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Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959 [Hardcover]

David Kynaston
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Jun 2013 Modernity Britain Book 1
The late 1950s was an action-packed, often dramatic time in which the contours of modern Britain began to take shape. These were the 'never had it so good' years, when the Carry On film series and the TV soap Emergency Ward 10 got going, and films like Room at the Top and plays like A Taste of Honey brought the working class to the centre of the national frame; when the urban skyline began irresistibly to go high-rise; when CND galvanised the progressive middle class; when 'youth' emerged as a cultural force; when the Notting Hill riots made race and immigration an inescapable reality; and when 'meritocracy' became the buzz word of the day. The consequences of this 'modernity' zeitgeist, David Kynaston argues, still affect us today.

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Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959 + Modernity Britain: Book Two: A Shake of the Dice, 1959-62 (Modernity Britain Book 2) + Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (Tales of a New Jerusalem)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (20 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747588937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747588931
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Kynaston was born in Aldershot in 1951. He has been a professional historian since 1973 and has written eighteen books, including The City of London (1994-2001), a widely acclaimed four-volume history, and W.G.'s Birthday Party, an account of the Gentleman vs. the Players at Lord's in July 1898. He is the author of Austerity Britain, 1945-51, the first title in a series of books covering the history of post-war Britain (1945-1979) under the collective title 'Tales of a New Jerusalem'. He is currently a visiting professor at Kingston University.

(Photo credit: Michael Burns)

Product Description


Volumes full of treasure, serious history with a human face (Hilary Mantel, Observer, Summer Reads)

The most ambitious and the most diligent ... These lists are sometimes so extensive and artfully arranged that they acquire a kind of lyrical beauty in their own right ... The guiding principle of this method is not postmodern relativism but a generous and open-minded inclusiveness ... As a rule, Kynaston shows enormous self-restraint: he assembles and presents his material with such studied neutrality that it's not obvious, at first, where his own loyalties lie ... If Kynaston's Tales of a New Jerusalem helps us to do that - if it succeeds in its objective of showing us, on a scale both panoramic and intimate, exactly what the postwar governments struggled to build, and which Thatcher, just as determinedly, sought to dismantle - then it will surely come to be seen not just as one of the present era's most important histories, but as one of the most illuminating works of literature (Jonathan Coe, Prospect)

David Kynaston's brilliant and witty chronicle of post-war Britain shows why he's The Past Master ... As wonderfully quick-witted and wide-ranging as its predecessors ... Kynaston peppers his book with these illuminating little vignettes ... I was struck by how skilfully he weaves it all together, beautifully intertwining anecdotes and observations with sparkling details and fascinating statistics ... Modernity Britain is both even-handed and exhilarating, a rare combination. Kynaston's sympathies are, broadly speaking, with the underdog, but he is wary of certainties, distrustful of the pat remedy. When he expresses overt opinions, they are always thoughtful, and arrive like thunder-flashes, illuminating the pages around them ... Was ever a history book so authoritative and, at the same time, quite so entertaining? Kynaston is particularly brilliant at filleting contemporary books, newspapers, comedy scripts, advertisement, films, political speeches, etc, for the telling quotation (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday)

Kynaston's many fans will be pleased to hear that Modernity Britain has all the virtues of his previous volumes ... Kynaston has an unrivalled eye for long-forgotten, apparently banal and yet weirdly suggestive anecdotes ... Above all, Kynaston is a historian of tremendous compassion ... Perhaps the most moving section of Kynaston's splendid book, though, is his discussion of British schools in the late 1950s (Dominic Sandbrook, The Times)

The entertainment flies off the pages. The Kynaston method of compiling a vast array of sources and applying them with equal zest to the momentous ... and the ephemeral ... guarantees a rattling read. This is social, cultural and political history, more or less in that order, with a smile on its face ... Mostly he launches bombardments of facts, quotes, stories and numbers interspersed with pithy and shrewd editorial observations. He more than gets away with it ... There are brilliant passages throughout about the dispersion of inner-city tenant dwellers ... Kynaston specialises in fair-mindedness and nuance ... Much of the sheer and abundant joy of this book are its serendipity ... Hundreds of other wonders and absurdities captured and recreated for our enlightenment and entertainment (New Statesman)

