This enjoyable and interesting book tells the story of the Royal Society of Arts from its founding in 1754 to the present day. In many ways, it is a microcosm of the course of British society for the past 266 years. The crucial question raised by this study is suggested in its subtitle. It is, paradoxically, both accurate and misleading. The activities of the Society certainly had significant effects on what has happened in Britain, but the subtitle also seems to suggest that the Society mapped out a systematic plan for what should happen to the nation. Nothing could be further from what generally happened. Through the many years of its continual existence, the Society took the lead in quite a few instances. Yet in so many of its campaigns, it was not responsible for the initiative. Rather, it subsumed many of the incredibly varied causes that came to its...

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