Andrew Marr’s History of the World

We had a bonus single-programme TV night on Sunday afternoon coz we were worried about the PVR filling up. So we watched the next episode of Andrew Marr’s History of the World. In this one he was talking about the Age of Industry – and how the Industrial Revolution was the biggest shift in society since the Agricultural Revolution. The parallels struck me more when watching this than they have before – in both cases the change allowed society as a whole to support more people and can be thought of as “progress”. And you definitely can’t turn the clock back afterwards. And in both cases the quality of life for the average citizen goes down – most notably poorer health. My life now is only possible because of both of those changes, but the fact that it’s a good life is because things have got better since those revolutions.

One of the segments I found most interesting was effectively the origin story of modern Japan – when the US came knocking and insisted they opened up trade with the industrialised West the Japanese looked back at what the British had done to China (hint: it wasn’t good for the Chinese) and embraced the industrialisation of their country. This wasn’t good for everyone (like the Samurai, who became obsolete in the new Japanese culture), but it meant the change happened on more Japanese terms and meant they got more of the benefits not just the costs of their Industrial Revolution.

This penultimate episode brought us up to the First World War, so the final segment was about both the drawing of the US into the war and the Russian Revolution. Which can be tied together by the hand that the German Foreign Secretary (Arthur Zimmerman) had in instigating them. One of the things souring the relationship between the US and Germany (other than bombing their ships …) was that Zimmerman sent a telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico suggesting they invade the US (and said telegram was not only intercepted but Zimmerman also confirmed that it was legitimate). And for the Russian situation Zimmerman proposed to help Lenin back into the country & promised him money if he would undertake to withdraw from the war when he got power (which Lenin did).