0
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The Making of the Victorian Organ 
by Nicholas Thistlethwaite.
Cambridge, 584 pp., £50, December 1990, 0 521 34345 3
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... Almost all the greatest composers,’ wrote H.R. Haweis in his Music and Morals (1871), ‘have found in the sacred cantata or oratorio, a form of art capable of expressing the noblest progressions of the religious sentiment in the highest planes of emotion.’ Moreover, ‘by arranging the magnificent episodes of Scripture in a dramatic – not operatic form’, they had succeeded in generating in their audiences ‘new impressions of the depth and sublimity’ of Biblical characters ...

Looking big

Asa Briggs, 12 March 1992

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Engineering Knight-Errant 
by Adrian Vaughan.
Murray, 285 pp., £19.95, October 1991, 0 7195 4636 2
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... When Samuel Smiles was preparing to write his Lives of the Engineers in 1858, Robert Stephenson was doubtful about whether the subject would prove attractive to readers. He had already been surprised by the success of Smiles’s biography of George Stephenson, his father, which had appeared one year earlier. Robert Stephenson died before the first volume of the Lives of the Engineers appeared in 1861, and Martin Wiener and others have taken his funeral to represent symbolically the end of a great era in cultural as well as in British economic history ...

Before Wapping

Asa Briggs, 22 May 1986

Victorian News and Newspapers 
by Lucy Brown.
Oxford, 305 pp., £32.50, November 1985, 0 19 822624 1
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... Alas! We are a Press-ridden people,’ one of the Commissioners for the Great Exhibition exclaimed in 1851. He wished to exclude members of the press from the Crystal Palace or at least to make them buy their entrance tickets. Henry Cole, who was prepared to consider all ‘novelties’, was appalled at this reaction, and eventually it was he who won the day ...

The Macaulay of the Welfare State

David Cannadine, 6 June 1985

The BBC: The First 50 Years 
by Asa Briggs.
Oxford, 439 pp., £17.50, May 1985, 0 19 212971 6
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The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs. Vol. I: Words, Numbers, Places, People 
Harvester, 245 pp., £30, March 1985, 0 7108 0094 0Show More
The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs. Vol. II: Images, Problems, Standpoints, Forecasts 
Harvester, 324 pp., £30, March 1985, 0 7108 0510 1Show More
The 19th Century: The Contradictions of Progress 
edited by Asa Briggs.
Thames and Hudson, 239 pp., £18, April 1985, 0 500 04013 3
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... Asa Briggs has just produced three new books. This piece of information is made even more remarkable by the fact that he has published 26 already. Admittedly, there are some, like How they lived, 1700-1815 and They saw it happen, 1897-1940, which are largely collections of contemporary documents, and which have merely been awarded Briggs’s benediction ...

Radio Fun

Philip Purser, 27 June 1991

A Social History of British Broadcasting. Vol. I: 1922-29, Serving the Nation 
by Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff.
Blackwell, 441 pp., £30, April 1991, 0 631 17543 1
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The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs. Vol. III: Serious Pursuits, Communication and Education 
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 470 pp., £30, May 1991, 0 7450 0536 5Show More
The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 
by Colin Seymour-Ure.
Blackwell, 269 pp., £29.95, May 1991, 9780631164432
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... perhaps by a spent match Peter Black inserted in 1971 or a shrivelled potato chip left behind by Asa Briggs. As for the one or two specific issues Scannell and Cardiff are able to enlarge upon, notably the treatment of unemployment and poverty, they have done so by venturing beyond the customary sources and drawing, for instance, on some forgotten but ...

Diary

W.G. Runciman: Like a Prep School, 10 January 1991

... were not allowed to offer us the customary plonk and snacklets then and there. Instead, after Asa Briggs had introduced Cannadine and Cannadine had given us an encouragingly comical puff for his book, Robert Rhodes James reminded us that Lloyd George, despite doing so much to reduce the Upper House to impotence and discredit, had ended his days as ...

