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Declinism

David Edgerton

7 March 1996
The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities, 1945-50 
by Correlli Barnett.
Macmillan, 514 pp., £20, July 1995, 0 333 48045 7
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... The historiography of modern Britain is dominated by one issue – ‘decline’. The usual starting-point for discussion is the fact that Britain’s share of the world’s manufactured exports has fallen from about 25 per cent before the Great War to around 8 per cent today, although much of this has nothing at all to do with Britain. At their most extreme ‘declinists’ argue that Britain has been a second or third-rate nation since the 1870s ...

A Place for Hype

Edward Tenner: Old Technology

10 May 2007
The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 
by David Edgerton.
Profile, 270 pp., £18.99, January 2007, 978 1 86197 296 5
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... by Robert Merton: ‘If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.’ David Edgerton’s The Shock of the Old, with its ironic echoes of bestsellers by Robert Hughes and Alvin Toffler, is not an attack on innovation as such. Rather, it is a call for a new way of thinking about technological change, not as a sequence of ...

As the toffs began to retreat

Neal Ascherson: Declinism

22 November 2018
What We Have Lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain 
by James Hamilton-Paterson.
Head of Zeus, 360 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 1 78497 235 6
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The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A 20th-Century History 
by David Edgerton.
Allen Lane, 681 pp., £30, June 2018, 978 1 84614 775 3
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... its failure to maintain the extraordinary industrial and scientific leadership it once attained. David Edgerton’s book, the more academic of the two, is a brilliant and often very aggressive challenge to a set of assumptions about the recent past. James Hamilton-Paterson, still one of England’s most skilled and alluring prose writers in or out of ...

In the Soup

David Trotter: Air Raid Panic

8 October 2014
The Next War in the Air: Britain’s Fear of the Bomber, 1908-41 
by Brett Holman.
Ashgate, 290 pp., £70, June 2014, 978 1 4094 4733 7
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... appalling effect. The pronounced if uneven enlargement and sophistication during the 1930s of what David Edgerton terms Britain’s ‘warfare state’ has been extensively studied from a variety of angles, most recently in Richard Overy’s The Bombing War: Europe 1939-45, which includes an authoritative account of the evolution into doctrine of the ...

Fat Man

Steven Shapin: Churchill’s Bomb

26 September 2013
Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics 
by Graham Farmelo.
Faber, 554 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 0 571 24978 7
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... dog, and if you don’t love my dog you damn well can’t love me.’) In Britain’s War Machine, David Edgerton makes the plausible judgment that ‘no scientist ever had more influence in British history; and probably no academic either.’* The Churchill who decided these matters was almost always a Churchill-Lindemann hybrid. Decision-making with ...

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