History is the essence of innumerable lives and as such beyond our understanding. We can only, as people say, form an idea of it. To sort out in every generation our ideas of history and to test them against the evidence available is the task of the historian. Unless this is done, human society remains without true knowledge of its past and presumably indifferent to its future. The concern of this book is with the economic characteristics and transformations of British society in the thirty or forty years before 1914, within the lifetime of men and women who had already reached middle-life when the First World War broke out.