MAKERS OF MODERN ENGLAND: The Force of Individual Genius in History by Giovanni Costigan

MAKERS OF MODERN ENGLAND: The Force of Individual Genius in History

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In spite of the title which suggests a grade school text, this is a worthwhile book. Pitting Carlyle's dictum that history is but the biography of great men against the contemporary depreciation of the role of the individual in history, Costigan is clearly on the side of the ancients, without denying the complex, impersonal forces which shape events. He does not overstate his case but does anyone really doubt the force of individual genius in history? What he does--and does well--is to present a series of sketches designed to show how nine distinguished individuals profoundly affected the life of modern England through their attempts to realize ""the idea of the greatest happiness of the greatest number."" The profiles of Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill, Cardinal Newman, Disraeli, Gladstone, the Webbs, Lloyd George and Churchill emphasize personality rather than personal achievements or philosophy. Sometimes one regrets the emphasis on personality--is one to assume that the work of Carlyle is explicable in terms of his overindulgence in gingerbread? A greater attention to the history of ideas would have been welcome and might have offset the suspicion that the author's view of history is at times simplistic. Still it is a well written book which will fall midway between a popular and academic audience.

Publisher: Macmillan