*Heyday: Britain and the Birth of the Modern World*

That is the new book by Ben Wilson, and no it has nothing (directly) to do with Brexit.  Rather it is a survey of the technological breakthroughs of the 1850s and how they reshaped Great Britain and the globe more generally.  Here is one short bit:

Japan may have secluded itself from the rest of the world, but it had not closed itself off.  That was a distinction that people in the West were slow to grasp.  The shogun’s court subscribed to the Illustrated London News, for example, and the bakufu had acquired books and papers detailing global politics and scientific discoveries through their Dutch and Chinese trading partners.  This knowledge was strictly regulated, but the seeds of scientific enlightenment were diffused in small numbers across the archipelago.  Perry did not know it — and nor did many Japanese — but his telegraph was not the first on Japanese soil.

Other parts of this book which I enjoyed were on the Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1859, how the British saw a connection between the U.S. Civil War, and the origins of Reuters.

If you want a new Brexit-relevant title of interest, try Brendan Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation.



One data point. The Bessemer steel making process was patented in 1855.

I was amazed at how crucial British citizens were to the industrialization of Japan, when I was traveling there. Kirin beer for example, was originally started by the same man that helped Mitsubishi go from a clan to a multinational corporate entity.

It's not the Polish plumbers. yes they may create economic pain by competing for jobs but they will integrate in time. It's the fear of Muslim immigration. Leaving the EU won't solve this problem per se but it's sending the message. 56 percent of British people think Islam poses a "major" or "some" threat to Western liberal democracy.


I deeply oppose to banning people based on their creed of ethnic background but it would useful to remind people that Pakistan and MENA are not part of continental Europe... as far as I know, EU did not determine UK's visa policies with non-EU members...

As you said, leaving EU will solve unless they have draconian visa police to implement and feared EU would erupt in shock, I wonder what's that.

The UK has long had open all-but-open-borders with Commonwealth nations. This is the source of most of Britain Muslim immigration. Brexit also will not change that.

"connection between the U.S. Civil War, and the origins of Reuters."

Why is there a comma after War?

I assumed he meant "connection between the U.S. Civil War and the English Civil War . . ."

Skimming an Amazon preview, I think it should probably read "how the British saw a connection between the U.S. Civil War [and the Taiping Rebellion]."

The Englishman, usually, is a feudal lackey, completely lacking in integrity and courage. One of the best things my forefathers did was leaving the country, and one of the best things we, Brazilians, did was to retake Trindade, our Falklands, from the Perfidious Albion.

Agree as to the English, though whether a horde of campesinos following worshipfully after some tinpot caudillo constitutes an improvement, let history judge.

Maybe, but Brazilians don't have caudillos. As the Anthem of Proclamation of the Republic says,
"Brazil sprang forth already free,

Standing above the purple vestments of royalty.

So then, forward Brazilians!

May we shining harvest green laurels!

May our country be triumphant,

A free land of free brothers!"
If countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan folliw dictators is because its peoples were never educated for freedom and self-rule by their English masters.

And for every Zimbabwe and Sudan , isn't there an India ?
Those ruled by Britain , despite all the negatives,remain members of the Commonwealth.
How much better than Portugal , which refused to leave India even 13 years after India;s independence and had to be threatened militarily?

India? Portugal left Africa only in 1975 after a decade and a half of war...

India was a British colony-- remember Nemo (he was to be an exiled Pole, but Verne's France and Russia were close allies then). Anyway, I am told in good authority that one day India and other British colonies will have running water. That will be the day.

Brazil was a military dictatorship until 1985.

Dictatorship under which fewer people died than under the Civil Rights struggles in America. We never treated our own citizens as Americans treated the Blacks, and we surely have nothing like Antietam or firebombing Tokyo or state terror against the Filipinos in our past. Brazil is among the few countries that never fought an aggression war. Brazilian moral superiority is umistakable. It is written, Brazil's flag is a pavilion of justice and love!" ( Brazilian Flag Anthem). No one will ever be able to say the same about the Stars and Strips or the Union Jack. We cornered the righteousness market.

Brazil lacks the social capital to launch a large-scale invasion or to mount sufficient popular resistance to elicit mass repression. They require too much cooperation. You don't get credit for abstaining from crimes you're physically incapable of committing.

