Sunday 23 September 2012

Pandemonium 1660-1886 by Humphrey Jennings - Book Review

Title: Pandemonium 1660-1886: The Coming of the Machine as seen by Contemporary Observers
Author: Humphrey Jennings
Publisher: Icon Books
Publication Date: 4th October 2012 (1985)
Pages: 455
Format: E-Book - EPUB
Non-Fiction / History
Source: ARC via NetGalley


An extraordinary history of how the human imagination experienced the Industrial Revolution.

Collecting texts taken from letters, diaries, literature, scientific journals and reports, Pandæmonium gathers a beguiling narrative as it traces the development of the machine age in Britain.

Covering the years between 1660 and 1886, it offers a rich tapestry of human experience, from eyewitness reports of the Luddite Riots and the Peterloo Massacre to more intimate accounts of child labour, Utopian communities, the desecration of the natural world, ground-breaking scientific experiments, and the coming of the railways.

Humphrey Jennings, co-founder of the Mass Observation movement of the 1930s and acclaimed documentary film-maker, assembled an enthralling narrative of this key period in Britain’s national consciousness. The result is a highly original artistic achievement in its own right.

Thanks to the efforts of his daughter, Marie-Louise Jennings, Pandæmonium was originally published in 1985, and in 2012 it was the inspiration behind Danny Boyle’s electrifying Opening Ceremony for the London Olympic Games. Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote the scenario for the ceremony, contributes a revealing new foreword for this edition.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

I finished this book with mixed views. On the one hand it contained some fascinating accounts of daily life and early experiences of technology. But on the other hand, some passages felt too long and dragged. In addition, a number of pictures and illustrations are referred to at the start of the book, but only a handful showed up on my Kobo. I am unsure if this was an issue with the way the book displayed on my e-reader or due to the fact it was an ARC copy and maybe not all images had been put in place yet. Either way, it did make the book feel like a solid lump of text without much breaking the passages up, making it feel heavy-going at times.

I think this is a book that offers interesting snippets when dipped into, opening a page at random, but as a book to read from cover to cover, it varies between dullness and fascination.

For those with a great interest in this period and in the Industrial Revolution, this book will be a good reference point, but I would probably not recommend it to the casual reader.

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