The Nineteenth Century

David Cannadine writes:

Asa Briggs has just produced three new books. This piece of information is made even more remarkable by the fact that he has published 26 already. Admittedly, there are some, like How they lived, 1700-1815 and They saw it happen, 1897-1940, which are largely collections of contemporary documents, and which have merely been awarded Briggs’s benediction. And others, like The 19th Century, which has just been reissued, and Essays in Labour History, are edited volumes, to which he has contributed only a chapter and an introduction. But the majority are authentic works by his own hand: textbooks, like The Age of Improvement; scholarly books, like Victorian People and Victorian Cities; picture books, like The Power of Steam and Ironbridge to Crystal Palace; bestsellers, like A Social History of England; and multi-volume blockbusters, like The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom. While lesser historians fiddle over footnotes, Briggs dashes off reviews; while they ruminate over reviews, he completes articles; while they agonise over articles, he manufactures books; and while they bother over books, he produces multi-volume works. As befits his position as the pre-eminent authority on Victorian England, Briggs has often been described as a steam-engine scholar, pounding along the tracks of historical endeavour like an express train at full throttle.

(LRB 6 June 1985)