Behemoth by Joshua B Freeman review – how factories changed the world

Ranging from 18th-century Derbyshire to 21st-century China, this study has a memorable fact or an intriguing thought on every page

The demise of the factory in the western world ranks high among the explanations for Brexit and Donald Trump. With it came the geographic isolation of the old factory lands from national prosperity, and the alienation of the former factory classes from the mainstream of British and American life. Furnaces lost their fires and smokestacks crashed to the ground. Industrial towns and cities grew ruinous – far too grand for the little business they now contained. People were poorer and felt that governments didn’t care.

The US lost roughly 5m manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2016, while the UK lost 619,000 from 2006 to 2016 – adding in each country to the millions that had vanished in the previous three or four decades. An idea of the future also disappeared. ...

The Debatable Land by Graham Robb review – the lost world between Scotland and England

The historian and biographer traverses perhaps the oldest national land boundary in Europe as he explores a once independent, and very bloody, territory

In 2010, the historian and biographer Graham Robb decided to leave his Oxford home for what he describes as “a lonely house on the very edge of England”, so close to the brink that Scotland begins where his land ends. This border, Robb suggests, is probably the oldest national land boundary in Europe, little changed in its course since William Rufus, son of the Conqueror, made Cumbria an English colony in 1092. It marches along the watershed of the Cheviot hills and the valley of the Tweed, a diagonal that strikes north-east from the Solway Firth until it reaches the North Sea just above Berwick: a political boundary that looks as though nature intended it, for most of the way.

Only at its western end is the ...

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist review – why the human race is heading for the fire

Paul Kingsnorth, a former green activist, thinks the environmental movement has gone wrong. He argues for ‘uncivilisation’ The future for humanity and many other life forms is grim. The crisis gathers force. Melting ice caps, rising seas, vanishing topsoil, felled rainforests, dwindling animal and plant species, a human population forever growing and gobbling and using everything up. What’s to be done? Paul Kingsnorth thinks nothing very much. We have to suck it up. He writes in a typical sentence: “This is bigger than anything there has ever been for as long as humans have existed, and we have done it, and now we are going to have to live through it, if we can.” Related: The lie of the land: does environmentalism have a future in the age of Trump? Continue reading...

Mail Men by Adrian Addison review – inside the Daily Mail’s sanctimony and vitriol

It was Britain’s first popular paper – and once supported Hitler – but this history is best on the Mail’s divisive current editor This summer Paul Dacre will have edited the Daily Mail for 25 years. No journalist has had a bigger influence on the behaviour of recent British governments, and few journalists at any time have been so disliked. Dacre, 68, is not just loathed by what he would call the “metropolitan liberal elite” – a phrase that encompasses the Guardian, the BBC and the judiciary – but also by a multitude of people that the Mail would celebrate as “ordinary”. These are people who detest the Mail’s sanctimony and vitriol, to say nothing of its long-lasting loyalty to the obdurate right of the Tory party, loyalty to Thatcher but not to Cameron, who in desperation during the run-up to last year’s referendum wanted Dacre’s owner, the fourth viscount ...

Mail Men by Adrian Addison review – inside the Daily Mail’s sanctimony and vitriol

It was Britain’s first popular paper – and once supported Hitler – but this history is best on the Mail’s divisive current editor This summer Paul Dacre will have edited the Daily Mail for 25 years. No journalist has had a bigger influence on the behaviour of recent British governments, and few journalists at any time have been so disliked. Dacre, 68, is not just loathed by what he would call the “metropolitan liberal elite” – a phrase that encompasses the Guardian, the BBC and the judiciary – but also by a multitude of people that the Mail would celebrate as “ordinary”. These are people who detest the Mail’s sanctimony and vitriol, to say nothing of its long-lasting loyalty to the obdurate right of the Tory party, loyalty to Thatcher but not to Cameron, who in desperation during the run-up to last year’s referendum wanted Dacre’s owner, the fourth viscount ...

Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain by Julian Glover review – the colossus of roads

This is an evocative biography of Britain’s greatest civil engineer, who can take the credit for much of the industrial revolution’s architectureTogether with victorious generals and admirals, self-made engineers were the heroes of Victorian Britain, exemplary figures to generations of schoolchildren, industrial apprentices and autodidacts. Writers such as Samuel Smiles established the public reputation of these men via popular biographies, in which incidents in childhood often prefigured their later triumphs. These accounts frequently simplified, bowdlerised and partly invented their subjects’ lives, but the fact remains that their achievements were truly remarkable. A modern biographer faces the challenge of complicating the hagiographic picture without accidentally diminishing its triumphant effect, and the first thing to say about Julian Glover’s biography of the civil engineer Thomas Telford is that, in this fundamental respect, it succeeds very well. Related: James Watt and the sabbath stroll that created the industrial revolution Continue reading...

The Marches by Rory Stewart review – farewell to an imperial class

Brian Stewart was a spy and British patriot, fond of tartan. As his son Rory walks the borderlands between England and Scotland he reflects on their relationship and its political contextsIt sometimes seemed to his son that Brian Stewart, once the second most powerful figure in the British intelligence services, was protesting his Scottishness too much. There had always been an enthusiasm for country dancing. In Kuala Lumpur, in between keeping an eye on the natives, he’d taught five-year-old Rory how to hop the steps of the Highland sword dance. Now, white-haired and rather frail, he wore tartan trews every day and spread a tartan blanket on his bed; he had lurcher called Torquil; next to the whisky on his desk lay oatcakes and a Gaelic dictionary; he ate porridge every morning and haggis twice a week. Hail Caledonia! But also: Rule Britannia! Scotland was a hobby, but Britain ...

Promised You a Miracle: UK 80-82 by Andy Beckett review – how today’s Britain was born in the early 80s

We are the product not just of Thatcherism but the ideas of those who opposed it. ‘It’s all gone wrong,’ Margaret Thatcher said in 1981. But then came the Falklands and everything changed

Andy Beckett’s proposition, in the second of his stimulating excursions into recent British history, is that the first three years of the 1980s made Britain the place it is. A profound change “as wide ranging and abrupt as any since the second world war” came over the country in those years, he writes. “And we are still living with the consequences – happily or otherwise.”

At first sight, this looks like a humdrum piece of conventional wisdom. We know, surely, that the big before-and-after division of the 70 years since 1945 arrived with Margaret Thatcher and her “-ism”: when the stuttering harmony of the postwar settlement (the last days of which Beckett evoked in his ...