Regulated Lives:  Life Insurance and British Society, 1800-1914

Regulated Lives: Life Insurance and British Society, 1800-1914

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By Timothy Alborn.

University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2009
World Rights
464 Pages
ISBN 9781442639966
Published Aug 2009
Online discount: 25%
 $88.00    $66.00

Regulated Lives explores the British life insurance industry's changing assessments of the values and risks of human life between 1800 and 1914. Timothy Alborn's unique study uses insurance practices to demonstrate how Victorian ideas about the lived experience altered both to accommodate and resist elements of modernity such as statistical thinking, medicalization, and capitalist bureaucracy.

The nature of Victorian life insurance companies meant that their customers were both consuming subjects and objectified abstractions. Policyholders were active consumers of a product as well as passive objects which were evaluated for 'risk' in the objective and homogenizing terms determined by the industry. By examining how salesmen, actuaries, and doctors utilized their differing conceptions of what the various aspects of people's lives meant, Regulated Lives suggests that the very complexity of modern commercial and social institutions produces space where individuality can flourish.

Timothy Alborn is a professor in the Department of History at Lehman College, City University of New York.

‘The framework of this book has immense strengths, and its research and writing exploit them to the utmost. It will prove essential reading for historians of the medical and legal professions, managerialism and marketing, science and statistics, accounting and business, religion, death, the body, and regulation. For now thanks to Alborn, I am an ardent believer that modernity is all about life insurance and vice versa.’

Ron Harris, American Historical Review, October 2010

“Alborn's superb book should be of interest to anyone concerned with social or private insurance and the public role of knowledge… Above all he has a profound sense of the dynamic that drove the evolution of insurance.’

Theodore Porter Journal of Interdisciplinary History; vol41:03:2010

Regulated Lives is a marvelously rich, shrewdly argued, engagingly written study of what might at first seem to be a distinctly unpromising subject. To quote Dickens – a writer who knew exactly what kinds of plot might be built around a life insurance policy – Alborn really does “do the police in different voices,” mixing the personal and the cultural, medicine and big business, statistics and poetry, to create a compelling, challenging perspective on the long nineteenth century.’

Richard Barnett, Isis: vol101:04:10

‘In this elegantly conceived and deeply researched book, Alborn provides the definitive study of British life insurance in the nineteenth century… Superb book.’

Geoffrey Clark, Victorian Studies: vol52:04:10

'This fine book deals with death or, more precisely, with how the British life insurance industry and its customers dealt with and gambled upon death... Alborn's account is a lively, stimulating hybrid of business and cultural history whose scope is far broader than its subject matter might portend. At its simplest, the book is an authoritative study of the expansion of British life insurance business over the long nineteenth century.'

Brian Lewis, The Journal of Modern History: vol 83:02:2011

Regulated Lives is a cultural history of business and economics as well as a history of life insurance itself… this book is masterful in its narrative and analysis and really quite brilliant and original in its extensive use of literary texts…. Alborn’s mastery of the material and the scholarship, his exceptional historical insight, and the imaginative and original way in which this study is conceived and written are truly impressive.’

Maura O’Connor, Journal of British Studies, vol 51:01:2012