The best known of the essays in the collection is Hudson's Statue, an attack on plans to erect a monument to the bankrupted financier George Hudson, known as the "railway king". The essay expresses central theme of the book — the corrosive effects of populist politics and laissez faire capitalism. Carlyle also attacked the prison system, which he believed to be too liberal, and democratic parliamentary government. The imaginary figure of "Bobus", a corrupt sausage-maker turned politician, is used to epitomise the ways in which modern commercial culture saps the morality of society.
The essays are:
The present time
The new Downing street
In his painting Work, inspired by the book, Ford Madox Brown depicted Carlyle watching honest workers improving the social infrastructure by laying modern drains in a suburb of London, while agents of the dishonest Bobus disfigure the area by marketing his political campaign with posters and sandwich boards.