The Age of Optimism opened with the revolutionary barricades of 1848 and closed with the assassination of Sarajevo. In between these bulwarks of violence, a good deal of social change --religious, political, artistic -- took place, and James Laver has whipped up a frilly, anecdotal commentary, delivered with once-over-lightly erudition, gassy moralizing (""If a journal, in the process of denouncing vice, vastly increases its circulation, is it not itself sharing in the profits of vice?""), and the pearly tones of a cultural historian imagining he's a man of the world. Laver is well read in his subject -- largely the manners of Victorian England, with glances at the Continental whirl and Comstockery in America -- but since this basically amounts to little more than cataloguing the various pieties and pretensions and scandals of the time, all in the guise of serious inquiries re Poverty and Prostitution, the Emancipated Woman, or the Crises of the Churches (Darwinism, like everything else, bobs brightly by), one eventually becomes quite bored. The numerous extracts from relevant documents are often enlightening, and the excellent illustrations appropriately amusing and pointed. Nevertheless, an age which produced Nietzsche and Marx deserves more than this scholarly dance of social phenomena.