From high-rise flats to the Carry On films, here are the never-had-it-so-good years brought vividly to life by a historian whose extraordinary appetite for research seems to know bounds (Rachel Cooke, Observer)

Kynaston is a wonderful writer and his technique of creating a collage of diary extracts, newspaper commentaries and personal reminiscences, interspersed with historical description, acts to subtly disguise the force of his own analysis (The Times Book of the Week)

The narrative is beautifully composed and Kynaston digs deeper than previous historians ... One of the great virtues of Kynaston's approach is the juxtaposition of political rhetoric and social reality (Literary Review)

Kynaston is the most readable and original social historian writing today and I've barely scratched the surface of what his latest compulsive book includes. Buy it (Daily Express)

His forte is a beguiling use of social insights, often on an intimate domestic scale, to establish a sense of period and to open windows on the recent past (Peter Clarke, Financial Times)

David Kynaston resembles a novelist impersonating a historian. His books read like fiction disguised as documentary ... His method evokes the sumptuous messiness of human experience. He depicts history as an unfolding, ill-managed pageant ... His books so enriching, improving and endearing ... Shrewd, funny and ever-readable ... In Kynaston's history books, the reader can hear the people speak. He has an elocutionist's sense of people's diction (Guardian)

Artful deployment of different voices and sources vividly evokes a time when benighted extremes of snobbery and hate-speech coexisted with increasing working-class confidence (Observer)

Kynaston is a historian who likes to get out of the way. You seldom read a decisive judgment or a grand-sweeping generalisation. Rather, he rummages in the attic and pulls a whole clattering cavalcade of interesting junk down on himself ... Among his many virtues are his thoroughness and attention to detail (Sam Leith, Spectator)

Superb ... Modernity Britain is an outstanding book, a delightful and often funny mix of the profound and the mundane that presents an enormously instructive glimpse into a time when supermarkets, Carry On films and Galaxy bars were cutting edge ... Kynaston possesses unique sensitivity to their meaning (Sunday Telegraph)

Wholly absorbing work (Independent on Sunday)

Kynaston is brilliant and funny (Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph)

His look behind the curtain and his detailing of the rich quotidian details of the recent past says everything about how we live now ... The striking thing about Modernity Britain is the parallels that Kynaston allows us to quickly draw (Big Issue in Scotland)

Portrait of Britain on the verge of change in the late 1950s (Sunday Times)

Wonderful history (Daily Telegraph)

David Kynaston's monumental history ... Kynaston shows, with his customary finesse and kaleidoscopic range of sources (Independent on Sunday)

Unrivalled eye for detail in this arresting portrait of Britain (Sunday Times Summer Reads)

This is the latest volume in the historian's acclaimed series about Britain since 1945, Tales of a New Jerusalem. Focusing on the years of Harold Macmillan's first government, it echoes with the diverse voices of 1950s Britain, from Surbiton house-wives ("Why should I spend all morning making scones?") to Enoch Powell's nationalist rhetoric. It is a shrewd, funny and ever-readable book (Guardian Summer Reads)

Kynaston lingers on the cusp of two decades, delivering insights into the nation's mood as it eyed cultural, political, and commercial change (Mail on Sunday Summer Reads)

Epic series of post-war life ... Crams in such a mass of detail you feel you're living in "never had it so good" Britain (Paul Routledge, Tablet)

The latest volume in what is becoming the essential history of postwar Britain (New Statesman)

David Kynaston is as much a poet as a historian of postwar Britain, and he has an accurate eye for the detail on which poetry depends ... No other writer evokes Britain's past so well (Guardian)

He conveys 1950s life more vividly than any historian before him ... Masterful (Economist)

David Kynaston's Modernity Britain so I can read about Terylene and Fray Bentos tinned steak and kidney pie under an alien sun (Lucy Lethbridge, Observer, Summer Reads)

