HEYDAY brings to life one of the most extraordinary periods in modern history. From 1851, in the space of little more than a decade, the world was reshaped by technology, trade, mass migration and war. As instantaneous electric communication bridged the vast gulfs that separated human societies, millions of settlers travelled to the far corners of the Earth, building vast cities out of nothing in lightning-quick time. A new generation of fast steamships and railways connected these burgeoning frontier societies, shrinking the world and creating an interlinked global economy.
In the company of fortune-seekers and ordinary migrants, we journey to these rapidly expanding frontiers, savouring the frenetic activity and optimism of the boom-towns of the 1850s in Australia, New Zealand the United States. This is a story not only of rapid progress, but of the victims of an assurgent West: indigenous peoples who stood in the pathways of economic expansion, Asian societies engulfed by the forces of modernisation. We join, among others, Muslim guerrilla fighters in the Caucasus mountains and freelance empire-builders in the jungles of Nicaragua, British free trade zealots preying on China and samurai warriors resisting Western incursions in Japan. No less important are the inventions, discoveries and technologies that powered progress, and the great engineering projects that characterised the Victorian heyday, notably the transatlantic telegraph cable.
In a fast-paced, kaleidoscopic narrative, Ben Wilson recreates a time of explosive energy and dizzying change, a rollercoaster ride of booms and bust, witnessed through the eyes of the men and women reshaping its frontiers. At the centre stands Great Britain. The country was the peak of its power between 1851 and the mid-1860s as it attempted to determine the destinies of hundreds of millions of people. HEYDAY is a dazzlingly innovative take on a period of extraordinary transformation, a little-known decade that was fundamental in the making not only of Britain but of the modern world.