The Birth of the Modern

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Beginning with an analysis of the “special relationship” that emerged between the United States and Britain after the War of 1812, Paul Johnson examines important events such as the Congress of Vienna, which provided a framework for modern nation-states; the emergence of Britain as the world’s policeman; revolutions in transportation, communications, and science; changing relationships between the sexes; the growth of independence movements around the globe; the development of new political and social philosophies; the emergence of the artist as a political activist; the impact of irrational monetary policies; and the ascendance of democracy as an ideal form of government. Though the establishment of the period he investigates may seem a bit arbitrary, Johnson has expanded his study beyond horizons normally fixed by historians, choosing to look not at a single country or region of the globe, but at the entire world as it changed during what the author considers crucial years of development. Hence, his study is a sweeping look at the way an idea in political thought or a change in technology can take hold of an age and transform peoples throughout the world.

Johnson’s basic conservatism underlies his portraits of both leaders and movements. He is harsh on radicals but generally sympathetic toward gradual reformers. THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN is both physically and intellectually large, and readers may have to spend considerable time and concentration following Johnson’s complex examination of the world in transition, but the effort should prove rewarding.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Science Monitor. July 23, 1991, p. 13.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. June 2, 1991, p. 9.

National Review. XLIII, June 24, 1991, p. 42.

The New Republic. CCV, August 12, 1991, p. 36.

New Statesman and Society. IV, September 20, 1991, p. 44.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, June 23, 1991, p. 3.

The New Yorker. LXVII, June 10, 1991, p. 112.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, May 3, 1991, p. 56.

The Times Literary Supplement. September 6, 1991, p. 12.

The Wall Street Journal. June 11, 1991, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, June 9, 1991, p. 1.