Praised by journalists to the skies ... A grand design ... David Kynaston tells the story in his own measured words ... Kynaston has researched widely into such sources and digests them into a readable totality. If this is, in part, a scissors-and-past project, it's also one that stands on its own feet ... This is not a novel. It is not a memoir, though it eats the memoirs of others, plankton fashion. It is a species of history - annals, perhaps. Kynaston's far from copious political judgements are sensible and considerate ... The book identifies a British modernity of snobbery and privilege, but acknowledges exceptions and cross-currents (London Review of Books)

Kynaston's montage technique, which creates a palimpsest of private and public sources, is once again deployed to great effect in this, the fifth in a remarkable sequence of volumes that will eventually cover the period from 1945 to 1979 (Standpoint)

This book is preceded by two two-volume books that have been praised by journalists to the skies ... David Kynaston tells the story in his own measured words, and he also tells it in the often loud and uninhibited words of others ... Kynaston has researched widely into such sources and digests them into a readable totality ... An affinity with the fiction of Antony Powell has been caught, but this is not a novel. It is not a memoir, though it eats the memoirs of others, plankton-fashion. It is a species of history - annals, perhaps. Kynaston's far from copious political judgements are sensible and considerate (Karl Miller, London Review of Books)

David Kynaston is a rare example of authorial effacement ... The sources - mainly letters and diaries - are left to speak for themselves. His work is suggestive rather than argumentative and one assumes that applying the word "modernity" to the country that Lawrence Durrell called "pudding island" is, at least in part, ironic ... Rather than writing from the Olympian vantage-point of the historian, Kynaston presents a succession of striking vignettes ... Kynaston is interested in the broad sweep of history (Independent)

The latest instalment of his mammoth post-Second World War social history ... Skilfully blends highbrow with humdrum ... Kynaston has ranged widely in search of the spirit of the age, digging out local newspapers, youth-club records and Mass Observation survey results. All human life is here ... For those who recall Teddy Boys and the Angry Young Men, Sputnik, hula hoops and Nimble loaves spread with Blue Band margarine, Modernity Britain will be a swing-dance down memory lane. Readers born later in the century will, nevertheless, find themselves entranced by the narrative, which is as richly textured as a tufted carpet and hums with energy like a Hoovermatic twin-tub (Country Life)

Kynaston's latest volume looks at how the luxuries of modernity - and its political bedfellows - swept the country in the late 1950s (Independent, Beach Reads)

There are in fact two David Kynastons. One is the relatively conventional historian who has given us solid and illuminating accounts of the City of London, the Bank of England, the Financial Times and much else. The other is the venturesome innovator engaged in cutting up the rich history of post-war Britain into quite thin slices, and retailing news stories and contemporary comments, often on a day-by-day basis, to give the vivid flashback into how things were, and were felt, at the time ... Applying his usual striking technique, Kynaston places such life-changing trends in the context of innumerable and contrasting contemporary incidents and comments, remind us of what people had on their minds ... What of Kynaston's grand project as a whole? The first part of Modernity Britain and its successor will see the story through to 1962 - the halfway mark in Kynaston's planned 32-year-long saga - so we may expect a final total of 12 volumes. Some have compared it to The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, and it certainly has affinities with Anthony Powell's series of novels, A Dance to the Music of Time. In any case, we can look forward to more of a stimulating and refreshing achievement (Times Higher Education Supplement)

David Kynaston's technique as a historian is subtly immersive. His magisterial Austerity Britain and Family Britain covered the years from 1945 to 1957. This one proceeds only to 1959, and the election that brought the young Margaret Thatcher to Parliament ... Kynaston's unobtrusive pen defers to the evidence he so painstakingly gathers, from newspapers and books, dairies and letters. The result is much more than a patchwork of period detail, but the detail is irresistible (Intelligent Life)

Kynaston is engaged on a massive project with the overarching title Tales of a New Jerusalem, which aims to tell the story of Britain from the end of the Second World War to the election of Margaret Thatcher in an unspecified number of volumes (Big Issue in Scotland)

Kynaston is engaged on a massive project ... Tales of a New Jerusalem, which aims to tell the story of Britain from the end of the Second World War (Big Issue Cymru)

