As the second book in the Pax Britannica series, this one covers the Victorian Era at its peak of Empire just as the title suggests. As with the first, it’s less about the direct through-line of history and more about the people, attitudes, and social expectations of the age. Books like this make it very difficult to condemn the “wrongness” of social disasters without also appreciating the “rightness” in the ideals of the most noble of the age. It’s hard to have one without the other. These were a proud people who felt they were answering the call to destiny, and as such that proverbial road to hell was paved very well indeed. Some of the age were so noble that it inspires one to wonder what could have been had the greed and racism that so defined that era had been socially condemned in the minds of the masses as much as it had been in Queen Victoria herself. Perchance to dream, and such is the very romanticism that captures the imagination of that time.
The anecdotes paint very real portraits of the colorful characters involved, and it is through these that the stereotypes and social trends of the age are examined, supported, refuted, and otherwise challenged both in mind and at heart. We see the wide spectrum of thought and deed, poking holes in the oversimplifications of history, and for many like myself with a mind towards the curious, these stories will likely open doors to new rabbit holes worthy of exploration.
As before, Roy McMillan’s narration serves very well. He manages to capture the pomposity and the insecurity of the peoples discussed, connecting the reader with an age that, while not too distant from our own and similar in many regards, seems so far and otherwise alien to us as to be relegated to the realms of fantasy. There is a humanity in this series that author and narrator combined bring forth, making it a win as far as I’m concerned.