Adam Smith In a different vein, Adam Smith was an academic and a thinker. His ideas, most famously laid out in The Wealth of Nations , form the basis of the modern globalised economic system — rightly or wrongly — and are therefore very important; his texts are still read by anyone studying economics around the world.
The Reconstruction of an Ancient Past in Shakespeare’s Drama
Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, near Edinburgh, went to Glasgow University aged 14 and later became a Professor of Moral Philosophy there, becoming a prominent figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. His lectures there, published as T he Theory of Moral Sentiments , won him a European reputation, but it is The Wealth of Nations , which he wrote after returning to Kirkcaldy, that cemented his reputation.
In the short term, his ideas helped to bring about reform and practices in Britain and helped turn our nation into the largest economy in the world. His legacy is the globalised capitalist system of the 20th century and he is the intellectual father of modern capitalism; his ghost is still with us, of course.
Great Britons: William Shakespeare – A Primer on the Greatest English Playwright
George Stephenson George Stephenson was another man who had a huge impact on the modern world. The great theme running through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries was making the world smaller; the shrinking planet. And George Stephenson — who had started as a cowherd and then became a colliery fireman before developing his expertise in engineering — took one of the greatest steps in this process by developing, and accelerating, the move towards trains.
He established the first passenger train service and was a pioneer of railways.
Trains brought about an unbelievable change. For the first time, ordinary people could travel outside 30 miles of where they were born. This had never happened before and the world became radically different. He saw the impact trains would have and he was instrumental in extending railways all over the world adherence to the standard gauge was very much his doing : the American West and central Asia were opened up by this mode of transport.
The other interesting thing about George Stephenson was that he was self-educated — and this says something important about that period: people had access to learning, albeit not formally.
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Many cities had learned societies where one could find out about the latest inventions, such as what was coming over from Paris and Europe and George Stephenson was a product of this world. David Lloyd George — To choose Lloyd George might seem a bit cheeky — he is my great-great-grandfather — but I wanted to include a great prime minister.
In , things were extremely bleak, with Russia tottering on the brink of revolution, industrial relations in Britain at a low, and British forces on the Western Front under immense pressure. As Minister of Munitions , he had hugely improved that industry, and then he became a great wartime prime minister, too.
He provided charismatic, morale-raising leadership that helped Britain win the war. He was a successful unifying war leader, but his time as Chancellor was almost more important. He was one of most radical chancellors in history. He laid many of the foundations of the Welfare State , and indirectly he broke the power of the House of Lords, establishing the absolute supremacy of the House of Commons: the House of Lords threatened not to pass his budget and Lloyd George had a stand-off with them and made them admit that the House of Commons was in fact superior.
Behind that is the admission that people were sovereign, that Britain was a democratic country, not an aristocratic one. And on the way up, in doing so he was a radical politician.
He did a huge amount for social justice and broke the power of the House of Lords. He was a remarkable man.
He saw an opportunity to join hypertext with the internet, so that researchers could link from remote sites and, in , the World Wide Web was born, one of the most significant inventions in history. Sir Francis Drake : Fired the imagination of a nation. From Drake onwards, Englishmen, and then Britons, looked to the sea for wealth, power and adventure. Sir Isaac Newton : Redefined the universe and our relationship with it. He built the foundations of modern science. William Wilberforce : One of an extraordinary group of men who managed to get slavery abolished.
The great genius of the Industrial Revolution.
Charles Darwin : Made the biggest, most dangerous and far-reaching scientific breakthrough in history. We are not what we once thought we were. Sir Winston Churchill : Mobilised the English language to stiffen the sinews of a nation after a terrible defeat and the prospect of a long war. Alan Turing : He was instrumental in the development of computers and also breaking the Nazi top-secret code during the Second World War. Summer reading: British book settings. Popular entertainment in all forms, including theatre, helped distract people from their worries, but even more important were the serious arts, such as ballet, opera, music and plays.
These national treasures reminded people what they were fighting for. What could be a more potent symbol of civilization than the works of Shakespeare?
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His plays reminded the Germans and the British of their cultural heritage. Funding breathed new life into classical drama; for example, the Old Vic Company starring Sybil Thorndike toured Shakespeare to Welsh mining villages, and and Donald Wolfit gave popular lunchtime performances of Shakespeare in London. German audiences saw drama as serious business, not as frivolous entertainment, but as a moral institution for education and betterment.