Capturing cultural mood—that is one of the great skills of Simon Heffer’s painterly pen. The sharpness of his writing is scarcely encapsulated by the blurbs that draw attention to his books. Instead, it is in his journalism of cultural perception—on writers, composers, poets, and others—that he reveals his insight, the vigor of his moral conservatism, and the strength of his searching understanding of aesthetic judgment.

These winning traits are found in his new book, The Age of Decadence, the successor to High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (2013). In his new opus, he captures the tensions “beneath the swagger,” notably, “the social storm before the international catastrophe.” In doing so, he offers a similar insight to one provided recently by David Cannadine:...

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