Most historians care to believe they are disinterested truth-tellers, pretending that they don't have a particular axe to grind. They like to shape history into a certain pattern, whether they are viewing it from the Left or the Right. Some favour heroes and villains, others a sense of inevitability in worldly matters. A few allow the reader the space and freedom in which to relish, where it is due, the mysterious ordinariness of the past. David Kynaston is of that rare number. His enthusiasm for the enduring importance of trivia is among his many virtues as a chronicler of British life in the postwar years. This riveting book is the fifth in the sequence Tales of a New Jerusalem. Like its predecessors, it assembles the great alongside the not-so-great, the talented next to the clueless. Churchill is still around, but it's Harold Macmillan who now hogs the political limelight ... One of the treasures the diligent David Kynaston has unearthed is the fact that Cliff Richard was once considered "dangerous" ... Kynaston's histories are wide in scope and at times lyrical in conception. I can't wait for the next instalment (Paul Bailey, Oldie)

When it is completed, Kynaston's multi-volume history of modern Britain will offer an unrivalled panoramic view of our country's social, cultural and political evolution between 1945 and 1979. This latest instalment focuses on the key years at the end of the 1950s when people were finally learning to turn their backs on austerity. His exhaustive trawl of sources, and his matchless gift for blending the trivial with the profound, ensure no corner of the national character is left unexplored (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday Books of the Year)

Modernity Britain . is the latest episode of David Kynaston's profoundly humane history of 20th-Century Britain. His past is not another country inhabited by politicians and the famous. It is peopled by those whose lives are shaped, like ours, as much by food, music and weather as by wars and legislation (New Statesman Books of the Year)

We often think of 1950s Britain as a land trapped in tea-shop conservatism. But as Kynaston shows in the latest volume of his splendid journey through post-war British history, the final years of the decade could hardly have been more exciting . As always, Kynaston has produced a dazzling tapestry of sources. What really stands out, though, is his discussion of Britain's schools: in particular, the ordeal of the 11-plus, which meant the difference between lifetime success and failure for millions of British children (Sunday Times Books of the Year)

Book Description

Following Austerity Britain and Family Britain, the third and fulcrum volume in David Kynaston's landmark social history of post-war Britain

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars how we lived then - fascinating and enjoyable 22 Jun 2013
By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although this book is the third volume (so far) of a series covering British life since 1945, it stands well on its own as a fascinating insight into a time, which although relatively recent, is in many ways so different from our experience today. Much of the narrative is made up of quotes made at the time by people from all walks of life, giving a real sense of the lifestyles and attitudes held by various social groups and individuals in the late 1950s.

Britain in the 1950s was still preoccupied by class differences and divisions - in education, entertainment, sport, housing and much else. But this was also a time when Britain was changing and just beginning to be a more open society. The debate about education was underway, with the 11 plus exam, the structure of secondary education, and the value of grammer and public schools under some scrutiny.

Homosexual acts were just on the verge of being legalised, immigration from the commonwealth was unrestricted but discrimination widely practiced, television was growing with the development of commercial broadcasting(ITV was much more widely watched than the BBC, causing much angst about the impact it might have on the young),and rock and roll was starting to be heard. The young Cliff Richard appeared on stage at Butlins, Bruce Forsyth, then in his twenties was just breaking through, and more forthright plays and books were capturing attention. White good sales were rising rapidly - particularly washing machines and fridges - but less than a quarter of the population owned a car

