Fifteen books on Britain’s Industrial revolution

This reading list on Britain’s Industrial revolution complements Odyssey Travellers escorted small group tour that traces via the canal and railway network,  the evolution of this monumental change in global society. That evolution today is called the “Industrial revolution”.  This small group tour for mature & senior travellers interested in history visits the key locations that played a major part or made a substantial contribution to the Industrial revolution. You can read more about this this tour by following this link to the tour of Britain’s canals & railways.
There are of course many books published on the Industrial revolution. This is Odyssey’s  list that complements the tour. We look forward to receiving your suggestions as well in the comment box below.

1. The Railway – British Track Since 1804

by Andrew Dow
A comprehensive history been written of the track used by railways of all gauges, tramways, and cliff railways, in Great Britain. And yet it was the development of track, every bit as much as the development of the locomotive, that has allowed our railways to provide an extraordinarily wide range of services. Without the track of today, with its laser-guided maintenance machines, the TGV and the Eurostar could not cruise smoothly at 272 feet per second, nor could 2,000-ton freight trains carry a wide range of materials, or suburban railways, over and under the ground, serve our great cities in a way that roads never could.
Andrew Dow’s account of the development of track, involving deep research in the papers of professional institutions as well as rare books, company records and personal accounts, paints a vivid picture of development from primitive beginnings to modernity. The book contains nearly 200 specially-commissioned drawings as well as many photographs of track in its very many forms since the appearance of the steam locomotive in 1804.Included are chapters on electrified railways, and on the development of mechanised maintenance, which revolutionised the world of the platelayer.

2. Energy and the English Industrial Revolution

by E. A. Wrigley
The industrial revolution transformed the productive power of societies. It did so by vastly increasing the individual productivity, thus delivering whole populations from poverty.
In this new account by one of the world’s acknowledged authorities the central issue is not simply how the revolution began but still more why it did not quickly end. The answer lay in the use of a new source of energy.
Pre-industrial societies had access only to very limited energy supplies. As long as mechanical energy came principally from human or animal muscle and heat energy from wood, the maximum attainable level of productivity was bound to be low. Exploitation of a new source of energy in the form of coal provided an escape route from the constraints of an organic economy but also brought novel dangers. Since this happened first in England, its experience has a special fascination, though other countries rapidly followed suit.

3. The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (New Approaches to Economic and Social History)2009

by Robert C. Allen
Why did the industrial revolution take place in eighteenth-century Britain and not elsewhere in Europe or Asia?
Robert Allen argues that the British industrial revolution was a successful response to the global economy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He shows that in Britain wages were high and capital and energy cheap in comparison to other countries in Europe and Asia.
As a result, the breakthrough technologies of the industrial revolution – the steam engine, the cotton mill, and the substitution of coal for wood in metal production – were uniquely profitable to invent and use in Britain. The high wage economy of pre-industrial Britain also fostered industrial development since more people could afford schooling and apprenticeships. It was only when British engineers made these new technologies more cost-effective during the nineteenth century that the industrial revolution would spread around the world.

4. The Birth of the Chocolate City: Life in Georgian York

by Summer Strevens
Rowntree’s, a great name in chocolate  evolved from the humble retail beginnings of Mary Tuke, eighteenth-century mother of York’s chocolate industry.
This book explores how she was formative in shaping modern York as a city of confectionery manufacture, a city with a broader history in this industry than any other city in the UK. York emerged as the epicentre of an empire of competing chocolate kings. Strevens also insightfully reveals the impact that the development of York’s confectionery production had on the lives of the rich, the poor and ‘the middling sort’. This book  explores the growing social trends in the social capital of the North, such as chocolate and coffee houses, and the evolution of York as a destination for the ‘polite and elegant’.
An accessible and at times wry exploration of eighteenth-century York. This book vividly brings to life the sumptuous splendours and profound murkiness of the city at the time of its commercial emergence as the ‘Chocolate City’. Each chapter develops the detailed picture of what it must have been like to live in this city at the inception of York s most scrumptious of trades.

5. Walking Through Glasgow’s Industrial Past (Walk With Luath)

by Ian R Mitchell
Walking Through Glasgow’s Industrial Past sets out to retrieve the hidden architectural, cultural and historical riches of some of Glasgows working-class districts. Many who enjoy the fruits of Glasgows recent gentrification may be surprised and delighted by the gems which Ian Mitchell has uncovered beyond the usual haunts. Complete with maps of the areas covered, illustrations and photographs of Glasgow s industrial past, this guide presents the social history of a city.

