*The Transformation of the World*

The author is Jürgen Osterhammel and the subtitle is A Global History of the Nineteenth Century.  The book’s home page is here.  Piketty’s tome is French and this one is…um…German.  Very German.  Translated from the German.  Imagine a 1165 pp. German Braudel-like take on the importance of the 19th century and here you go.

I was expecting a review copy but I saw a bookstore which put it out prematurely and so I spent $40 to give you all advance notice and read it sooner myself.  That is an endorsement of sorts, but also a confession of my own weak discipline.

So far I am on p.44 and I plan to continue.  I learned for instance that:

In continental Europe, Norway was the first country to have a free press (from 1814); Belgium and Switzerland joined it around 1830, and Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands by 1848.

My final verdict is not yet in, but I suppose the bottom line is that I expect to have a final verdict.


To paraphrase Vonnegut, where are the castles now?

My own 19th century favorite history book is Paul Johnson's "The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830".

I ordered this book from Amazon last week, but I haven't received it yet.

Depends how free press is defined.

In Ancient Greece, an element of rhetoric called parrhesia allowed speakers, playwrights etc to comment freely. In the absence of a printing press, this was largely how news was disseminated.

Though as Socrates discovered there were limits. As I'm sure there were if you considered mocking the Norwegian king.

Why so sure?

The king supported Napoleon, a tyrant. This support caused norway to be ceded to sweden in 1814.

The public opposition to Swedish rule may have led to a rambunctious press against the swedes but I'm doubtful it was free to criticize a supporter of a would-be dictator of Europe.

My final verdict is not yet in, but I suppose the bottom line is that I expect to have a final verdict.


I'm pretty sure Denmark-Norway had full press freedom for a bit in the 1790s

Andrew Jackson allegedly found future US President James Buchanan so annoying that he nominated Buchanan as US ambassador to Russia (well, not ambassador because in the 19th century only Great Powers exchanged representatives with the rank of ambassador and the US was not yet a great power...but the equivalent of the modern term ambassador).

While Buchanan was in Russia, there is a well-worn story that the Tsar summoned him and asked him to explain why US newspapers were saying bad things about the Tsar. He then asked Buchanan to tell Andrew Jackson to tell the newspapers to stop saying bad things about the Tsar. This is often used as an example of how the concept of "free press" was unthinkable in Russia at the time. Buchanan of course protested that in America, the President does not control the press and newspapers are free to print what they wish.

One wrinkle...in the Jacksonian era, many newspapers (including the one that happened to be trashing the Tsar) were controlled by political parties. Controlled in a very transparent way. Everybody knew that the Daily Globe, owned by Democratic operative Amos Kendall, was a shill for the Jacksonian Democrats. Kendall was part of Jackson's kitchen cabinet, and when the Democrats controlled Congress they would give Kendall and his press the contract for printing official Congressional documents. When the Whigs took over Congress, that contract was transfered to the National Intelligencer, a newspaper that printed all the pro-Whig news fit to print. Future Whig president Millard Fillmore owned his own paper, the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, that futhered his own political career. Everybody knew about these things, so you knew what you were buying when you bought the Intelligencer or the Globe.

Perhaps the Tsar actually knew more than we give him credit for. Andrew Jackson DID have a lot of say over what went into the papers (or at least half of them). Not as President, but as leader of the Democrats.

In the 18th century American newspapers were controlled by or allied with factions. Nothing has changed in that regard. Today, news outlets are mostly tied to one party or the other.

What's new is the pretension of objectivity. Nobody buying newspapers in 1836 would have expected objective journalism.

"In continental Europe, Norway was the first country to have a free press (from 1814); "-

Norway exists as an independent country since 1905.

Norway had home rule under a personal union of thrones with Sweden long before 1905.

From 1814, to be precise, when their constitution was ratified (presumably including a free press).

Strange, I read recently on MR that freedom was only born in England.
Even got insulted when I suggested that things could be a little bit more complicated than that.
Ah those Germans. Only thinking with their narrow continental point of view, not seeing the absolute uniqueness and greatness of England!

Note that it is the first countries having freedom press in CONTINENTAL europe. England had it earlier -- so did the US.

If I believe Wikipedia: "Freedom of Press laws were first passed in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1539."
That's the thing with Europe, it is almost impossible to find a "first". People claiming to be the first to anything in Europe are usually nationalist biggots.

Tyler Cowen thinks that spending $40 to read early a 1000+ page tome on 19th century history is proof of his weak discipline.

*shrug, I find this stuff fun to read as well.

Robert Paul Wolff has been writing a review -- three blog postings so far -- on the book

Robert Paul Wolff has a review of Piketty’s book not of Osterhammel's.

Vot meenz "Very German"?

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