This is stupid. Brazil has had enough social capital to crush the Paraguayan aggressor, the Argentinian aggressor, the Uruguayan aggressor and to repel the French aggressor, the Spanish aggressor and the British aggressor and the Southern separatists and the Northeastern separatists.

I'm reminded of when people say that Europeans are particularly warlike or have historically had an especially warlike culture. It seems much more likely to me that Europe was just the first part of the world in which states developed the size, organizational capital, and logistics/technology needed to fight war on a large scale. If most of the rest of the world was organized into tribes and every now and then two tribes would meet up and throw spears at each other, is that any less warlike?

The English also invented football (soccer) but you sure couldn't tell from today's horrible performance as the Brexit Boyz lost to Iceland 2-1 and are now out of the Euros.

Another connection to nationalism....if the UK fielded a team instead of splitting their talents among 4 separate national teams maybe they'd do better in international soccer.

They would have had Gareth Bale who probably would have done much better than any of the other attacking players. Amazing that the English Premier League which is the richest of all in the world cannot produce better home grown players.

"Amazing that the English Premier League which is the richest of all in the world cannot produce better home grown players."
If will to spend money on stupid prestige things were to determine to set soccer's hierarchy, China would be the sport's sole superpower. Also, why should tge richest league have better home grown players, when they can hire the best international talent available?! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_foreign_Premier_League_players Americans don't make shoes, why should the Englishman play soccer?

Maybe the EU should do the same thing!

Agreed! Either go whole hog US of E or split up.

Really, we should just have one team...

Mankind should have just one team.

Could still probably lose to US of SAmerica.

Germany 7 - Brazil 1

Yet Brazil is the only country ever to win five World Cups-- not to mention the fact that we were cheated in 1954, 1978, 1966, 1982, 1990 and 1998.

But hey, the Germans beat Argentina for the World Cup - at least the Brasilians had something to celebrate.

This is true. A lesser evil, at least. On one hand, one of these countries has a dark past of Fascist tyranny under a mad dictator and bullying its neighbors and is inhabitated by insufferable individuals barking others to those they think to be inferior peoples. On the other hand, the other one is Germany.

David Mitchell's 2010 historical novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" is set on the artificial island in Nagasaki Harbor to which Dutch traders were confined. The interactions between the Dutch and Japanese are mildly interesting, but the book picks up excitement when an English sea captain appears in the last third in a fictionalized version of the British raid on Nagasaki in 1808. Mitchell gives a fascinating inside view of the real-time decision making process of a master and commander in the age of sail. Now that the Horatio Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin sea stories are over, Mitchell ought to consider writing a full length sea story.

Brexit strikes again : " Iceland shocks England 2-1 at Euro 2016"

Hah, obviously well, uh, that's only the supremacy of Iceland's wholesome non-EU status pitted against the rot of England in the EU. ;) The other Nords, those in the EU, were far too rotted from within to even get to Euro 2016.

That the English contributed so much to the modern world means that the English automatically are Punching Down.

England contributed so much because they were nicer to their geniuses than other countries. The Channel, which allowed England to worry less about common enemies, is the reason the rich and powerful of England let their geniuses be geniuses without looking at them askance for not turning more of their talents towards military problems. Unfortunately for posterity, even stubborn loveless Leonardo often worked for the defense contractors of his day, and the great Raphael and Michelangelo both worked for much of their lives for the Roman equivalents of dreary four star Pentagon generals. Imagine if they had been born in England, how any one of them could have painted a breathtakingly beautiful Rosalind in a nightingale-haunted moonlight glade (leaving poor Mona Lisa in the shade) or a happy Hamlet climbing for the first time the Northern stairs to the battlements, his noble spaniels happily climbing with him under the starlight...


"England contributed so much because they were nicer to their geniuses than other countries"

Probably not.

For better or worse, “nicer to their geniuses” does not account for England's great and early progress. The key step forwards was (and remains) technology, or stated more simply, the “steam engine”. Of course, the original steam engine (Watt’s engine) is of little importance today. However, the steam engine’s progeny, gasoline engines, diesel engines, steam turbines, gas turbines, and water turbines drive the world and make possible the relative prosperity we enjoy today.

Why did the steam engine take off first in the UK? Geology, not politics ruled. The UK was unique in having many, geographically distributed coal seams located close to the surface (or even outcropping along hillsides). That made possible large scale coal utilization as early as 1200 AD. By 1500 AD coal already supplied a significant fraction of the UK’s energy. By 1700 AD coal accounted for half of all of the energy consumed in the UK.

