British historian and editor Waller contrasts the 18th century with the 21st in this radiant book. She sketches London at the turn of the 18th century--when the city, poised between two worlds, hosted remnants of the medieval world alongside harbingers of the empire that was to come. London in 1700, she notes, was both growing more modern--industry was thriving, trade was expanding and the country had its first constitutional monarchs--and, simultaneously, suffering from old troubles, including high mortality rates, poor drinking water and rampant, unchecked disease. Similarly, at the beginning of the 21st century, she suggests, we are wandering among the survivals of the age that's just ended and the precursors of a world whose outlines we cannot yet see. The resemblance between the two eras gives a piquancy to the text, but even if there were no such correspondence, there would still be a great deal to praise in this very fine book. Waller has mined the archival record for fascinating details of 18th-century British marriage and childbirth, disease and death, home and fashion, work and play, religion and vice, crime and punishment, and she includes an exhaustive bibliography. Although the book's chapters (grouped into such topics as childbirth, marriage and disease)--despite a plethora of vivid anecdotes--never really cohere into a unified narrative, this rigorous, informative and entertaining text deserves a wide readership. (May)
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