... gloriously rich ... As in his previous history of the mid-Victorian period, Heffer’s scope is vast. Almost nothing escapes him ... While Heffer’s treatment of politics is strikingly even-handed, his portraits of the royal family are positively blistering ... Heffer is very good not just on the Pooters’ growing political importance but also on the kind of things they read ... As a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, Heffer is best known for his extremely trenchant opinions, so some readers may be surprised by his book’s balanced and judicious tone. But The Age of Decadence is an enormously impressive and enjoyable read, all the same. Heffer has a brilliant eye for anecdotes ... every now and again there is a flash of the Heffer readers will recognise from his columns.
There are many pleasures to be had in this fine book, not the least of which is the vivacity of Heffer’s prose. A columnist for The Sunday Telegraph as well as a historian, he writes elegantly but punchily, combining seriousness with welcome flashes of waspishness that stop things from getting stuffy ... Heffer has little interest in debates among historians on the period, but unlike many general surveys of this kind, he does not rely just on secondary literature and makes excellent use of wide-ranging archival research. That approach gives the book a fresh perspective, although not necessarily a new one. What is striking about The Age of Decadence is that it brings us full circle to the view the late Victorians and Edwardians so often had of themselves and it echoes George Dangerfield’s seminal 1935 book The Strange Death of Liberal England, which evocatively depicted how 'by the end of 1913 Liberal England was reduced to ashes.' In Heffer’s telling it is perhaps less ashes to ashes than an overripe piece of fruit rotting and putrefying in front of our eyes ... a masterpiece of pacing ... By the final pages, Heffer has skillfully conjured a country in chaos and heading over the edge.
What Heffer recounts is fascinating in itself, but also eerily familiar, almost contemporary. History, after all, provides perspective on the present ... Heffer’s book offers a glorious, if somewhat relentless abundance ... Still, my favorite factoid in a book packed with them might be this one: Edward Stanley Gibbons, Britain’s leading authority on stamp collecting—the hobby grew wildly popular in this period—'had five wives, four of whom predeceased him at early ages. There has been speculation their ends were not always from natural causes, but encouraged by his early training as a pharmacist.'