There are many good things to say about this book. It is well written - indeed it bowls along like a fine novel - informative, entertaining and intellegent. But perhaps above all what most impressed me is the beautiful balance Sandbrook achieves between the political, the economic and the cultural. All of these very different elements are given their due respect and place in his narrative and consequently they combine together to give a vivid impression of what life was really like in the Britain of the late 50s and early 60s.
All of the heavyweight political figures are given sufficient space to make them live as individuals: Eden, for example, a man of high principle touched with arrogance for whom, perhaps, the post of prime minister came at a stage in his life when he was a little past his peak; and Macmillan, the Edwardian gentleman who was a whole lot sharper than he ever let on. Similarly the economics of post war Britain is explained in a serious and meaningful, but never dry, fashion. Cabinet rumbles over inflationary and deflationary budget options contain, in Sandbrook's hands, moments of surprising high drama with resignations and often rather childish temper-tantrums being far from uncommon. Similarly the scandals of the time, and in particular the Profumo affair, are given excellent coverage. It wasn't until I had read this book that I fully understood just why the affair between a fairly low-level minister and the (frankly gorgeous) party girl Christine Keeler rocked the Macmillan government to its very core.
But for me what makes this book a real joy - and what puts it above many other volumes of a similar nature - is the attention given to the cultural figures of the time. There is an excellent chapter on the literary scene with colourful portrayals of Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, John Osborne and Colin Wilson. The ground-breaking genius of the Beyond the Fringe gang is given an excellent account. The emergence of the Beatles as a genuinely revolutionary force both socially and musically is well covered; and the appeal of the Bond films - with their exotic glamour and charismatic, suave lead Sean Connery - to a population often mired in near-poverty and sadly colourless lives is beautifully and articulately explained. If you want to know what really mattered, culturally, economically and socially, to the people of Britain during the years between '56 and '63 whether they were upper, middle or working class then this is the book to get. If you were interested enough in the volume to read this review then I would have no hesitation in recommending you pick yourself up a copy straight away. It's both intelligent and a good read, and you really can't ask for more than that from any book.