Sunday, April 26, 2015
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A Floating Commonwealth: Politics, Culture and Technology on Britain’s Atlantic Coast, 1860-1930

Christopher Harvie offers a new portrait of society and identity in high industrial Britain by focusing on the sea as connector, not barrier. Atlantic and 'inland sea' – from Cornwall to the Clyde – Harvie argues, together created a ‘floating commonwealth’ of port cities and their hinterlands whose interaction, both with one another and with nationalist and imperial politics, created an intense political and cultural synergy. At a technical level, this produced the freight steamer and the efficient new railways which opened up the developing world, as well as the institutions of international finance and communications in the age of "telegrams and anger." Ultimately, the resources of the Atlantic cities, their shipyards and engineering works, enabled Britain to withstand the test of the First World War.

Meanwhile, as Harvie shows, the continuous attempt to make sense of an ever-changing material reality also stimulated the discourses on which social criticism and literary modernism were based, from Thomas Carlyle to James Joyce, although the ultimate outcome – revolt in Ireland, slump and emigration -  would leave enduring problems in the years to come.

"The book is a celebration of the Scottish technological intellect and the inland sea that linked the west coast of Britain. It was a hugely successful collaboration between English capital and Scottish brains and really made Britain great. It is intoxicating stuff." - Iain Macwhirter, Sunday Herald

"the tremendous wit and humour of Harvie's writing.... Then there is Harvie's scholarship and his seemingly limitless knowledge of all sorts of areas of historical inquiry" - Bill Knox, Times Literary Supplement

"Harvie is especially good at selecting an economic or artistic personality, and using his furiously allusive scholarship to place them at the heart of historical change." - Pat Kane, The Independent

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