‘The Transformation of the World’, by Jürgen Osterhammel. Review by David Cannadine. High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article.
Since this book runs to almost 1,000 pages of text, and includes more than 3,000 endnotes and a bibliography listing well over 3,000 items, it is impossible to do it full and adequate justice, even in a lengthy review such as this. Part monster-piece, part masterpiece, its limitations are inescapably those of the global history genre: from one perspective, the book is too long and too detailed; from another its coverage is very uneven, and subjects such as gender and culture receive inadequate attention; there is no treatment of the first world war, although the author insists that his 19th century did not end until the 1920s; readers expecting a clear chronology will be sorely disappointed; and there is a sense in which the whole never quite becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Yet the book’s merits also compel acclaim and admiration: it is a work of prodigious scholarship and astonishing authorial stamina; within the confines of the subject, it raises the study of global history to a new level of academic sophistication and geographical comprehensiveness; it abounds with memorable phrases and aphorisms, which betoken a lively and playful mind; and it offers wise and original insights about the many ways in which the 19th century made the world that we still, today, inhabit.