This book examines the mentality of the upper and middle classes during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was an age obsessed by the idea of catastrophes; by wars, famines, pestilences, revolutions, floods, volcanoes, and - especially - the great commercial upheavals which periodically threatened to topple the world's first capitalist system. Thanks to the dominant evangelical ethos of the day, such sufferings seemed to be part of God's plan, and governments took a harsh attitude toward social underdogs, whether bankrupts or paupers, in order not to interfere with the dispensations of providence. Free Trade was adopted, not as the agent of growth it was later seen to be, but in order to restrain an economy which seemed to be racing out of control. In the 1850s and 1860s, however, a different attitude to social problems developed along with evolutionary approaches to the physical and animal worlds and a new understanding of God, who came to be regarded less as an Arnoldian headmaster and more like Santa Claus. At the centre of this ideology, and throwing light upon it, was a new way of understanding the Atonement.
`Here is another weighty book from his far from boring pen and the fully justifiable sub-title makes it well worth the reading. His wealth of appropriate reference and allusion testifies to Hilton's familiarity with the period and the subject ... his style carries the reader along even when he is writing about the mysteries of economics or politics, for he is both refreshingly unfettered by jargon and ready to indulge himself in humorous allusions and
turns of phrase ... One rises from reading the book with the awareness that one's acquaintance with the nineteenth century's mind has been considerably broadened. Hilton's work is truly a tour de force.'
The Evangelical Quarterly 65:1 (1993)
`Historians have long acknowledged the role of evangelical ideas in Britain during the decades following the French Revolution. But no one has yet defined the broader historical significance of those ideas precisely as Boyd Hilton does in The Age of Atonement ... As a contribution to our understanding of nineteenth-century British culture, The Age of Atonement is undoubtedly a study of extraordinary importance and distinction.'
Journal of British Studies
`A stimulating and wide-ranging study ... It is a rich book ... a book which every serious student of nineteenth-century Britain should read.' J. W. Burrow, Times Literary Supplement
IA rich, stimulating ... engaging, provocative, first-rate book.^R' ^BRichard Soloway, American Historical Review^R^L
`It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Hilton's analysis ... Hilton's remarkable achievement over the past ten years has been to reveal the long and strong ideological threads that linked together liberal tory politicians from Pitt to Peel to Gladstone.' Peter Mandler, Parliamentary History
`Once the envy subsides, religious historians who open this extraordinary and arresting book will be strongly tempted to read it twice - once for the persuasive argument ... a second time for the sheer pleasure of observing intellectual history ... practised at the very highest levels of insight and erudition ... The portrait as a whole is so rich, suggestive, illuminating, and masterfully done that ... no subsequent discussion of society or religion in the
age can properly begin without it.' Daniel L. Pals, Church History
`Hilton has written a pioneering work ... He has laid bare the extent to which Christianity moulded the assumptions behind public affairs.' D. W. Bebbington, Historical Journal
`A remarkable and wide-ranging study ... Hilton's inspired race through the spiritual maze of social theory, biology, phrenology, geology, astronomy, thermodynamics, epistemology, and eschatology.' Maxine Berg, Social History
`a book of great importance and of formidable learning in its sweep of theology ... history, literature, medicine, and science. It injects fresh material, and offers fresh insights ... it will make future textbooks look at Evangelicalism and at its effects in a new way.' Times Higher Education Supplement
`numerous valuable insights supported by considerable erudition ... a book to be enthusiastically welcomed as a valuable contribution to knowledge.' History
`among the best books I have had the pleasure of reading on the nineteenth century in the last ten years.' Teaching History
'Boyd Hilton's fascinating, ambitious book does much more to lighten our darkness about the broader significance of evangelicalism.'
Jeffrey Cox, University of Iowa, Journal of British Studies
Part One: Religious and Economic Thought; Part Two: The Content of Evangelical Social Thought; Part Three: After the Age of Atonement