Book in the news: Rees-Mogg’s mind-bogglingly banal work of self-promotion

Cover of The Victorians by Jacob Rees MoggThe Victorians

Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain
Jacob Rees-Mogg
WH Allen (£20)
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Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, well known for his traditional views on contemporary issues, here attempts to provide “a reassuring narrative of past British greatness through the lives of 11 men and one woman”, says Kim Wagner in The Observer. These “titans” include the “usual suspects” – Palmerston, Pugin, Gladstone and Disraeli – who are “entirely defined by the fact that they were first and foremost Victorians whose every thought and action was representative of what the author takes to be particular ‘Victorian’ virtues”.

This claims to be a work of history, but it is more self-promotion, says AN Wilson in The Times. Rees-Mogg’s determination to draw parallels with the present means that “Peel’s decision to abolish the corn laws becomes a parable about the European Research Group’s patriotic decision to face down the Tory wets”. Similarly, the constitutional lawyer Albert Dicey is included solely because he thought he could stop home rule by an appeal to the “people” via a referendum.

It is “mind-bogglingly banal”, says Dominic Sandbrook in The Sunday Times. Rees-Mogg’s “potted biographies” lack detail, and are not even interesting to read as he makes “no effort to create a sense of colour, incident or momentum”. Even the “recondite classical allusions, florid turns of phrase [and] witty asides in Latin” that you might expect are absent. There “have been many books on the Victorians, but surely none as badly written” as this.