This all makes for enjoyable and informative reading, and is highly recommended whether or not you have read the volumes
... Read more ›
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BBC v ITV 29 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the third volume in what is becoming the greatest work of narrative history ever written by an Englishman. It covers the "hinge" years of 1957-59 when something of the country Britain was to become was increasingly clear. Thus we have the tensions of paternalism versus individualism, the increasing appeal of consumerism as a way of life and the rebuilding of our cities by naive modernists. In a way the different visons of the future were embodied by the BBC and the new commercial televison the one representing our elitist, intellectual, cautious and paternalistic side the other being more materialist, youthful and demotic. It is the dialectical interplay of these two visions which Kynaston synthesises with his genius.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Speaking Volumes- but half a book? 24 July 2013
David Kynaston has set himself the task of writing a new micro History of Britain-Tales of a New Jerusalem in volumes from 1945 to 1979 or possibly now? The first two doorstep size books (Austerity Britain & Family Britain) both covered periods of five and six years respectively and were marketed as double volume editions each consisting of two books. So far so eccentric but they did offer good value in the expensive hardback market and were beautifully constructed. Modernity Britain was originally advertised on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads as a book covering the years 1957-1962 with a similar length and double volume format. At some point Bloomsbury seem to have lost their nerve and the resultant book is a mere 300 plus pages covering only a two year period from 1957-59 but pretty much for the same price as previous more weighty volumes. So what has happened, considering initial adverts showed a longer book. Has Kynaston simply not finished writing it? Or has Bloomsbury decided to cash-in on the success of the earlier books rushing the unfinished hardback into the shops? Waffle about launching in a variety of formats/platforms is obfuscation. This is effectively half a book and seems to constrain Kynaston's fluent and anecdotal style. A weak start, seemingly random with a quote from Enoch Powell on housing doesn't bode well and in truth Kynaston seems both less confident and less assured in this volume sometimes launching on lists (oddly punctuated with brackets and little clear linking or point) and less memorable anecdotes and coverage. The joy of previous volumes was the drip drip effect of diarists and stories that was possible in a long book. This is both less possible and less evident in this volume. Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 50s Under the Microscope 12 Aug 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As someone who lived as a young adult during the late fifties,I found it interesting to read the offering of a historian who was too young to have experienced the time first hand. What David Kynaston has done is to select what he considers the significant details of the time under the microscope: a very short period of modern history.
The book has been criticised as cut and paste, which it binevitably is to some extent. Certainly there is little critical comment and no moralising. The qualities which generally recommend the book are the skill of selection and the smoothness of the writing. Kynaaston knows how to keep mus interested and tells a good story. He catches well the spirit of the times.
For me the book was worth it for a single chapter: the one which outlines the debate about grammar schools, secondary mods, the public schools and the 11+ . It's a debate which still continues. I cherish a quote by an American commentator who compares rejection at 11+ (not selection!) to the racist policies of USA at the time: "That hopeful phrase 'parity of esteem' is as hollow as our 'separate but equal'. The main difference is that we discriminate against a minority and the English against a majority" How very true.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Memories of the Good and the Bad times in the last years of the...
Personal diaries are eclectic, disorganized, though inspirational. In his fifth instalment of The New Jerusalem, David Kynaston has tried to organize, and make sense of three years... Read more
Published 6 hours ago by mangilli-climpson m
5.0 out of 5 stars Continued excellence.
Spot on.As ever an informative and entertaining read.
Published 28 days ago by Jonnor
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good writer
All David Kynaston's books in that trilogy are really interesting and fun to read for anyone who knew that period like me or anyone interested in social history. Terrific read.
Published 3 months ago by Lesley Alden
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for anyone born 1940-1960
This series of books explain, in a unique way, what happened, why it happened and how all 'classes' felt about living in the UK at the time. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Bruce
5.0 out of 5 stars We never had it so good!
Another excellent book in Kynaston's series about Britain from 1945 until 1979. This is reality ghistory and all his volumes so far have been fantastic reads. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr. D. McKenna
5.0 out of 5 stars David Kynaston does it again
This volume keeps up the high standard set by the earlier volumes in the series. It has now reached years which I myself well remember as a young teenager.
Published 6 months ago by Mr. William A. A. Kinloch
5.0 out of 5 stars Another terrific Kynaston read!
I have purchased Modernity Britain as I have read previous titles in the series and enjoy kynaston's narrative and his witty observations of British post-war society. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr Tim Cole
5.0 out of 5 stars The best post war social history of Britain
Fantastic book. This book and his earlier two provide the best social history of post- war Britain. Draws effortlessly on a vast store of evidence especially Mass Observation data... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Brian K Ashcroft
5.0 out of 5 stars Nobody write better about the era
The only disappointment is that I will have to wait for his next volume. This is history writing at its very best. Readable, interesting and exciting.
Published 9 months ago by Mr. John F. Marcham
5.0 out of 5 stars Every British person should have these books
This is the third in Kynaston's amazing series - Austerity Britain and Family Britain are the first two. Read more
Published 9 months ago by P. G. Russell
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