6.The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane: The Story of the Carr’s Hill Murder

by Jane Housham
A Victorian Murder. A Victorian Madman. A Modern Judgement. Gateshead, April 1866 Five-year-old Sarah Melvin was walking along Split Crow Lane looking for her father when she disappeared.
Later that night a couple walking home from the pub tripped over her body. Sarah was the child of Irish immigrants who had been drawn to the North-east in search of work. Poor, perceived with prejudice, they quickly came under suspicion of killing their own child. The true murderer was a misfit whose social awkwardness stopped him ever rising above apprentice. He would eventually make clear exactly why he killed Sarah – and the reason would scandalise the whole country, yet to him had a dreadful logic. Told here for the first time, this is an extraordinary story of sexual deviance and murder, offering a chance to reassess a most unexpected judgement with new insight.
In lively, empathic prose, Jane Housham explores psychiatry, the justice system and the media in mid-Victorian England to reveal a surprisingly modern state of affairs.

7.The King Of Sunlight: How William Lever Cleaned Up The World

by Adam Macqueen
William Hesketh Lever – soap-boiler, social reformer, MP, tribal chieftain, multi-millionaire and Lord of the Western Isles – was one of the most extraordinary men ever to leave his mark on Britain.
Beliefs far ahead of their times – the welfare state, votes for women, workers’ rights – jostled in his mind with ideas that were fantastically bonkers – the world’s problems could be solved by moving populations from country to country, ballroom dancing could save the soul and the only healthy way to sleep was outdoors in the wind and the rain.
Adam Macqueen traces Lever’s footsteps from his humble Bolton boyhood to a business empire that straddled the world, visiting the homes and model towns from the Mersey to the Congo that still bear the mark – and often the name – of William Lever. It is a hilarious and touching journey that shines a spotlight on a world and a set of beliefs long gone.
The author asks several vital questions: where does philanthropy stop and social engineering begin? Is it right for an employer to dictate how his workers spend their weekends and hire private detectives to make sure they are doing it properly? Are the length of a lawn and the curve of a bannister of vital importance to the great scheme of things? And why would a multi-millionaire with half a dozen homes and property on four continents chose to sleep on the roof?

8. Canals: The Making of a Nation

by Liz McIvor
Canals hold a unique place in British culture, with associations of lazy summer afternoons, journeying through lush green countryside. But as Liz McIvor explains in the book to accompany her BBC series, the story of our canals is also the story of how modern Britain was born.
It was the canals that helped open up the trade of the Industrial Revolution, furthered the new science of geology, and even ushered in a new form of architecture. The legacy of our canals is all around us.
In Canals: The Making of a Nation, McIvor takes us on a journey across the network of English canals to tell a deeper story of how our waterways changed our lives. It’s a very modern tale, full of high finance and greedy investors, cheap labour and the struggle for workers’ rights, and new frontiers in family and child welfare. It’s a unique and compelling exploration of Britain’s golden age.

9. The Lighthouse Stevensons

by Bella Bathurst
Bella Bathurst’s epic story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ancestors and the building of the Scottish coastal lighthouses against impossible odds. ‘Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880. ‘When the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father!’
Robert Louis Stevenson was the most famous of the Stevensons, but not by any means the most productive. The Lighthouse Stevensons, all four generations of them, built every lighthouse round Scotland, were responsible for a slew of inventions in both construction and optics, and achieved feats of engineering in conditions that would be forbidding even today.
The same driven energy which Robert Louis Stevenson put into writing, his ancestors put into lighting the darkness of the seas. ‘The Lighthouse Stevensons’ is a story of high endeavour, beautifully told; indeed, is was one of the most celebrated works of historical biography in recent memory. ‘My own interest in the Lighthouse Stevensons is threefold. Firstly, from the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, who turned his family’s trade into the raw gold of all his best fiction. Secondly, from various trips around Scotland. The country’s coast is a mass of storm-beaten rocks and treacherous headlands on which even the seagulls have trouble landing. It is impossible not to speculate what combination of courage and skill built the lighthouses around such an environment. And thirdly, because somewhere in there, unrecognised and unsung, is the most wonderful story!’

9. Brunel: The Man Who Built the World

by Steven Brindle
A celebration of the life and engineering achievements of Isambard Kingdom Brunel by two of the world’s foremost authorities.
In his lifetime, Isambard Kingdom Brunel towered over his profession. Today, he remains the most famous engineer in history, the epitome of the volcanic creative forces which brought about the Industrial Revolution – and brought modern society into being.
Brunel’s extraordinary talents were drawn out by some remarkable opportunities. Above all his appointment as engineer to the new Great Western Railway at the age of 26 – but it was his nature to take nothing for granted, and to look at every project, whether it was the longest railway yet planned, or the largest ship ever imagined, from first principles.
A hard taskmaster to those who served him, he ultimately sacrificed his own life to his work in his tragically early death at the age of 53. His legacy, though, is all around us, in the railways and bridges that he personally designed, and in his wider influence. This fascinating new book draws on Brunel’s own diaries, letters and sketchbooks to understand his life, times, and work.

