From Publishers Weekly
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. (Nov.)
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*Starred Review* With the benefit of a century of hindsight, the decade before the outbreak of the Great War presents an eerie aura of inevitability, as if we are watching a coming deadly auto crash unfold in slow motion. Those who lived through those years lacked our advantage and had to live their lives while coping with the confusion and violence of a tumultuous era, as the massive cultural, political, and economic changes of the previous century began to bear fruit. As Blom illustrates, all of the factors that would lead to the horror of the war were evident by 1900, but few contemporaries truly understood them or anticipated the ruinous consequences. The industrialization of Europe had spurred rapid urban growth, social conflict, and dangerous competition for imperial conquests, especially in Africa. New technologies facilitated the growth of fearsome weapons and a pervading sense of paranoia in various nations’ military establishments. Long-repressed ethnic groups in central and southern Europe were infected with a particularly toxic form of nationalism. Blomis a superb writer who wisely unfolds his story year by year, so readers can gauge the growing intensity of these factors. We, of course, know how the story ends, but Blom succeeds in infusing this outstanding chronicle with drama, compassion, and poignancy. --Jay Freeman