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What the Victorians Did for Us


Publisher:Headline Book Publishing



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About the book:

It's tempting to think that the high-tech world we live in today was built in the 20th century. But as What the Victorians Did for Us establishes, the groundwork was laid by "the speed merchants, inventors, pioneers and products" of Victorian Britain. Having told us What the Romans Did For Us (central heating and straight roads for two), Adam Hart-Davis is now doing the same for the Victorians in his new BBC2 series. This companion piece is bubbling over with his enthusiasm for the people, the places and especially the inventions of this fertile century. These were the people who removed the scourge of cholera from UK cities--in the process constructing the first modern sewage systems. They drove railways across the nation--making it a truly United Kingdom and standardising clocks across the country for the first time. And before Queen Victoria's death in 1901 they were extracting magic from the very air--developing the telephone, telegraph and X-rays. But if their story is one of enormous engineering tasks, such as London's sewage system and Underground--they were creators of small wonders too. New rubber processes brought snooker tables and tennis balls to the sport-loving British; they developed the first chilled drinks. And while they were building the largest empire the world had ever seen, an enterprising businessman called Thomas Cook was inventing the package holiday.

The book divides into chapters on transport and speed; the emergence of modern science and medicine; the building of Empire; the growth of leisure, holidays and the theatre; the development of modern sports such as football, rugby and tennis; and the emergence of social mobility and the self-made millionaire. Such an industrious era had its misses too--an early ice- cream maker that required hours of manual pumping never caught on, nor did ivory false teeth that had to be held in place by painful and unreliable springs. But Hart-Davis romps through successes and failures with equal energy and glee. A consummate storyteller, he brings back to life a generation of Britons setting out on a journey of discovery--and for whom all things seemed possible.--John Rennie

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