The broad geographic extent of the UK’s coal seams gave rise to large-scale, distributed consumption of coal. However, the coal deposits closest to the surface were quickly depleted. Plenty of coal existed at greater depths (100 feet back then), but water tended to fill the mines. The first “steam engine”, Thomas Savery’s “Miner’s Friend” was invented in 1698 to pump out coal mines. It was quickly superseded by the Newcomen (Thomas Newcomen) engine in 1712.

Much later, in 1765, a canny Scott by the name of James Watt devised a new and improved steam engine. His new steam engine triggered (along with many other factors as well) an industrial and economic revolution that has transformed the world beyond imagination. Global economic output is perhaps 500+ times higher now than in 1765.

Why did this happen in the UK (rather than China or in Europe)? Coal mining took off first in the UK because of Geology, not politics. Once coal mining took off, clever folks sought to improve the mines and/or use the coal. Did politics play a role? Here is a clue. James Watt’s business partner and financier was Matthew Boulton. How did Matthew Boulton go about making money from the steam engine? He obtained patent monopolies from parliament from 1775 to 1800. In that sense, politics played a significant role. However, Europe had patents as well.

Stated simply, the great prosperity that we enjoy from the steam engine and its progeny, are not the product of politics or because the UK was "nicer to their geniuses". They are derived from Geology and the suppression of liberty (via patents and the like).

If Leonardo was born in England, he would have ended up working for Henry VIII...

Up to a point, Lord Copper. In any event, hard to see Leonardo's parents, had they been born English, hooking up again after their embarrassingly failed attempts at emotional connection at the junior prom, or whatever was the equivalent of a junior prom in those not-so-long-ago days. No chemistry between Mom and Dad, no little Leonardo, and the home counties get what they get from those awkward memories, and nothing more. Just another sad fact about this world we live in and the unforgiving genetic structure of hereditary genius, although maybe we should not forget to balance that sad fact against the bigger fact of what Wodehouse in his most innocent mode liked to call "Joy in the Morning".

I think we should let everyone voice an opinion before we collectively make up our minds about what is right or wrong. Sorry, but it's just how I feel...

The remarkable thing is not that the Japanese elites had access to foreign information. It is that Japanese society quickly made use of these ideas in the late 19th century. After all Chinese elites had access to Western innovations but were slow to see them diffused in industry (e.g. silk). Even today, the North Korean elites have cell phones, the internet etc. But that won't mean that North Korea will leapfrog any of its Asian neighbors in the next 25 years as Japan did in the late 1800s.

In most countries, access and even use of advanced ideas are not often matched by social institutions allowing quick diffusion and further innovation.

Other non-Western countries had modernization plans similar to the 19th Century Japanese, but most failed. For example, the Albanian dictator of Egypt in the 1820s, Muhammad Ali, tried to industrialize cotton weaving using British technology. He was a ruthless, serious guy, but he couldn't pull it off.

I vaguely suspect that the printing press, not the steam engine, was the key. The Japanese had a big printing industry in the 18th Century, with all sorts of top artists like Hokusai working with the mass media, but the Muslim world mostly didn't like printing presses. So the Japanese were able to catch up to Western learning fast, but the Muslims were much slower.


The Muslim world was somewhat unique in rejecting the printing press for so long (while allowing Christian and Jewish minorities to operate their own presses). The rest of the world (including Asia) didn't object to the printing press.

Only Japan was able to transform itself in a generation after the Meji Restoration. See "The Making of Modern Japan" by Marius B. Jansen. This book was recommended by MR, by the way.

As for Egypt... Egypt still can't industrialize. See "Learning to Speak Lingerie" by Peter Hessler (who I indirectly, but not directly, know) in the New Yorker. This (rather good) article was also mentioned in MR.

The Japanese literacy rate was 40% at the start of Meiji in 1868. Around 80% of Americans were literate then but education reforms during Meiji raised the Japanese rate to 80% as well by 1910.

In other news, I'm looking forward to the release next month of We Happy Few.

(For those who don't know, it's a survival game set in an isolated, heavily regulated 60s England where being unhappy and not forgetful will earn the wrath of the populace.)

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