This book is worth buying for chapter one alone. This paints a word picture of the lives of the aristocratic rulers of Britain in the last decades of the nineteenth century, at the peak of Victorian imperial power. It is sympathetic in tone, full of individual anecdote, and at times very funny.
Much of the book is just as good, with a close look at US politics at the time, the conditions and ideas that gave rise to the anarchists and international socialists, and the madness that engulfed French politics during the Dreyfus affair. The realistic cynicism in the description of the Hague peace conferences is brilliantly done and gives a strong sense of why the era eventually collapsed into the horror and violence of the Great War. The German chapter and the story of the tangled politics of the 'welfare' parliament are rather slower, but worth the listen.
An excellent demonstration of how individual decisions and historical trends can combine to produce radical, and unpredictable, social and political changes. The book is relevant to the current debate between those who on the one side believe in historical necessity and those who believe in the power of human will to produce "hope and change."
This book, like all of Tuchman's popular histories, is sweeping, interesting for general readers, and easy to understand without being pedantic or shallow. What I've always liked about Tuchman -- her knack for analyzing the root causes of events without losing the colour and passion of individual lives -- is evident here, though somewhat less technically-adept than her brillian medieval history 'A Distant Mirror'.
However, this particular Audible.com edition is marred by the precious upper-class accent of the narrator. Listening to Tuchman's descriptions of English aristocratic privelege in the tones of a girl's private school matron is slightly annoying, but as this lengthy book progresses through chapters on American politics, popular culture and social mores, and the coming Great War, it becomes positively off-putting. I particularly dislike the narrator's tendency to put on goofy foreign accents when reading quotations by the characters Tuchman discusses (GB Shaw in drole Irish brogue, Petr Kropotkin in absurd Russian growl, and so on).
This book is a great value at the price, but sample the reader's voice before you buy.
I read her book, A Distant Mirror, many years ago and found it very interesting. I have listened to many audio books and this was by far the hardest one I've tried to get through. I love history but this was dull and many of the words were in a foreign language without explanation. I tried but finally gave up with only an hour left to go.
Alas, I can hear about every other word in most sentences. I had to give up. I would try again with a different narrator.