The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century

In This Review

The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century
by Jürgen Osterhammel. Translated by Patrick Camiller
Princeton University Press, 2014
1,192 pp. $39.95
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In this sweeping panorama, Osterhammel captures the dramatic shifts in how people lived and understood life during the nineteenth century. The world was exploding with new ways to communicate, record the past, and conceive of reality: libraries, museums, exhibitions, encyclopedias, novels, opera, newspapers, photography, time zones. People could now see themselves as the occupants of a particular location on earth and also as members of societies with understandable pasts and predictable futures. Rather than present a unified grand narrative, Osterhammel offers a rich “global history” of the century, one that features the West prominently but avoids Eurocentrism with vivid portraits of non-Western peoples and societies. The nineteenth century was a time of global empire building and transcontinental wars, of course, and so war and statecraft loom large in this story—but so, too, does everyday life. Behind all the details lurks a critical question: What was the main force that propelled the nineteenth century forward? Was it capitalism, nationalism, revolution, internationalism, modernity, or some other source of change? Osterhammel resists giving a simple answer, emphasizing instead the almost infinite complexity of the material and ideological forces that were at work.