British intellectual life between the wars stood at the heart of modernity. The combination of a liberal, uncensored society and a large educated audience for new ideas made Britain a laboratory for novel ways to understand the world. The Morbid Age opens a window onto this creative but anxious era, the golden age of the public intellectual and scientist: Arnold Toynbee, Aldous and Julian Huxley, H. G. Wells, Marie Stopes and a host of others. Yet, as Richard Overy argues, a striking characteristic of so many of the ideas that emerged from this new age - from eugenics to Freud's unconscious, to modern ideas of pacifism and world government - was the fear that the West was facing a possibly terminal crisis of civilization.
The modern era promised progress of a kind, but it was overshadowed by a growing fear of decay and death, an end to the civilized world and the arrival of a new Dark Age - even though the country had suffered no occupation, no civil war and none of the bitter ideological rivalries of inter-war Europe, and had an economy that survived better than most. The Morbid Age explores how this strange paradox came about. Ultimately, Overy shows, the coming of war was almost welcomed as a way to resolve the contradictions and anxieties of this period, a war in which it was believed civilization would be either saved or utterly destroyed.