Booker Books

Frank Kermode, 22 November 1979

... out, the matter having been decided by a non-competing novelist, three literary critics, and Asa Briggs. This is the 11th time the Booker Prize has been awarded. It is much larger than any comparable prize, either here or in the US. Last year it was increased from £5,000, so it must be worth nearly as much as it was when it began in 1969. Nobody, I ...

Principal Ornament

José Harris, 3 December 1992

G.M. Trevelyan: A life in History 
by David Cannadine.
HarperCollins, 288 pp., £18, September 1992, 0 00 215872 8
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... readership and powerful television presence of historians such as A.J.P. Taylor, E.P. Thompson, Asa Briggs, and Cannadine himself, suggest that although history may no longer define communal national consciousness it has not lost its capacity to engage and entertain a large mass of individuals. Cannadine admits that Trevelyan was ‘not powerfully ...

Politics First

José Harris, 19 April 1984

The Chartists 
by Dorothy Thompson.
Temple Smith, 399 pp., £19.50, February 1984, 0 85117 229 6
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Languages of Class: Studies in English Working-Class History 1832-1982 
by Gareth Stedman Jones.
Cambridge, 260 pp., £22.50, January 1984, 0 521 25648 8
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Class Power and State Power 
by Ralph Miliband.
Verso, 310 pp., £18.50, March 1984, 0 86091 073 3
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... which in terms of tangible political triumphs and achievements was remarkably slight. Moreover, as Asa Briggs plausibly argued in Chartist Studies, all these viewpoints tended to endow Chartism with an inner coherence and organisational identity not justified by the historical facts. In Briggs’s view, Chartism was not ...
Founders of the Welfare State 
edited by Paul Barker.
Gower, 138 pp., £14.95, February 1985, 0 435 82060 5
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The Affluent Society 
by John Kenneth Galbraith.
Deutsch, 291 pp., £9.95, February 1985, 0 233 97771 6
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... and even, perhaps, to the cruel though well-meaning Poor Law of 1834. In top-and-tail essays Asa Briggs and David Donnison make what they can of a disparate assembly which ranges from Josephine Butler and Charles Booth to R.I. Morant and William Beveridge. As Donnison points out, equality was seldom their explicit goal. Nor was the growth of a ...

Victorian Consumers

Michael Mason, 16 February 1989

The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830-1900 
by F.M.L. Thompson.
Fontana, 382 pp., £5.95, September 1988, 0 00 686157 1
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Victorian Things 
by Asa Briggs.
Batsford, 440 pp., £19.95, November 1988, 9780713445190
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... a great deal more reading behind the text than is mentioned in the bibliographies to each chapter. Asa Briggs’s Victorian Things does not have footnotes either; this was generally the rule in Victorian Cities and Victorian People, the earlier parts of the trilogy now completed by the new book. But the effect is not at all to hide the door to the ...

Diary

W.G. Runciman: Slums, Unemployment, Strikes and Party Politics, 23 June 1988

... Alan Deacon which was published in 1977 in the volume Essays in Labour History 1918-1939 edited by Asa Briggs and John Savile. During the Twenties, the scale of unemployment benefit increased dramatically: compared with November 1920, the amount drawn by a man with a dependent wife and two children had risen 240 per cent in real terms by May 1931. But the ...

Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians 
edited by John Cannon, R.H.C. Davis, William Doyle and Jack Greene.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £39.95, September 1988, 9780631147084
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Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian, 1772-1794 
by Patricia Craddock.
Johns Hopkins, 432 pp., £19, February 1989, 0 8018 3720 0
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Gibbon: Making History 
by Roy Porter.
Palgrave, 187 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 312 02728 1
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Macaulay 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Trafalgar Square, 160 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 9780297794684
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Acton 
by Hugh Tulloch.
Trafalgar Square, 144 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 297 79470 1
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... to currently eminent scholars read rather like reports from less-than-overwhelmed referees. Asa Briggs is dismissed in a few lines; David Landes is damned with the faint praise of ‘considerable literary skills and a certain old-fashioned rhetoric’; and Lord Dacre is rapped on the knuckles for failing to write a big book on the ...

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