10. Iron, Steam & Money: The Making of the Industrial Revolution

by Roger Osborne
In late eighteenth-century Britain a handful of men brought about the greatest transformation in human history.
Inventors, industrialists and entrepreneurs ushered in the age of powered machinery and the factory, and thereby changed the whole of human society, bringing into being new methods of social and economic organisation, new social classes, and new political forces.
The Industrial Revolution also dramatically altered humanity’s relation to the natural world and embedded the belief that change, not stasis, is the necessary backdrop for human existence. Iron, Steam and Money tells the thrilling story of those few decades, the moments of inspiration, the rivalries, skulduggery and death threats, and the tireless perseverance of the visionaries who made it all happen. Richard Arkwright, James Watt, Richard Trevithick and Josiah Wedgwood are among the giants whose achievements and tragedies fill these pages.
In this authoritative study Roger Osborne also shows how and why the revolution happened, revealing pre-industrial Britain as a surprisingly affluent society, with wealth spread widely through the population, and with craft industries in every town, village and front parlour. The combination of disposable income, widespread demand for industrial goods, and a generation of time-served artisans created the unique conditions that propelled humanity into the modern world.
The industrial revolution was arguably the most important episode in modern human history; Iron, Steam and Money reminds us of its central role, while showing the extraordinary excitement of those tumultuous decades.

11. The Making of the English Working Class

by E. P. Thompson (1963)

A seminal text on the history of the working class by one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century.

During the formative years of the Industrial Revolution, English workers and artisans claimed a place in society that would shape the following centuries. But the capitalist elite did not form the working class—the workers shaped their own creations, developing a shared identity in the process. Despite their lack of power and the indignity forced upon them by the upper classes, the working class emerged as England’s greatest cultural and political force. Crucial to contemporary trends in all aspects of society, at the turn of the nineteenth century, these workers united into the class that we recognize all across the Western world today. E.P. Thompson’s magnum opus, The Making of the English Working Class defined early twentieth-century English social and economic history, leading many to consider him Britain’s greatest postwar historian. Its publication in 1963 was highly controversial in academia, but the work has become one of the most influential social commentaries every written.

12. The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850

by Joel Mokyr (2009)

This book focuses on the importance of ideological and institutional factors in the rapid development of the British economy during the years between the Glorious Revolution and the Crystal Palace Exhibition. Joel Mokyr shows that we cannot understand the Industrial Revolution without recognizing the importance of the intellectual sea changes of Britain’s Age of Enlightenment.

In a vigorous discussion, Mokyr goes beyond the standard explanations that credit  geographical factors, the role of markets, politics, and society to show that the beginnings of modern economic growth in Britain depended a great deal on what key players knew and believed, and how those beliefs affected their economic behavior. He argues that Britain led the rest of Europe into the Industrial Revolution because it was there that the optimal intersection of ideas, culture, institutions, and technology existed to make rapid economic growth achievable. His wide-ranging evidence covers sectors of the British economy often neglected, such as the service industries.

13. A Short History of the British Industrial Revolution

by Emma Griffin (2010)

Listen to author Emma Griffin discussing the British Industrial Revolution on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time

Why was the British industrial revolution such a pivotal event in world history?

This succinct introduction explains what the Industrial Revolution was, when exactly it occurred and why it happened in Britain first. Providing a clear and compelling synthesis of the latest research on industrialization, and illustrated with newspaper articles, photographs and graphs, the book is aimed at students without any prior knowledge.

Griffin assesses the best known explanations for the industrial revolution, and argues that industrialization is to be understood chiefly as the switch to a new source of fuel (coal) coupled with the emergence of new technologies. Situating British industrialisation in a global context, she evaluates what benefits, if any, the world’s first industrial revolution brought to the ordinary men and women whose labour made it happen.

14. The Condition of the Working Class in England

by Friedrich Engels (1845)

This, the first book written by Engels during his stay in Manchester from 1842 to 1844, is the best known and in many ways the most astute study of the working class in Victorian England. The fluency of his writing, the personal nature of his insights, and his talent for mordant satire all combiine to make Engels’s account of the lives of the victims of early industrial change an undeniable classic.

15. Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens (1861)

Considered by many to be Dickens’ finest novel, Great Expectations traces the growth of the book’s narrator, Philip Pirrip (Pip), from a boy of shallow dreams to a man with depth of character. From its famous dramatic opening on the bleak Kentish marshes, the story abounds with some of Dickens’ most memorable characters.

Among them are the kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery, the mysterious convict Abel Magwitch, the eccentric Miss Haversham and her beautiful ward Estella, Pip’s good-hearted room-mate Herbert Pocket and the pompous Pumblechook.

As Pip unravels the truth behind his own ‘great expectations’ in his quest to become a gentleman, the mysteries of the past and the convolutions of fate through a series of thrilling adventures serve to steer him towards maturity and his most important discovery of all – the truth about himself.

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